Small-group Bible studies can be a catalyst for significant life change. Interacting with others around a common theme offers participants opportunities to share experiences and learn from each other. And given the right environment, group members can find a safe place to discuss meaningful issues and open up on a more personal level.
One key to small-group effectiveness is a well-prepared leader. Here are some tips for leading your own effective small-group study:
1. Select your materials wisely.
There are a plethora of resources readily available on Bible study, women’s and men’s topics, marriage enrichment, and parenting. Begin by asking for recommendations from a trusted source like your pastoral staff or another mature Christian.
The optimal length of a small-group class is around six weeks, with each session lasting 60 to 90 minutes. A six-week class keeps the material fresh and is short enough for people to make the commitment to attend.
If you will be using digital media in your study, make sure the resource’s delivery technology works well with your equipment.
2. Carefully choose the time, location, and backup facilitators.
Sunday morning at church fits most people’s schedules. And childcare and classroom space are often readily available. However, if you want to foster greater connection and authenticity between participants, meeting in homes is the way to go. If you do choose this option, consider how you will handle childcare, a very important issue for parents.
Ahead of the study, choose another couple to facilitate the weekly meeting in the event you are absent. Consistency is key to an effective small-group study. Changing dates and times or missing meetings because facilitators aren’t there is a sure way to encourage dwindling attendance. Consistency improves impact.
3. Promote the group study.
Different channels and methods catch different people’s attention. So promote the group study as many ways as possible. Facebook, Instagram, email and text messages, church bulletins, church foyer table, posters, word of mouth, pulpit announcements—use all channels available to you.
A personal invitation is the most effective way, by far, to recruit participants to a group study. We recommend starting your promotion three weeks to a month before your group study begins.
Consider visiting the resource publisher’s website to check for any downloadable promotion materials. An attractive flyer or online page with a signup link or information is a great tool. Be sure to include the group study’s description, duration, meeting day and time, location, the facilitator’s contact information, and how to sign up.
Once you have your participants, create a group roster of names, emails, and phone numbers. Send weekly encouragements and reminders of topics discussed, homework, the snack schedule, or articles participants will find interesting.
But don’t limit interaction with members to just the current study and schedule. Develop relationships by getting together for activities outside the regularly scheduled group study.
After the study is over, keep up with members’ contact info for when you offer other group studies or connecting opportunities. It’s as much about building relationships as it is about the study.
5. Prepare each week.
Study the material ahead of time and meditate on it throughout the week. Refresh your memory by looking through your notes, either the night before class or the morning of. Guard against letting your preparation for the group study take the place of your personal Bible study and prayer time, knowing that Satan will be eager to attack (1 Peter 5:8).
Most importantly, remember true preparation must include prayer for the effectiveness of the group study in the lives of each of the participants .
6. Create an atmosphere for connection.
Don’t dive straight into the group study. Begin with a little informal time to allow participants to connect with each other on their own terms. Food, even if it’s light fare, usually puts people at ease. It’s probably a good idea to provide the food for the first couple of meetings. Later, invite participants to bring something each week. A sit-down meal for the final week of the study can be a great way to celebrate and reflect on what you’ve all learned together.
Check the format for your group study, and arrange the chairs accordingly. Will discussion primarily involve group discussion, discussion between spouses, or small-group breakouts? For most studies, arranging the chairs in a circle facilitates better discussion.
7. Be punctual.
Each week, arrive at least 20 minutes prior to the group study so you can have everything ready and have time for personal prayer, yielding to God’s direction and wisdom.
Start and finish on time. Resist the urge to “wait until everyone is here” before starting, or to “keep going because everyone is engaged” when it is time to stop. Let everyone know they are welcome to stick around but that they’re free to go at the prearranged finish time. People appreciate when you stick to your schedule. It shows you respect their time.
8. Encourage participation.
During discussion, become comfortable with silence. You may find it uncomfortable to ask a question and sit in silence for a few seconds. However, doing so often encourages a group member to interact who normally might not. Resist the temptation to answer your own question. Heed James’s admonition to be “quick to hear, slow to speak” (James 1:19).
If you want widespread discussion, don’t ask questions generally. Instead, alternately direct your questions to specific members of the group until people feel more comfortable sharing. Prepare thought-provoking and application-based questions to throw out to the group.
9. Model what you want the group to be.
If you want honesty, be the first to share openly and personally. If you want the group to experience community, make a point of sending a quick text throughout the week to check on individual group members or just to say hi. Set up a time to meet for coffee or dinner with a couple or individual you don’t know well. Stay in touch with the needs of the group and brainstorm opportunities to serve each other. Want to foster a culture of praying for each other regularly? Send a mid-week group text asking people to share prayer needs.
Participants aren’t the only ones who will benefit.
Leading a small-group study can be very rewarding to you, in addition to those who attend. As you prepare for each class, you will find God strengthening your relationship with Him as He gives you a greater heart for ministering to people.
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