Starting a group Bible study is easy, but if you’ve ever tried to do it, you probably figured out that it doesn’t just happen.
There’s work involved, but it’s more planning than anything.
I’ll walk you through the entire process and included everything I’ve learned over the years, along with plenty of resources to help you out, like always.
Here’s the first step…
1. Building the Foundation
Before you begin, you’ll want to set a start date so you know what to shoot for. Once you know when you’re starting, begin to answer these questions:
- What has God told you about the group? If you’re wanting to start a group, there’s a good chance that you’ve felt led by God to do so. Of course, this isn’t always the case, but if God has spoken to you about it, that’s where you start. Do what you feel God is calling you to do. Use prayer as your overall direction for where the group should go.
- How many people will be involved? This is often something you can’t fully predict, but you can get an idea. If you’re advertising the group to a church of 10,000, then you can assume it could be pretty big. If you’ve only told a few people about it, it should be a pretty tight group. Neither one is bad, but you’ll prepare differently for each.
- What format do you plan to use? Have you ever heard “let’s just get together and get into the Word”? That usually doesn’t work. You’ll often end up talking about everything except the Bible. You’ll want direction for the group. Fortunately, there are some great video studies, written studies and online studies to choose from.
- Where will the Bible study be held? Small groups work well in a home or a coffee shop. For large groups, you may be able to book a room at your church. The size is the determining factor here, so prepare adequately. If you decide to host it in a public place, inform whoever is in charge of that place to make sure it’s ok for you to do it.
We’ll get into more depth on these things in a moment, but by now, you should be thinking about the answers to the above questions. If you start by praying and asking God what He would have you do, the entire process will be a lot easier.
2. Compiling Your Group
Different types of groups call for different sizes. If you’re leading a small group like Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, the only limit to the amount of people is your location. If you’re doing an in-depth Scripture study on Romans, you’ll want to keep the group tight so that people feel comfortable for open discussion, and so the everyone has time to participate.
There’s no right or wrong answer for how big or small your group should be, but you have to be practical. When you’re showing up to small group to show a one hour teaching video, you just want people in front of the screen, but if there will be a group discussion afterwards, you probably don’t want more than around ten people there.
So how do you get people to actually come to your group?
For small Bible studies, you can often stick with word-of-mouth advertising in your church and community. Once you’ve hit the size you’re aiming for, you’re ready to begin. Just realize that you may not be able to get as many people as you want, and that’s perfectly fine, just begin with a few people and feel free to continue inviting others, if the group is one someone can jump in the middle of.
For larger teaching-type settings, you’ll want to get your church involved. The more you can advertise, the better. Many churches will announce the group on Sunday mornings, and they might even be willing to put a flyer up in the building, and on their website. Meet with a member of your church staff to ask, but don’t be disappointed if they are not able to help you advertise. Many churches have seasons of small groups, and if you are starting a study outside of their regular season, they may be reluctant to advertise for you. You won’t know if you don’t ask.
3. Choosing a Curriculum
We are so fortunate in this day and age to have countless resources for study and teaching. Whether you want a basic Bible study with no specific theme, or if you’re wanting a very specific topical study, there’s something out there for you to use.
Here are the most common types of curriculums:
- Video – Video teaching is becoming extremely popular for Bible studies and small groups, because it’s like bringing in an expert to teach. We all have our own gifts, but we can’t be good at everything. Video teaching takes the requirements off the leader, and makes it as easy as playing a video and doing some review.
- Workbook -Workbooks are a more old school type of Bible study, but this way is still popular for a reason. While video teaching takes the responsibility off the group to fully communicate, workbooks put the responsibility on the group. I think workbooks are best for deep Scripture studies, as opposed to topical studies.
- Devotional – This would be similar to personal devotionals you may have done in the past, but the content would be discussed in a group setting, so you would only want to get as personal as you feel comfortable. You can use any type of devotional – you would accomplish the reading and questions throughout the week – then discuss in a group.
- Create Your Own – The above options require you to find a teaching and use it as your curriculum, but you also have the option of creating your own. For a great guide to creating your own Bible studies, check out 30MinuteBibleStudies. If you find this to be too intimidating, simply use one of the other options.
If you want to do one of the first three types of Bible study or small group, here are some great resources:
Video studies are great, because anyone can facilitate them. They generally consist of pushing play, and sometimes reviewing the information or asking questions to the group out of a workbook. Here are some to get you started:
- Right Now Media – This is my favorite video resource, hands down. Right Now Media works like this: your church signs up for a membership (priced by size of congregation), then the entirety of their library is free for the members of that church. One of your church staff will send you an invite, and you’ll sign up for free. This is the outlet my church uses for practically every group. They have series by Tim Keller, Francis Chan, Dave Ramsey, and many other Christian leaders, and the videos are professional quality. Ask your church if they offer Right Now Media, or if the would be interested in signing up.
- BibleTalk Classes – BibleTalk offers many free lessons for a group setting. From topical studies, to specific books to the Bible, to a study on different world religions, BibleTalk is an awesome resource, especially if you don’t have funding.
- Woodland Hills Series – Greg Boyd is the senior pastor and primary teaching pastor. I listen to more of his sermons than any other pastor, and he is an amazing teacher of God’s Word. All of Woodland Hill’s past sermons are available for free download, but this link will take you directly to the series sermons, which are great for small groups and group discussions.
- Saddleback Series – You probably know Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose Driven Life, and you might even be familiar with his other work. Rick Warren is the founder of Saddleback church, and this link takes you directly to all of Saddleback’s series lessons, which are great for small groups and studies.
- Cornerstone Series – This is packed full of individual sermons and series sermons that are all great for a group setting. Francis Chan, author of Crazy Love, is the former pastor, but he is now traveling and speaking. Todd Nighswonger is now the senior pastor. You can find teachings by both of them on their extremely expansive list of sermons. These make for great studies and group teachings.
If you still can’t find something you’re interested in, you can buy a Bible study. The Hub has very affordable studies, often less than $20, and they feature many popular Christian leaders that you’re probably familiar with. SmallGroups.com is another great resource for purchasing small group lessons at an affordable price – the website is part of Christianity Today.
Workbook studies are great for interaction and discussion. Typically everyone would complete the workbook outside of the group, then you would all come together and discuss the questions and your answers. Of course, there is often a video and a workbook for small groups, but these examples are for workbook-only studies. Here are a few great studies to get you started:
- Life Lessons From the Bible by Barbara and Van Ballew
- Remembering the Forgotten God by Francis Chan and Mark Beuving
- The War Room Bible Study by Stephen and Alex Kendrick
- The Five Love Languages Bible Study by Gary Chapman
- Living Crazy Love by Francis Chan and Mark Beuving
- What on Earth Am I Here For? by Rick Warren
There are a few places to get free workbooks from, but of course the printing cost can be pricey. BibleClassBooks is one place to get free printable workbooks. You can also find free Bible study workbooks at Gospel Way.
Devotionals are great for individuals, but they also work well for groups. Due to the personal nature of devotionals, you may feel more comfortable with a smaller group. Sometimes the questions and topics can be sensitive, so larger groups might diminish the overall group response. Here are a few awesome devotionals to complete individually, and then discuss in a groups setting:
- Unto the Hills by Billy Graham – Great for all types of groups.
- The One Year Uncommon Life Challenge by Tony Dungy – Great for all types of group, especially men’s groups and women’s groups.
- The One Year Love Language Minute Devotional by Gary Chapman – Great for couples groups.
- Night Light by James Dobson – Great for couples groups.
You can also get some free devotional studies from Angel Ministries, BibleStudyTools or you can start a free devotional plan with the YouVersion Bible App. Your entire group can complete these plans each day, and then you’ll be able to come together for group discussion.
4. Facilitating a Healthy Group
You’re role as the facilitator, or the leader, of your group is to make sure the group stays on track. You have many roles as the facilitator, but fortunately, none of those roles include being a Bible scholar or a technical expert on the subject matter. You’re going to be the organizer that gets the group together. You’re the motivator to keep people coming. You’re the prayer warrior for everyone in your group. And finally, you’re the cheerleader of the group. You should be the most excited and enthusiastic person in the group – that will keep people involved and active.
Before we go on, watch this short video on 5 threats to your small group:
Those are some extremely common threats, now here are a few general guidelines to remember when leading your group:
- Pray – Constantly pray over the members of your group throughout the week. During the meeting time, don’t be afraid to stop and pray for someone if they’re struggling. And always be sure to ask if anyone needs prayer before you go. Pray for the group itself, pray over the people involved, and pray for direction in the group. Open in prayer, close in prayer. Just pray. (Philippians 4:6)
- Love – We already discussed, you’re not the expert. It’s not your job to know everything. It is your job to love everyone in your group. Respect them and put their wants and needs before your own (in the group – this doesn’t mean to let them suck all of your time outside of the group). (Matthew 22:36-40)
- Share – Share the air time with everyone in the group. Don’t talk to much or too little. And facilitate the group in such a way so that nobody else talks to much or too little. If someone is talking too much, politely thank them for their input and see if someone else has something to say. If someone is not talking at all, ask them what they would like to add to the discussion. And remember to avoid gossip in your discussion. It’s easy to fall into, but it can bring the wrong atmosphere to your group. (Ephesians 4:29)
- Respect – Respect the people in your group. Always start on time and end on time. Try your best to never be late to the group. That shows that you don’t take it seriously Plan ahead to have a backup facilitator within the group. This way, if an emergency comes up, you can easily pass the role to someone else for that session. Also, try to remember everyone’s name. It may take a week or two, but nothing will make people feel respected like having someone remember and use their first name. It’s the sound of pure bliss.
Now you have all the tools to start your group. It may still be rough in the beginning. You may be nervous. But the best thing you can do to get better at facilitating a group is to simply do it.
Read our guide to reading the Bible to learn more on Bible study in general. That will make you feel more confident in leading your group.
Take Action: Create a Small Group Plan
Go through the steps outlined in this article. Choose a format, and create a plan. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but get it on paper. Then take it to your pastor and see if he agrees that it would be beneficial for your church, or if you’re doing it on your own, start contacting people to create your group.
Leave a comment and let me know which type of group you’re starting, then come back in a couple months and let me know how it’s going.
Further Bible Study
Your Bible study will depend on the type of group you start, but here are some great starting points for all different types of Scripture study: