Bible study groups have radically changed my husband’s and my walk with Jesus. Before we joined what our church calls small groups, we’d become stagnant in learning how to live out our Christian journey. Our Sunday morning services are geared toward the guest, the unchurched, and the non-believer. The messages cover the Bible and its life application in ways non-Christians can understand in hopes they become drawn in by the power of Scripture.
But Bible study is different. It has the time and space to go deeper into the Word, to ask questions, and to have valid discussions about faith and life’s struggles. Through Bible study, God can use the members to help each other grow and become more like Christ. But they aren’t perfect and neither are their leaders. I’ve led some that thrived and some that fell flat, so I have some ideas as to what works and what doesn’t.
Here are 10 signs your Bible study may need a reboot:
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1. Participants expect to show up to a party.
There’s a time for loud music, mingling, and dancing take center stage, but a Bible study isn’t it. I’ve come home from small groups where my cheeks hurt because I laughed so hard at the stories told within the group. So, while Bible studies can be full of laughter and making friends, it shouldn’t be a party in a typical sense (and certainly no alcohol should be served).
It’s a time of learning and reflection as a group, making it kind of like a team sport. Sitting around talking about Jesus and life will help to develop close friendships, and that should be what’s celebrated. If your fellow group members expect a party each week, then you may be off to the wrong start. Ask God to show you if there are parts of your Bible study that are more like a party than an avenue to mature your relationship with God.
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2. Gossiping is the norm.
When my girlfriends and I get together, we can talk rapidly for hours. My husband jokingly will say, “The hens are clucking.” Women, or men, firing off words to one another is fine as long as those words aren’t derogatory about someone who’s not there. That’s gossip, and Scripture never condones this. In Ephesians 4:29 Paul writes, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that they may benefit those who listen.”
Scripture is clear that no one should gossip around the water cooler or lunch table, so this command certainly applies to our Bible studies. If slander or unbecoming discussions about people is happening in your group, make a solid effort to get rid of it. The group should be known as a place free of gossip. Get to talking about what’s important. Jesus.
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3. There's a discussion hog.
I’ve been in many groups where one person dominates the conversations. It’s exhausting and frankly, annoying to the other group members. Now, I believe a lot of the time these time-takers don’t even realize they’re doing this. But whether they are knowingly doing so or not, this type of situation has to be dealt with so it doesn’t disrupt the group’s cohesiveness.
I’ve found the best way to combat this type of disturbance is to bring it up to everyone on the very first day. I’ve been part of successful groups where the leaders discussed the group parameters at the very first get together. They brought up how each member is encouraged to share their stories, thoughts, and struggles, but everyone has to be in agreement that no one person should command the attention. I believe it’s also the leader’s responsibility to redirect anyone who’s long-winded. This may mean cutting someone off—in the nicest way possible—and asking another member their opinion about the topic. Pray before each group that God shows you how to gently deal with this situation.
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4. Attendance falls off.
If by the third meeting, half of the original participants aren’t showing up to the Bible study anymore, there’s something wrong.
Lots of factors are at play here. It could be your choice of study material focuses on families with young children, yet you’ve chosen a time of day that would greatly interfere with their routine, like having the start time at seven on an evening school night. Maybe your group is full of single moms, yet you haven’t provided a childcare option. I’ve been in a group where the time frame was too long. After two and half hours, my husband was dozing off and my kids were cranky, hungry, and throwing temper tantrums for the babysitter.
If this is happening, analyze the possible logistical factors that could be a contributing to the attendance drop and fix the problem.
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5. There isn't a time for prayer.
I love to pray. I’m passionate about prayer because there are lots of things in this world I cannot change or fix myself, but I can pray. We all can, which is why I believe leaders should always incorporate prayer into their Bible studies; then watch how God delivers the answers while bringing the group members closer to one another.
However, we must be mindful of people’s time. In my successful groups, we’ve kept prayer requests limited to involving immediate family members or something significantly heart-wrenching. I know that sounds rude, but when one person asks you to pray for their cousin’s lost cat, the neighbor from a few streets over with a cold and the great-great-great aunt of your friend who’s having her tonsils out, you’ll understand why this is a boundary for successful groups. Praying for close friends and relatives of group members is more intimate and allows everyone to see how God provides the healing or answers. If you have more prayer requests than can be said during the meeting, try to send out an email with those names and issues you couldn’t cover during group.
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6. The confidence of the group is not being kept.
A Bible study group should be a safe place where members can share whatever God is urging to get off their chests or placing on their hearts. So, what is said in the group must stay in the group. A leader should hope the group members feel comfortable enough to eventually discuss any struggles they’re facing. Life is messy, so these struggles may highlight our sinful state, which is not the business of those outside the group.
Most of us aren’t counselors, but we can listen. Being vulnerable to those who care about you and desire your health and happiness is a beautiful thing. And, as mentioned earlier, anything discussed can be prayed for by the group, but should never be mentioned too others who are not members.
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7. The homework isn't being done.
Once my husband and I were in a small group geared towards marriage which included a workbook with reading material and a video message from a very well-known pastor. We were excited about it, but after the first few sections, we grew disappointed with the lack of energy and excitement from the teaching.
Now, we stuck it out and completed the study, and I know God used those times to grow and shape us, as well as strengthen our relationships with our fellow believers, but it was challenging to push through something that we did not enjoy. As it turned out, others felt the same way, and that curriculum hasn’t been used by our church again. I tell that story to say that if the homework or workbook isn’t being completed, it may have nothing to do with your facilitator skills and everything to do with the materials. If this is you, don’t give up because God will use your invested time to grow everyone, but do try to incorporate some different lessons on the topics covered in the curriculum and don’t use that one again.
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8. The leader is not prepared.
I wish I could say I’ve been prepared for every Bible study meeting I’ve led, but sadly this isn’t the case. Adulting—a new word I love—is hard and some weeks it seems impossible to fit in the prep needed to be on your A-game come group time. However, the goal should be to come to group having studied the topic with the workbook questions answered, an icebreaker game on hand, and stories of your own to tell in case no one raises their hand to answer a question.
Before you sign up to lead a Bible study or be in a group, be sure you have open blocks of time in your schedule to prepare for the upcoming study.
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9. Someone's filter is not engaged.
My husband and I have co-led a Bible study with another couple for a handful of seasons. The other wife and I tell the group immediately we are not responsible for the weird, strange, or inappropriate things our husbands might spit out during our time together. When they get going, the contagious laughter starts, and on more than one occasion it’s been hard to get the group back under control.
But, every once in a while, my friend tells her husband to “engage the filter.” Now, she does this in a playful way, but there are times when you may have someone who lacks in impulse control. Psalm 141:3 says, “Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.” If you have someone who needs to engage their filter, begin the group praying this very Scripture and ask the Holy Spirit to help with this.
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10. Idle time isn't being filled.
Joining a Bible study can be terrifying. The first meeting has the potential to be awkward and filled with silence if you, as the leader, let it. Being a great host can make all the difference in lessening the anxiety of the group atmosphere or contributing to it.
Over the years, I’ve identified a few must haves to pull off a Bible study which helps the group members relax. Soft music as they arrive. Food and drinks. Ice-breakers.
When group members come in, play music to fill the silence and serve anything from Chex Mix to mini-quiches, and coffee to bottled water. When we have something to do with our hands we’re less likely to feel nervous, and this promotes natural conversation. And never shy away from ice-breakers. There are thousands online. Always start with easy ones so your introverts won’t have a panic attack, but usually, depending on the group, these can become more and more fun as the group goes on.
Kristen Terrette has a Master's degree in Theological Studies and was on staff as a Children's Ministry Director for over five years. She cherishes her Southern roots and currently lives 45 minutes outside of Atlanta, GA. With the support of her husband and two children, she stays at home writing Christian fiction, allowing God to take the story where He needs it to go. She is also involved in the women's leadership and teaching team at her church, and writes for Wholly Loved ministry at WhollyLoved.com. To see her blog and current novels, check out her website at www.kristenterrette.com.
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