I've been leading a Bible study group for about seventeen years. I think I have it down because they keep showing up. Smile. Here's what I've learned.
Schedules: Realize that people are extremely busy and for them to commit to Bible study or a Christian class is a really big deal. Honor their commitment. Too often the people doing the planning put out something like "Six week study on the Gospels begins September xth from 7:00-8:00pm." No. Put out a detailed schedule for people to see. Holidays come up, they have vacations, they have business trips planned. Their anniversary is coming up. Their child is in a play. No one wants to sign up for a study if they are going to miss weeks of it. This is important for any group, but especially if you are meeting every other week. My recycling bin has to be put out every other week and I can never remember if it is recycling week or not. I have to look at what the neighbors are doing. Our group meets every week and they like doing this because you get more coherence in the study.
Now with regards to schedules, it is a good idea if you are meeting weekly to give them a break every 4 to 5 weeks. And break for holidays. I try to do two weeks break at Christmas and two weeks at Easter. If you are meeting in the evenings, you will definitely want to break around Valentine's Day and Saint Patrick's Day and Trick or Treat night (parents have those costumes to get together). They will need an occasional break.
On the schedule put what you are discussing or going over each time. I like to give the page numbers from the study book for Bible study or the topic if it is a class I'm teaching. People want this information. Let them know it is a tentative schedule because snow storms, thunderstorms, sicknesses, etc. happen. If you have to cancel a week and you have put a break or two in the schedule, it is easy to get back on schedule.
Try to finish a study before a major holiday. We always have a Christmas party early December and a Christ in the Passover Seder before Easter. We begin our group with fun. And we always have an end of study party/ game night/ outing at the end of the study.
If your group decides to do a service project or a social outing, add it to the schedule. I highly recommend doing these.
We are about to start the LifeChange series study on Acts. (The LifeChange series studies are great!) At 20 weeks this is the longest study we have ever done. We did the LifeChange Luke study last year and the group asked to do the Acts one! I told them it was long, but they were pretty hyped.
Here's our tentative schedule to show you how we break and the information I give them on the schedule.
(You are welcome to follow along with us on PassiontoKnowMore's Facebook page as we study Acts. Here's an affiliate link to the study book. Acts, LifeChange Bible Study)
People like structure.
Introduction Night/ First Meeting: I don't like to jump into the Bible study the first time the group meets. If it is a new group this is the format - name tags/ introductions/ icebreakers/ hand out study books and go over how to do the study/ go over covenants, how we will communicate, prayer requests.
Nametags - New group or new people joining your group? You need name tags. I have someone coming back to our group after years. I'm not sure she knows everyone in the group now. So I'm making them do name tags the first couple weeks. Some people find it very awkward if they have been meeting for weeks and still don't know everyone's names. OK, I'm 'some people.' Just do the name tags at least for a little while.
Introductions/ Icebreakers - The point is to get to know each other a little.
Study - Looking at the schedule, briefly go over how you are going to do the study.
Covenants - We have group covenants to know what to expect from each other and to nurture a safe environment. You can use this.
As part of number 7 in the covenant when we agree to be patient, sensitive, accepting, and nonjudgmental of group members; we mention that politics have no place in our Bible study group. Any group is going to have people on opposite ends of the political spectrum. Even brief mentions of politics will change the way one group member views another member. It will change the tone of the group. It will cause discord within the group. Instead, we focus on why we are there - to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We are agreeing to allow God to work in each of our lives. If someone's heart needs changing or to grow in a certain area, He will change it.
My group is composed of people who go to different churches, but we still stress the importance of upholding the unity of the church. By "church" we mean all believers, the body of Christ, and our individual churches too. We will be peacemakers, not conflict makers.
Communication - With a group of people communication can be a challenge. We do it with a private Facebook group. Of course everyone in the group needs to be on Facebook for that to work. I've just found this is the best way for us to communicate. I have one person that is on Facebook, but rarely checks it. As admin of the group I can see who has seen what has been posted. If I see this person missed something important, I can text or email it to them. I find group text messages with a lot of people in them to be annoying and I use them sparingly. And a lot of people don't check their email very often. It doesn't really matter how your group decides to communicate; it just matters that you tell them which way you will communicate.
Prayer Requests - Our group covenants promises we will pray for each other. And we ask for prayers for others too. On the introduction night is when we go over what is an acceptable prayer request and what borders being gossipy. We do not gossip. I always give the example: Someone says, "My neighbor Jane is going through a rough time because she just found out her husband Stan has been cheating on her for a year." NO! This is not an acceptable prayer request because it is gossip. Instead the person should say something like, "Please pray for my neighbor Jane as she is going through a difficult time."
It is best to write prayer requests down or you will forget them. Our group uses this Prayer Diary. We like to write down praise reports too. Feel free to use it.
My group has been meeting for years and we know each other. We don't do all of this in detail on the Introduction week. Before we start the study we get together for a pot luck dinner, or go out to dinner, or have a game night - do something fun. See the above schedule? Everyone is bringing a dish from their heritage/ ancestry for a potluck dinner the first night. And we will be playing a game and visiting with each other. The next week we start the study. That week we start the study, I will briefly go over the covenants just to refresh them of what we are promising each other and remind them about how we communicate and about prayer requests and no political discussions.
Pray: Every Bible study time should open in prayer and close in prayer.
Honoring their time: People have full time jobs. They may have kids at home to get to. Remember this is a really big deal that people signed up to do this Bible study. Stay on topic. They have committed to doing a Bible study and that is what the group needs to focus on doing. Start on time and end on time. Watch the clock. Wrap up the study discussion at least 15 minutes before end time (even if you haven't gotten through all of the discussion questions) to ask for prayer requests. If you run over time, apologize to them and commit to doing better in the future. And then actually do better.
Our meeting time is an hour and a half long. I offer for them to come a little early or hang a half hour after if they want to visit with each other. But guard the allotted time you are doing the Bible study.
People want structure. They want to know what to expect. Be consistent. Create a safe space to discuss spiritual matters. Honor their time.
Pray as you prepare, pray during the weeks of the study, pray, pray, pray.
Spiritual growth will happen. Strong Christian bonds will be formed. Lives will be changed.