by Reid Smith
As a small group leader, there are things that you can do in your preparation for your gatherings that can optimize the impact of God’s Word on people’s lives (Hebrews 4:12). These practices will actually help your group members get the most out of your Bible study together and become more responsive to the transformational work of the Holy Spirit in their lives:
1. Pray for it – Give each gathering over to Jesus. Pray for each group member by name. Ask for specific break-throughs and invite the Holy Spirit to have His way.
2. Preview it – It is well worth taking 15-minutes before each meeting to…
- Read the key passages in at least two different translations (bible.com or biblegateway.com)
- Refer to cross-references and commentaries to give yourself a good feel of the context.
- Review the questions that are a part of the study you are using and select ones you sense your group will grab onto the best.
- Reduce the volume of material given by 50%. This helps the group time feel more relaxed and more focused, which increases overall participation.
- Rephrase the questions you decide to use in ways you think will spark further dialogue. Restating the same question in different ways helps some people formulate their thoughts.
3. Facilitate it – Don’t get into ‘teaching mode’ or feel like you have to have all the answers. You want your group’s Bible study to be a peer-to-peer learning experience where every person’s insight and personality influences the discussion. Here are some reusable questions that can enliven the dynamic of any discussion:
- What stands out to you in this passage? What impacted you during the reading?
- Was there something read that is new for you, reaffirming, confusing or challenging?
- How can we apply this to our lives today?
- How could this be shared with people who do not yet know Christ?
- Be patient with moments of silence. If nobody shares after a few seconds, put the question in another way. Here are a few other facilitation tips that will help to accelerate spiritual conversations: 1) Be ready to answer questions briefly and naturally if nobody initiates after giving a prolonged pause 2) People think primarily in pictures so try to portray a topic visually by applying questions to personal stories or hypothetical situations 3) Provide guardrails to keep the discussion on track so you don’t drift too far off topic.
4. Include them – When people feel included, they feel like they belong. When people feel like they belong, they want to engage. When people are engaged, they grow. Time may not allow for every person to participate in the way they would like, but you can help them feel more included by…
- Giving each person a purpose to fulfill in the group that corresponds with their gifting and passion – start them off with small tasks that have a shorter-term commitment.
- Circling back to people who have not shared, but looked like they were on the verge of saying something.
- Make eye-contact with those who share, acknowledging their input with simple affirmations like, “Thanks for sharing” or “Good insight,” and then try to relate it back to the passage being studied or keep the momentum going by inviting others to add their thoughts.
- Expressing your love for them, e.g. “I’m so glad you’re a part of our group!” Simple acknowledgements go a very long way in boosting people’s sense of belonging, which optimizes group Bible study in the future.
5. Open up – Not enough can be said about the importance of authenticity. This is essential to healthy leadership and Bible studies. The more open you are, the more open others will be. You make the group feel safe when you are real and it frees people up to be themselves, which is the kind of community everyone wants.
6. Listen up – One of the best ways you can love on the people in your group is to listen to them. This will probably mean you lay aside your own interests, agenda, or things you would like to say. Give people your full attention and reflect back to them that you understand by nodding or putting what they said into your own words to make sure you heard them correctly. When people see that others are being heard, they will feel more secure about opening up and sharing things on their heart.
7. Lighten up – People tend to be more reserved when there is a serious edge to the study. A light-hearted atmosphere actually encourages more involvement. If you have fun with it all, others will too.
8. Wrap-up – Summarize what happened in your group and give a teaser for what’s next before you end your group on time.
9. Follow-up – If somebody asks a question or shares a personal prayer need during your group study, be sure to follow-up with them. Also, don’t hesitate to contact people who said they were going to be at your Bible study, but were not. Let them know they were missed and see if there is anything they need.
10. Offer up – The way a group stays healthy in the long-run and goes deeper in their Bible study is by letting the grace of God flow outward. He wants to use our Christ-centered community to engage the world, not insulate ourselves from it (Acts 2:47; Rom 1:16, 10:14-15). God always makes room for the lost so expand your group circle as much as possible (Luke 15). He will provide the time and space for additional members if our hearts are seeking to extend His grace to those who have yet to come home. Practically-speaking, you can offer up your group by…
- Turning your group’s attention to lost people during your time of discussion and prayer.
- Telling members that you would LOVE for them to invite people they know to your group.
- Thinking together about how your group can share God’s grace with spiritually empty people.
- Traveling to locations beyond the home where you meet, e.g. hold your study in a public space or go on a mission trip together.
- Transitioning your group into new seasons of study by empowering people to look after different aspects of your group’s life together or handing off more responsibility to a person who could co-lead with you. This will prepare your group to multiply so that more people can be impacted by the love and message of Jesus Christ.
You know you’ve been successful at optimizing your small group’s Bible study if your group members love more: Love God more, love people more, love the lost more, and love Scripture more!
Reid Smith has been equipping leaders in churches of all sizes and stages of growth for effective disciple-making since 1996. He currently serves as a Pastor of Groups at Christ Fellowship in Palm Beach County, FL and has been a contributing author for various publications, including Lifeway’s Ministry Grid. Learn more about how to start and multiply healthy groups throughout your church at www.reidsmith.org.
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