I think we’ve all been in a bible study that was at best uncomfortable and at worst, not a “study” at all. I’ve been in a lot of studies over the years in many different formats. These varied from in-home studies to church-facilitated groups. I learned much about the Word in those groups and I made some lasting friendships, but I also learned how NOT to host a Bible study when it came Josh and my turn to facilitate one!
Josh and I helped host a study for almost two years and recently transitioned to a new, married-only study that better fit our season (our last study was primarily singles). We use the terms “host” and “facilitate” because we prefer to simply be the meeting place for the study, not the exclusive teachers. This makes it a communal effort of everyone present to be in the Word and get to know one another as a Christian family.
No Bible study will be perfect, because we’re all flawed! But there are some standards you can set, and principles you can use to keep the focus where it should be and create a culture people in which people want to be involved. Following are seven ways NOT to host a Bible study if you want yours to be a place of community and gospel truth.
Never Open the Actual Bible
Let me preface this by saying I have done MANY book “studies” and programs by Matt Chandler and Beth Moore and Priscilla Shirer and these were all beneficial in turn. I learned a lot, mainly because the author made SURE you were opening the Bible for the sessions.
Unfortunately this is not always the case. If your study revolves around a book and you never have to open or read the Bible itself, it’s not a Bible study. It’s a book club. And if the study makes people do homework or reading that keeps them from reading the Bible itself, my advice? Stop the book, and get back to encouraging time in the Word.
Though Josh and I really love Francis Chan and other book-based studies, five years into this, we encourage sticking to the Bible itself. When leading the college ministry and our at-home groups, we ask for input, but generally encourage simply walking through a book of the Bible together. We teach how to study the Bible and break it down. We discuss our observations and applications. We stay in the Word itself.
Let the Loudest People Dominate Conversation
This is a common problem in Bible studies, and one that’s hard to manage. When you have several opinionated or simply loud people in a study, the dominant voice tends to take precedence. The quieter or less educated people will fall to the back, unwilling to speak up. That void continues to be filled by the louder members, and on the cycle goes.
As a host, it’s up to you to change this. One way our last study managed this was to make an announcement at the beginning of our time together, asking everyone to be aware of how much they talked and if they had spoken up once already, to give 2-3 other people a turn to share before speaking again. At one point, we even had a loose 30-second “rule” for how long people could have the floor! These were not legalistic rules, but implementing them – even for a time – made everyone more conscious of how much they talked. As an extrovert, teacher, and the host, I have to be very aware of this myself.
Create a Theological Echo Chamber
Some studies are exclusive to a church, like a community small group. Others contain members from many churches. I have attended or hosted both of these. Whichever one you’re facilitating, it’s important to give space for theological disagreement – even among members of the same church. Obviously, there is orthodox doctrine that must be taught. But if you have someone who is Calvinist in your group and someone who is not, don’t shut down the conversation. Within the limits of time, as best you can, allow for theological disagreement and question-asking.
If your study becomes a theological echo chamber where everyone believes exactly the same thing and no one asks hard questions, you’re not going to stretch, learn, or grow. You’re also going to struggle with new members who DO believe differently from you (or conversely, you might never add any new members, because the study fears that kind of change in viewpoint).
Ahh, the awkward pause! It’s so so hard to tolerate – yet it has to be tolerated. It kills me every time, but Josh and I are learning to let at least 15 seconds pass before asking a follow up question, calling on someone, or answering the topic ourselves.
A group that fears silence will not sit with discomfort. This will lead the dominant voices to once again jump into the void, perhaps when some more reserved members were about to speak. Giving space for silence allows people to think, re-read a passage, and articulate their thoughts.
Forget to Pray
I love the before-and-after study buzz of conversation among members! It’s a sign of thriving fellowship. However… if that time distracts from prayer, you’re missing one of the most vital elements to a Bible study. And I don’t just mean praying for Aunt Judy’s knee, but really praying over and for one another in your daily struggles. Bearing one another’s burdens before God.
Make time for prayer at the end of your study by setting a time for it – e.g. if your study starts at 7 PM, prayer starts at 8:30 and ends by 9 PM, or whatever works for your group. Keep prayer requests specific so you can follow up on them the next week.
Only See Each Other During Study
Bible studies are easy places to come, sit and leave – just like the western church. Some churches “fix” this by dividing up large studies into small groups or tables. I’ve been in studies like this. They can work well – IF the group has time with each other one on one and outside of the study setting. Getting outside of study together is what binds a group to one another. They see each other as real-life relationships, not just people confined to a particular place and time
We accomplish this with our studies by hosting dinners, attending festivals and local events together, facilitating game nights, s’more nights, camping and more.
Miss the Point
What’s the point of your study? Is it a Christian social group? Because you can do that by hosting a few wine-and-cheese nights. If you want a Bible study where disciples are made, you have to be ready to do some work. You have to prepare intentionally, pray fervently, and be ready to navigate the joys and hardships of doing faith IN community. It’s such a wonderful thing!
The more of us who intentionally build groups of disciples who seek Jesus through His Word, hold one another accountable, and intentionally seek spiritual growth, the more the American church will change. We can develop an outward perspective from inner growth. It happens in individual communities dedicated to knowing God together.
God moves in little living rooms of people intent on knowing Him.