Small Groups 101
Fall Bible study groups are about to start up in churches and neighborhoods all over and I hope you consider joining one. They are life changing. Read Bible Study Groups about my experience with small groups.
I have hosted a women's Bible study group for years and I have learned a few things along the way that I wanted to share. So this blog is kind of for you small group leaders or people who are thinking of starting a Bible study group or anyone interested.
Bible study groups can be for women, men, couples, teens, singles,... The 20 points I've listed below are common to all.
1. I much prefer a small group that meets in someone's home. It is more inviting and welcoming and well, just more comfortable. I think it lends to more of a discussion atmosphere in a home rather than in a classroom sitting across a table from others.
2. A small group works best if it is just that - "small." Besides the logistics of trying to seat a gazillion people in your great room and the neighbors irritated with dozens of cars parking up and down the street; a smaller small group gives everyone a chance to participate in the discussion, get to know each other really well, and trust each other to be able to share more. Sometimes when you are discussing spiritual matters, it just helps people to be in a smaller group where they feel safe to actually discuss things. How small is small? I cap a group at 12. Ideally 8-10. Any larger than 12 and you should really meet at your church or consider breaking into two groups.
3. Speaking of parking, make it clear to your group before the first meeting to respect your neighbors. Park on the same side of the street as your house. Do not block someone's driveway or park across from the bottom of someone else's driveway.
4. I recommend providing refreshments - coffee (don't forget the decaf clearly marked), tea and water. It is more inviting.
5. Snacks or no snacks? I love having snacks! Sometimes you get off work and rush to Bible study and you are starving. We used to have snack sign up and when it was your week, you brought a snack. If you didn't want to sign up, you didn't have to. Some people started going overboard, some have issues with food allergies or are on a diet or in marathon training! So what I do is the first night, the introduction night, I have a light snack - nothing fancy or a lot of trouble. Then we discuss if we are going to have snacks each week. I let the group decide. Recently they have decided no snacks (much to my dismay.)
6. Name tags are a must! Not kidding. Most of the group may be returning and know each other. But for new people coming into a group and all at once meeting everyone for the first time, you need name tags. Nothing is worse than being in a group for awhile and you still don't know someone's name. You pretend you do because you are too embarrassed to ask after this long! I speak from experience! I put the name tags out every week until someone finally says, "Do we really still need name tags?" Ha ha.
7. Format - be consistent. Here's the format for my evening group. We meet 7:00 - 8:30pm. We meet for an hour and a half a week. Perfect length. People arrive and head to the kitchen to get their drink. We visit for a few minutes. At about 7:10 we sit down in a circle in my great room and open with prayer. We discuss the study for about an hour. We ask for prayer requests. At 8:30 we close in prayer. Then they can hang around until 9:00pm if they want to visit. HONOR THEIR TIME! I put that in capital letters because it is critical. Look this is a big deal especially for evening groups. People work full time. They may have kids at home they want to see. This is a huge deal for them to commit to a weekly Bible study. Honor their commitment by honoring their time.
8. Be organized. Give them a schedule with the start date, end date and weeks you are taking breaks. They will appreciate this because people like to know what to expect. Oh and speaking of breaks - after 4 or 5 weeks of meeting in a row, give a week break.
9. The first week is always an Introduction Week. We go around and introduce ourselves. We do an ice breaker to find out fun stuff about each other. [See my friend, Cyndee Ownbey's list of icebreaker ideas! The Complete List of Icebreakers & Games ] I have a group roster prepared before we meet and they each get a copy. On it is each person's address, contact information, their birthday (no year), spouse, children, pets. Yes even pets. I can do this because we are a "small" group. Why do I do this? For one so we can contact each other outside the group - send a birthday card on their special day, text encouragement, reach out to each other. Also for example someone might have told you 10 times their son's name, but you can't remember it. Seeing it visually helps you remember and you can look it up if you forget. It is just a way for us to connect.
10. We have group covenants and we go over them the Introduction Week. For years a friend and I co-led a Bible study group for women who were experiencing depression. She and I developed these covenants as a result of that group. I continue to use them for my small group although I've modified them a little. This way we are all on the same page. We all know what to expect for the group and from each other. It creates a safe environment. Here they are. Feel free to copy if it will serve your group.
One other thing about group covenants. Be sensitive to the fact that the people in your group are going to have different political views. Address this the first night. Nothing can cause conflict in a group quicker then someone strongly expressing their viewpoint on politics. And on this note, a small group is not the place to talk about some conflict someone is having at church. Make that clear the very first night. That is why the covenants include "uphold the unity of the church."
11. Be prepared. Do the study. Know what questions you want to ask and where to lead the discussion. What spoke to you when you read the chapter? If it spoke to you, chances are it spoke to them and they want to discuss. The flip side of this is do not waste their time by either being unprepared or by continually getting off subject. They came to do the Bible study. Do it. If they see no value in the group, they will leave.
12. Facilitator not Teacher. The leader of a small group should get a discussion going and keep it moving along. If everyone is looking at you, then you are doing it wrong - you are teaching and not leading a discussion. If they are looking at each other when they are talking, bingo, you got it!
Image is from the Leader's Guide in the back of The Amazing Collection series workbooks.
Ask a question, and wait to give them the opportunity to answer. If discussion seems stalled, rephrase the question. Refrain from jumping in and saying what you think or giving what you think is the answer. Believe me this is hard for me. I was the girl in class with her arm raised "Ooooh, I know the answer!" (Yes, I am one of those.) If someone does not participate in the discussion, maybe look at them when you ask a question or even ask them what they think. While you should participate in the discussion along with everyone else, fight the urge to teach. Keep an eye on the clock and try to move the discussion along to get through the chapter in the study. However, if you don't get through it, go ahead and stop to allow 15-20 minutes for prayer requests. You have committed to honoring their time.
13. Remember some people in your small group may not be very familiar with the Bible. Don't assume they know things like where Romans is in the Bible. You'll be able to gauge this better as time goes on, but the first few weeks assume they know very little.
14. Have each person bring their Bible with their study book each week. Ask if someone will read the Scripture passage you are talking about. "Will someone read Psalms 90:1-12? Psalms is located in the Old Testament right about the middle of your Bible."
15. Occasionally ask for a volunteer to lead the discussion the next week. First this can be a welcome break for you. You have a different perspective on the study when you aren't leading. But also, it develops others to get them comfortable doing this and maybe later start another small group. What I have found is there a shortage of small groups and there is a need for new leaders.
16. Prayer requests. You should talk about this the first time you meet. We as a group commit to lift each other up in prayer. It is awesome to know others are praying for you and to see how God works in each other's lives. Caution the members of your group to be mindful how they word prayer requests. For instance, it is not acceptable to say, "My neighbor Joe has been cheating on his wife, Betty, for two years. She just found out and is devastated and doesn't know if she should leave him." That is gossip. It is better to say, "One of my neighbors is going through a difficult time right now. Please pray for Betty." Give your group a couple made-up examples of appropriate ways to word prayer requests for other people. Of course if it is prayer for yourself or your loved ones, it is fine to be specific.
Here is our Prayer Diary we use to write down prayer requests and also to write down praise reports - ways our prayers have been answered
17. Do a service project with your group.
18. Ask for a volunteer to plan at least one social outing for the group. Go to a movie together, out to eat, have a game night, whatever. This builds connections.
19. Have an End of Study party and/or Christmas party. We usually do a pot luck dinner for these.
20. PRAY. Pray about God leading the people to your group that He wants in it. Pray for each member of your group. Pray over choosing a study. Pray before you begin your discussion inviting God to 'teach us, grow us, and lead us.' Pray at the end of your meeting. Pray about every decision you make for your group. Pray, pray, pray for your group. God will honor your time spent in prayer.
I found this short 3 minute video by Jen Wilkin about 3-tips for Starting a Bible Study. She makes excellent points!
A Bible study group should have: Structure, Accountability, and Predictability.
All of the points I listed above strive to build trust amongst the group members.
Small Groups = Life Change
[Leaders - You might be interested in reading Small Group Communication and ENCOURAGEMENT ]