Bible Study Lesson Tips for Small Group Leaders
Leading a small group Bible study is a special chance to connect with others spiritually and personally. Try these tips as you think through the mission and priorities of your Bible study group.
How to Start Your Group
- Pick Your Purpose - Think about who the group is for: new believers, seasoned followers or a mix? This will dictate the type or lesson you choose and how you teach the class. Also, consider the ages of group members and if the group is co-ed or a men’s or women’s study. Some groups are more educational while others are meant for discipleship and going deeper into relationships.
- Decide if Your Group is “Open” or “Closed” - An open group is usually an ongoing Bible study or class where new people can join at any time. A closed group is one that is usually going through a study for a set amount of time and wants to start and end with the same people, allowing for an environment where participants feel safe to share and bond with their group. There are pros and cons to both.
- Exceptions to the Norm - Some groups meet as a large group, listen to a speaker and then break up into small groups. Sometimes a group member may want to bring a friend/relative from out of town to join in your group discussion. No matter your special situation, you can be flexible, inclusive and welcoming.
- Choose How Often to Meet - Think through if you want your group to meet weekly, bi-weekly or monthly. Weekly allows for consistency and deep relationships to form. Bi-weekly works better for a group for people with busy schedules like parents with young kids, men and women working outside the home or people who travel. Monthly tends to work well if you’re going through a book together.
- Decide Where to Meet - Think about if you want to host the study at your home or have it elsewhere. Given the time you will put into preparation, sometimes it is nice if someone else hosts so you don’t have to think about preparing your home. The study could be at another member’s home, rotate among homes, at church or a public place like a restaurant or coffee shop. A “neutral site” like a restaurant or home is usually the least intimidating for a new member to join.
- The Case for a Home - The benefit to meeting at a home is that it allows for a warm and welcoming environment that feels more personal and makes space for deeper private conversations. Genius Tip: Use an online sign up to coordinate hosting among several houses.
- The Case for a Restaurant or Cafe - A relaxed restaurant or coffee shop works well for early morning meetings or later at night when these venues aren’t as busy. It is a nice gesture to talk to the manager first if you plan to meet there regularly. Remember to be considerate of their space, mindful of time and pick up after yourselves. It’s also good for at least a few people to purchase food or drinks from the establishment every time.
- Arrange Child Care - It is a tremendous help to offer child care if your study involves parents. This frees them up to not worry about a babysitter each week. You could arrange child care at your church or hire a couple of babysitters at the host’s house. Things to consider: how to divide costs between parents and where children will play.
- Invite People to Join - You’ll want to spread the word about your small group to reach potential participants. You can recruit through church bulletins/announcements/newsletters or post on social media and neighborhood groups. Remember, personal invites are always the best — and they make it easier to say “yes.”
- Select a Topic/Theme - “Follow where the Spirit is leading you. Most of the studies I’ve led are because the Lord keeps bringing me back to that particular subject, book of the Bible or character,” advises Judy Bayne, who leads the women’s ministry at her east Texas church and has led women’s Bible studies for more than 20 years. “Be alert in your conversations with others. Often the same themes will keep arising. Keep this in mind over what is ‘trending.’” Genius Tip: Use these 60 small group Bible study topics, themes and tips for inspiration.
- Remember the Big Picture - Bayne also shares this advice: “The biggest thing I’ve learned: Be transparent. People don’t care if you have all the Bible knowledge if you are unapproachable. They need to see you as real. Share openly how the Lord has redeemed you from the life you were living before him and how he continues to do so today. Also, don’t compare yourself with how anyone else may lead. We all bring different gifts and the ways we lead are different. Every single time I lead I have to ask the Lord to make it all make sense. I like to say I’m more of a facilitator than teacher. I guide the conversation. Pray!”
Coordinate Bible study hosts and food with a sign up. SAMPLE
How to Encourage Relationships and Conversation
- Welcome People - As the leader, you want to make people feel welcome in the group from their first point of contact. When first reaching out, tell participants a little bit about yourself and why you are excited to lead the group. This will give people an idea of what you’re like and help them feel welcome the first day. Ask them to respond to you so you know they received the message. You want to make sure they know where to go and what time to be there. Most of all, they need to know you are glad they are in your group.
- Break Bread Together - Eating a meal or snacks relaxes the atmosphere and builds community. It can also break the ice and give people something to initially discuss. Genius Tip: Ask people to rotate bringing snacks and keep it organized with an online sign up.
- Try Icebreakers - It is always helpful to have some icebreaker questions ready for the start of the meeting. They’re a fun way to get to know people and laugh together. A couple of great questions for week one: “How many towns have you lived in?” and “Why are you here?” These questions give initial background information and help identify points of interest and similarities for group members. As the group continues, the questions can become more insightful or thought-provoking. Genius Tip: Try these 50 icebreaker questions for small groups.
- Mix Up Seating - For larger group Bible studies, human nature is to sit in the same spot or with your friends. But for relationships to develop — and to avoid groups becoming clique-ish — it helps to switch the seating. As the leader, it helps if you change where you sit in the room so others do too.
- Establish Confidentiality - Lay boundaries at the beginning of the study for the types of topics discussed, and remind people that anything discussed in the study stays in the study. It is crucial to establish confidentiality so people feel it is a safe place to share.
- Identify Different Discussion Personalities - Typically, some group members can fall into one of two categories: talkers and non-talkers. There are different ways to approach each. The talkers can take over the group without meaning to, and the quiet types may need to be encouraged to share their thoughts.
- Tips for Talkers - The leader can often set the tone for how long to talk — and this usually works well. However, if you still have a “talker,” listen to them as they share, and if they keep going, nod your head faster to signal, “We got your point and need to move on.” This is a VERY delicate balance to making them feel heard but also leaving space for others to share. You can also graciously tell them that we need to move on to the next topic/question in one minute. Another helpful approach is to arrive early to spend time with the “talker,” so he or she has a chance to discuss topics before the study.
- Tips for the Silent Type - You can try gently asking them directly what they think. When they do open up, nod slowly to encourage them and help draw them out. The more comfortable they feel, the more they will share. When they do share, make sure they can keep the floor without being interrupted.
Organize Bible study childcare snacks with a sign up. SAMPLE
How to Approach Special Situations
- Responding to Differences in Theology - Your approach will vary based on both the makeup of your group and the person’s answer. If it is an interdenominational group, leave denominational differences at the door and focus on the major tenants of the faith. If an answer won’t confuse the rest of the group, wait to talk to the person until later in private. If the response is theologically incorrect on a larger scale that could lead the group off course, you can gently restate what you heard the person say and tie it in, if possible, to the purpose of your discussion, and then redirect the conversation. While theology is important, the most important thing is for people to know they are loved and valued by God. As author and speaker Bob Goff puts it, “Spend more time telling people who they are [in Christ] than why they are wrong.”
- Keep Encouragement at the Center - Especially in a study with a mix of spiritual levels or religious backgrounds, hold fast to the core of what the Bible teaches. People are worn down and need encouragement from God’s word and from people who are also trying to live out the love of Jesus on a daily basis.
- Emotional Moments - Some Bible studies can bring up a lot of emotions, and you may have some people who cry periodically. Depending on how close your group is, this can be fine or very uncomfortable. As the leader, the best thing to do if someone cries is to stop and pray for him or her. This welcomes the Holy Spirit into the moment, calming everyone and refocusing the group.
Collect RSVPs for a night of pizza and Bible trivia with a sign up. SAMPLE
How to Celebrate the End of Small Group Sessions
- Serve Together - People draw closer by both serving and working toward a common goal and purpose. It also helps broaden perspectives and gives everyone a chance to think outside of their everyday lives. Genius Tip: Try these 50 community service ideas.
- Plan an Activity - Organize lunch, a movie or hike outside the Bible study to get to know each other better in a different environment. Consider team building activities like an escape room or obstacle course. It often helps the group form deeper bonds.
- Educate Yourselves - Consider watching a documentary or educational video together on a current event that is relevant to the study. You could also go to a conference, retreat or community event related to what you’ve studied together. Use this as a platform to apply what you are learning together to real world events.
- Organize a Celebratory Meal - Consider a fun end-of-study meal and have people sign up to bring different dishes. Consider providing a time for people to share a highlight of the study and a key truth they want to hold onto. “It’s hard to remember eight weeks of information, so select a key truth to hold onto and put it in your proverbial pack to take with you on your journey,” says Elizabeth Poplin, founder and leader of the citywide Bible study Awaken in Charlotte, North Carolina.
- Delegate - Finally, don’t be afraid to recruit help and delegate! People often want to help, but they may not know how. When someone other than leaders can pitch in, encourage and let them!
With a little planning and prayerful thought, leading a small group Bible study will be something to look forward to. Remember that good leaders are not perfect, but they humbly lead by example.
Andrea Johnson is a native Texan now living in Charlotte, N.C., with her husband and two daughters. She enjoys running, photography and good chocolate.