Leading an effective Bible study group depends on three factors: the leader, the group, and the study materials. By understanding their functions, you can be confident in facilitating a lively, life-changing Bible study group.
Effective leaders do not serve as teachers or lecturers. Instead, they should see themselves as facilitators who guide their group, encouraging people to interact with each other. This is good news. Not all of us are gifted as teachers, but most anyone can promote effective discussion by following these guidelines:
1. Prepare your heart before the study: Pray for God to help you understand the study material and apply its teachings to your own heart and life. When the study material has challenged you, then you are prepared to help others learn and apply the teachings to their lives.
2. Pray for the members: For the Bible to have life-changing impact on members of your group, the Holy Spirit must be working in the members’ hearts and minds before, during, and after the study. In John 15:5, Jesus said, “You cannot do anything without me.” The supernatural power of the Holy Spirit makes your group different from any other type of discussion group. Pray for each member every week, by name preferably, asking the Holy Spirit to use the Bible and study materials to speak into their lives.
3. Begin and end the study on time: Whether your session lasts for one hour or more, a format will help members know what to expect and how to use their time wisely. Let your group know that you value their time and will begin and end the study on schedule. Try to conclude the study 10 minutes early - to leave time for prayers, announcements, etc.
4. At your first meeting, explain the importance of group discussion: According to a research report by The William Glasser Institute, we retain:
10 % of what we read
20 % of what we hear
30 % of what we see
50 % of what we see and hear
70 % of what we discuss with others
80 % of what we experience personally
95 % of what we teach to others
Effective Bible study material will provide questions. As members share their answers and insights, God’s Word becomes real and practical. They learn from each other and can encourage one another to grow in knowledge and understanding.
5. Encourage several members to share answers to each question: Good questions should prompt more than one possible answer. Each person will have their own perspective. To stimulate and motivate sharing, ask questions like, “What do the rest of you think?” or “Anyone else want to share?” until several people have had a chance to respond.
6. Try to affirm answers when possible: People will respond to questions more easily when they know they are heard, and their insights are appreciated. Simple affirmations such as, “That’s great insight,” “Excellent idea,” “Thanks for sharing your heart,” or “I had not thought of that before,” will show people you value their input.
7. Don’t be afraid of silence: When you ask a question and the response is slow, sometimes people may need more time to think before they share. The silence usually seems longer to you than to others. Try asking the question in another way, to make sure they understand and to give them more time to think.
8. Resist answering the question yourself: If you break the silence yourself by answering the question, even a talkative group can become passive if they think you will do much of the talking. Let everyone have a chance to respond to a question. After, you may share your own thoughts if you like, but be careful not to dominate the exchange.
9. Never reject an answer: If you reject an answer, even if it is wrong, people may not risk giving their opinion again. To make sure responses reflect the truth of the Bible, you may ask, “Which verse led you to that conclusion?” Or let the group help bring the comment in-line with Scripture by asking them what they think about the question.
10. Avoid tangents that take you off topic: If people wander off course, gently bring them back to the passage and question being studied. If a question leads a person into sharing a difficult problem that could take you off topic, stop and pray for the person’s struggle, and move back into the study material.
11. Guide the pace of the study: Try not to be so focused on the material that you become rushed to get through it or spend too much time on one question. Most studies are designed to be completed in one session, rather than just ending and completing a lesson at the next meeting. This gives your group a sense of completion and closure, especially for members who may miss the next session. It is best to try and complete the lesson, even if you have to skip some sections to focus on key questions.