Have you ever participated in a small group Bible study? I’m not talking about Sunday School or discipleship classes held on Sunday nights prior to evening worship services. I’m talking about small groups that meet in someone’s home to study and pray over God’s word—much as the disciples did in beginning of Acts as the Christian church was being formed.
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:24-25 (ESV)
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Acts 2:42 (ESV)
And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. Acts 5:42 (ESV)
Our church began having small group Bible studies several years go. We called these groups LIFE groups and they met in members’ homes, averaging 8 to 10 people at the outset. They went strong for over a year, but they dwindled down mainly due to membership changes in our church from people relocating because of jobs, illness, family dynamics, and other interruptions of life. A year or so ago we started the LIFE groups up again. We had fresh leadership and the membership strategies had changed, so we had high expectations.
Why LIFE groups you may ask? Why not just offer Bible studies at church at the “normal” or “expected” times? Shouldn’t offering Sunday school adjacent to worship services, discipleship classes on Sunday evenings, prayer group and Bible study on Wednesday nights, etc., be enough? We already offered these opportunities and attendance was minimal at best. Having small group Bible studies offers many advantages. LIFE groups are held at people’s houses and opportunities are offered for different days and times during the week. There are no strict schedules to adhere to—beginning and ending times are flexible, and if fellowship time is desired additional time will be available. Discussion isn’t held to a 40 minute or 50-minute deadline because we have worship gathering immediately following or nursery workers to relieve. Each LIFE group is unique, and dependent on the personalities within the group. Each group works together to choose the days and times for meeting that work best for the members in their group.
My husband and I belong to a LIFE group that ranges from six people to as many as 15 or 16 if illness or other commitments don’t interfere in attendance. The ages range from 25 to 60. We have married and single members, new Christians and those that have been Christians for a long time. Some of us have children, some are empty-nesters and some don’t have any children. Some of us work at outside jobs, some of us are retired, some of us work from home. Most are involved in other ministries of the church. All these circumstances have made for a special experience. Members fill various roles in the group as needed; we have advisors, comforters, encouragers, intercessors, discipliners, teachers, visionaries, etc. We can call on our various experiences to help each other grow in our spiritual walk.
In our life group alone, we have dealt with loss of family members, rebellious family members, life-threatening illnesses and surgery, marriages, new births, job loss and/or changes, and financial hardships. One of our members has started a motorcycle ministry with his wife. Through it all we determine how we might best show our encouragement and support and work to do what we can.
The relationships we have developed might not have happened in the more structured meetings held at church. With small groups, there are more opportunities to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading in a relaxed atmosphere where sharing with each other comes easier and more natural without time constraints.
Let me encourage you to join a small group Bible study if your church offers one. If one is not available, consider starting one. But let me caution you—set some ground rules at the outset if you want to encourage your group to succeed. The rules would depend on the individual preferences and personalities within your group, but here are a few suggestions that have worked well within our group structure.
Suggested Ground Rules for Small Groups
- Confidentiality. Whatever happens in LIFE group stays at LIFE group. No one wants to find out their situations have been openly shared with others outside the group without their permission. Don’t even put them on church-wide prayer lists or discuss at prayer meetings unless they initiate the discussion or ask you to bring their situation up for prayer.
- Begin and end on time. Once the group has decided on a start time and end time for discussions, stick to it. Decide whether there will be a fellowship time before or after the Bible study. Some people have special situations where time needs to be considered such as children they need to get home to, babysitters they need to relieve, work schedules that affects late night discussions that may run over, etc. Our group usually saves the “fellowship time” until after group discussion, that way if someone needs to leave early, they won’t miss any of the Bible study.
- Commitment to Attendance. Once you have made the commitment to be a part of LIFE group, make every effort to attend. Try to schedule other activities around small group when possible. Life happens we know and things will come up that will cause scheduling conflicts at times; however, to build those relationships and experience true Christian growth, your commitment to the group should be considered important enough to participate. Others will be depending on you! Whatever you say could be just what they need to hear to move forward in a personally difficult situation.
- Discussion involves everyone. Everyone should have a chance to listen and share. One person should not monopolize the entire conversation—give others the opportunity to speak.
- Be courteous and respectful. Consider small group a “judgement free” zone. It is difficult for some people to talk freely, especially if they feel intimidated by more “mature” Christians. Make sharing a comfortable experience, don’t judge, laugh, or dismiss others’ comments. Offer input when requested, encouragement when needed, and Christian counsel when appropriate. Sometimes in sharing our own experiences, others find the answers to their own circumstances.
- Turn off Cell phones. Or at least mute cell phones during group discussion. A cell phone ringing during an eye-opening, heartfelt discussion can be annoying and bring the flow of conversation to a complete standstill.
Small group Bible studies offer exciting opportunities for both spiritual and personal growth. Why don’t you try one out today?