Here’s to all of you Bible study leaders out there, who attempt—week after week—to sustain a half-way decent Bible study. Some weeks they thrive, other times, they flop—no matter how much you prepared.
And yet, there are a few simple practices that tend to be some of the most overlooked and under-emphasized habits in all of Bible-study leading. But they can make all the difference.
1. Set for 60 minutes or less.
Even if your group is in the midst of an amazing discussion, stick to your time frame at all costs. Some students have budgeted for this and can only devote one hour a week to the study. If we fail to honor their time, we risk losing their trust.
Hint: Try pausing the discussion after one hour, giving anyone who needs to leave the opportunity to do so. Then, those who stay beyond that point do it out of their own free will.
2. Keep a consistent meeting place.
Whether your study meets in a living room, a coffee shop, a bar, or the student center on campus, make sure it’s a place where they can count on finding you each week. This is far more important than finding the perfect atmosphere.
Hint: We are creatures of habit. Most students would rather return to a place that is known to them than risk to venture to a new, though potentially “better” site week after week
3. Check in with the group.
Sharing high points and low points of the week, or answering, “Where did you find God in your life this week?” or even, “How do you come?” are all great ways to read the emotional pulse of the room before delving into the material. Even if there is a lot of material to cover that day, do not cut out this check-in. Allowing everyone to briefly share at the start of the hour will build trust and solidarity among members.
Hint: Lead by example. If their leader candidly and humbly shares the ways God is working in his/her life that week, then the group is much more likely to follow suit in their level of vulnerability.
4. Be radically available.
Make a point to spend time with each of your Bible study members outside of the usual meeting time. Quality time with participants helps them feel that they are a valuable member of the group, and they will be much more likely to return on a regular basis if they’ve gotten to know their leader in an informal setting.
Hint: Personal invitations are key.
5. Improve our “ministry of presence.”
Here’s a familiar scenario: A girl in Bible study is speaking, when suddenly, we see someone else we know. Completely disregarding the discussion at hand, we yell, “Oh my gosh, HEY!” Our attention is lost. So is the dignity we could have offered her in that moment.
Hint: Try not to break eye-contact with the person speaking, even if your best friend just walked into the room or your phone is buzzing uncontrollably. This is a discipline and will take practice, but it is the way of love.
Finally, pray. Pray every day for your study, not just in general, but for each member specifically, by name. We hold a privileged place in their lives. Let’s allow them to hold one in ours.
Let these habits to take root, and then rest easy knowing that this work is the Lord’s. It’s not our own. If the study goes well, thank Him. If it goes poorly, remember He will reach far more souls through our weaknesses than He will through our strengths.