After my last blog post, I was asked about specific tips for starting a Bible study at work. How, practically, have you done this? (BTW, most of these tips are also applicable to how to plant a church)
Identify the Purpose (Start with WHY)
First, figure out the purpose for the group. For example, is it to create a community for believers at work? Share your faith with pre-believers? Study the Bible–geared towards Christians? Study the Bible–geared towards anyone? Be a group of believers with a common interest (e.g., basketball + devotional). Once you have a vision and purpose defined for the group, it’s a lot easier to know what to do. (I always celebrate starting with the WHY and then moving to the HOW and then the WHAT).
Same Time and Place
Having a regular, predictable, consistent meeting time encourages commitment and participation.
Articulate and Repeat Expectations
Develop these together in the first meeting(s) and then reiterate them at subsequent meetings or as needed. For example, what are the ground rules for confidentiality? What about inviting other people? Respecting differences in faith? Regular attendance? Communication in between group times?
Give Clear Direction
Without vision, people perish. There’s a balance between providing direction and being heavy handed, involving others and being too collaborative. If you aren’t totally set on an approach, I suggest giving the group 2-3 options — all of which are consistent with your vision and where you’d like to take the group — and get their input and feedback. Go with what they choose, and repeat it at subsequent groups.
Set a Time Frame for the Group
It seems that 6-week groups tend to be more successful (in terms of effectiveness and consistent participation) than longer groups. Indefinite groups seem to inevitably fatigue. Find a time frame that 1) works for you, and 2) works for the work schedule. For example, running a group from mid-September to right before Thanksgiving works well. Participation in December will be predictably lower. As will participation in mid-June through August. If you’re on the budget team, then take a break at the end of the fiscal year! A time frame allows you to take breaks, allows new people to join, and allows people who need a break to step out graciously. It also allows you to develop different themes for each time frame.
Let Them Talk
I learned this one the hard way: the more the group members talk (and the less you talk), the more they’ll get out of it, the more likely they’ll be to come back, and the more Bible insight you’ll all get as a whole.
Use Open Ended Questions
I found conversation more easily happens with “What” and “How” questions. Also prompts like, “Tell me more about that” or “I’d like to hear about/how…” Wait 7 seconds through that totally awkward silence. Count slowly! That’s about how long it takes for someone to jump in to break the awkwardness. If someone doesn’t, be ready to go with another prompt and wait 7 seconds. (BTW, you gotta be okay with awkward if you’re going to do this!)
Have Content Ready
Whether you prepare your own Bible study (I’ve done this a couple times by adapting books I’ve read to material digestible for small groups), simply work through a section of scripture, use the Lectio Divina method, have rotating devotions, or use para church ministry tools, I’ve found it’s best to let the group know in advance what you’re going to do and then stick to it.
Follow the Leader
If you happen to be attending someone else’s group, or if you happen to be using a method that rotates the group leader, then when it’s not your turn to lead, follow the leader. Even if the leader could be doing it better, or messes up, or is clunky and awkward in their leadership, the group will be far more edified by your submission and support than by your superiority and sanctity. We can preach Jesus and we can display Jesus. Following the leader is a way of reflecting his gentle and lowly heart.
(Important side note — if the leader messes up in a big way, like promotes heresy or acts unlovingly towards someone else, then please offer correction! Usually, though, it’s most effective to do this one-on-one because most messer-uppers aren’t so out of line that they necessitate public rebuke. Most…)
Nobody Has All the Answers
If someone in the group asks you a question you don’t know the answer to, I’ve found it’s best to either say, “Hmm – I’m not sure. Can I look into that more and get back to you?” Or to say something like, “Yeah, that’s something I don’t fully understand/can’t fully explain either. I’m okay holding doubt and belief at the same time.” (Side note — if you do know all the answers, please don’t lead a Bible study or any other ministry.)
Speaking of Being Okay…
So, being straight up here, there are times it’s going to be rough. Most the time “rough” looks like rejection or failure (why aren’t they coming any more?). Sometimes “rough” looks like people being mean, rude, or even filing official complaints against you. All of the time it’s not really the people who are against you–we don’t fight flesh and blood, but powers and principalities. It’s totally predictable that when you start being light in dark places, sharing love with lonely people, and embracing truth in a what-is-truth world, you’re going catch some heat. Haha! Guess that’s why the Bible tells us that if we believe, we will suffer. But take heart, we will be baptized and refined in this fire!