Creating Small Groups for Bible Engagement
July 21, 2014
Updated January 16, 2018
6 comments 376 views
Something new is brewing. In one conversation after another, I’m hearing church leaders discuss the need to get their congregation engaged in their Bibles.
Bible literacy in our congregations is lower than we think. The Healthy Church Survey is an assessment tool that takes the pulse of congregations. The tool studies eleven characteristics of church life. The survey data shows that CRC churches rate their church high on centrality of the Word in the context of preaching and teaching but they rate themselves low in personal Bible reading practices. (If you would like to learn more about the Healthy Church Survey visit crcna.org/HealthyChurch)
On the other hand, we know Bible engagement is critical to spiritual formation. Willow Creek discovered in the Reveal survey that Bible engagement is an important catalyst for spiritual growth in all stages of faith development. No surprise. The illustration below is from a recent power point presentation by Cally Parkinson, one of the Reveal authors.
In response to the growing awareness of the need for Bible engagement churches are encouraging Bible reading in many ways. Churches are promoting Bible reading plans. Some plans lay out a pathway for reading through the Bible in a year or reading plans that follow the sermon texts. Other churches encourage use of daily devotionals. I highly recommend Seeking God’s Face, available through Faith Alive. All of these strategies inspire personal Bible reading.
I would like to turn our attention to another Bible engagement environment: the Small Group. Small Groups can be a powerful catalyst. In small group Bible studies, people gain a broader perspective, they learn from others’ ideas and offer accountability and support. People ask questions, discuss how they were impacted and encourage digging deeper.
However, not every small group Bible study experience is catalytic in a good way. I have heard people say, “I’ve tried small group Bible study. I’ll never do that again!” How can a church create small groups that encourage, rather than hinder, Bible engagement and discovery?
Let's work backwards to find the answer by ask a couple of questions. I have suggested a few answers. Join the conversation by adding your ideas!
What kind of small group environment encourages Bible engagement?
What kind of a leader is needed for a Bible engagement group?
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This is, I think, a tough issue. I agree, and I think we all would agree, that we need more engagement with the Bible. I've been participating in small groups for many years, and I still find it difficult to stick to Bible study with a group (and without, but that's a different topic!).
One common challenge I find over and over is your bullet point "Group members come prepared to participate." Even with the best of intentions, people just have a hard time doing the preparation needed - reading the material before the meeting, or filling in answers to questions, etc. It just doesn't happen! When I have seen at least some success with Bible study in a group, it's been with books or guides that can work with having people "read" the material at the meetings. Either the material is very brief and able to be read aloud together at each meeting, or the leader has prepared ahead by finding key passages for the group to read together, enough to facilitate discussion. Like it or not, that's been the reality over and over.
Today I read a quote from John Suk's Twitter feed where he said, "People look for community before they set off on a search for God." It made me think of a recent decision I had made regarding the small group I am leading. Right now I have a lot of other commitments at our church and Christian school. I found myself really dreading the preparation I'd have to do for leading our small group Bible study, so I changed the format to be only a social/community format. We meet for coffee and dessert and share and prayer. At a later point I'll probably go back to including Bible study, but for right now this gives us a community of supportive, caring fellow believers.
I would not call it pure Bible study, but I have seen some success in a kind of theological book club that I was a member of. All of us find theological books interesting, and we had a book club where we read only those. Now that worked all right. And it speaks to another of your bullet points, "Group members understand the purpose of the group is Bible discovery. Relationship building and support will take place but are not the primary purpose." We were there to discuss books we read; it was not a small group or community in the sense that we would often think of them.
These are some random thoughts of mine. I would be interested to hear what others have to say and have experienced, too.
Hundreds of Christian business leaders -- men and women -- meet monthly across Canada in small groups over breakfast.
They meet to connect their faith to their vocation. The Canadian Christian Business Federation (CCBF) is a 30-year-old network involving almost 4,000 Christians across Canada. It has deep Reformed roots but it has developed into a wonderful ecumenical gathering of Christians who deal with business issues from a biblical perspective. This isn't Bible study; it's leadership development but it is solidly biblical. The foundation for these monthly breakfast discussions -- and there are 35 groups across the country -- is the NIV Leadership Study Bible.
There is a five-year curriculum, dealing with everything from integrity and obedience to God to stress management, courage and risk-taking, communication skills and problem solving.
Among the participants are men and women involved in business, more than a dozen Christian non-profits and a half dozen Christian colleges and universities who connect their business students with business leaders.
A growing number of churches are creating their own CCBF groups, recognizing that the church does very little to provide faith support for their members who are in business or the professions. Interestingly, almost all of these churches are evangelical, Pentecostal or Assembly of God. There isn't a CRC among them, even though the discussion materials focus on the very Reformed notion that 'everything belongs to God' and that 'if you're in business, you're in ministry'.
Just as there are Coffee Break groups for women, I would love to see even one CRC consider creating a small group for the men and women in their congregation who are involved in business or the professions.
While I embrace the notion that we need to have more small groups that deal with Bible study, we also need to have small groups that practically apply those biblical principles to the challenges facing the Christian business community: How do you balance your corporate long range plan with the will of God? How do you handle power and influence? If all that we have belongs to God, isn't tithing robbing God of the other 90 per cent?
Canadian Christian Business Federation
This sounds terrific, Keith! My brother is a CRC pastor in Toronto and meets with a group of business people for a lunchtime discussion. I don't know what materials he uses, but I believe the concept is the same. I'll have to get more details from him. But there's one CRC example anyway. :)
I will try to learn more about the CCBF network and curriculum.
Our church has also experienced the struggle with study material for Coffee Break and small groups. People don't want to put anything INTO the process, they want to come and receive the information because they're too busy to study at home. But I found that the times I've learned the most is when I was the leader - I HAD to put into the group in order to receive. If we put into, we receive, and our faith grows.
I am using Seeking God's Face for the third year, and I love it! The scriptures are so effectively related to the beautiful prayers which also refer to one of our creeds or confessions. I use Ecumenical Creeds and Reformed Confessions, also available from Faith Alive, as a companion to Seeking God's Face. It's made me more aware of all that's in our confessions and creeds, some of which I haven't reviewed since high school catechism classes. I highly recommend use of both books for personal devotions.
Getting church-goers to become engaged in scripture. What a novel idea.
One might start by removing all of the Bibles from the church pews. Have folks bring their own to worship that they can mark up and wear out. Smart phones will finally have a place in worship as parishioners -- especially young people -- become exposed to their favorite Bible app.
We as Reformed Christians have become lazy when it comes to opening up scripture. We've been conditioned to depend on the pew Bible, and that -- sad to say -- if often the only exposure that we have to scripture through the course of the week. We need to get trained to actually choose our favorite Bible translation and then take it with us to worship, to Small Groups, to work, wherever.
Biblical engagement is a huge issue within our churches, simply because we haven't grown up with the need to have an intimate relationship with our very own Bible. Without that intimate relationship, how can we expect to have meaningful small group discussions around biblical content?
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