I’ve facilitated hundreds of bible studies over the years, in many different cultural settings, both for people who identify as Christian and those who don’t, who are seeking spiritual answers. Borrowing generously from many resources1 over the years, here’s an outline I’ve developed that works well in one-on-one or group settings with little-to-no planning.
Once the group understands how things work, take turns facilitating!!! In my opinion, the more the group takes collective ownership and de-centralizes authority figures, the healthier the group will be.
Here’s the outline I use, with explanations provided in the section afterward.
Example: What is something about yourself that made you feel like an outsider in the family or community in which you were raised?
Example: Liturgical Reading
Reading Passage: Example: Mark 14
- Who, what, when, where, how?
- Repetition, contrast, general-to-specific, climax,
cause & effect, comparisons
- Emotions, smells, sounds, sights, feelings, images
- Connections to texts we’ve previously discussed
- What do you like best and/or least?
- What do you not understand?
- What does this passage of Scripture teach
about God and/or people?
- Is there a teaching from this passage you want to reflect on or practice this week?
Example: Adoration prayers
Consider letting all members of the group take turns creating the Discussion Questions. We all have different perspectives, not only in the way we answer questions, but also in the questions we ask. Make sure to ask open-ended questions that everyone in the group is able to answer. The question can be related to the Reading Passage, but it is not necessary. Sometimes the Discussion phase of the meeting can take a lot of time. I’ve been in groups where we rotate every other week between a Spiritual Discussion Question and a Reading Passage study.
- I have some great Discussion resources:
Spiritual Discussion Questions
- Also, author Traci Rhodes has created several wonderful resources:
50 Questions To Ask Other Christians Without Offending Them
40 Questions for the Unchurched
- Make time and room for everyone to answer the question. Everyone is encouraged to answer, but they can always pass.
- We are here to listen to each other, not to “fix” each other. Refrain from offering advice after someone has shared. You may ask clarifying questions and offer encouragement (occasionally), but practice “quick to listen, slow to speak.”
- We are not here to debate. We are here to conversate. We can (and desperately need to learn to) talk about controversial topics (such as politics), but in a way that involves listening and understanding the sharer, not in a way that involves trying to convert others to our viewpoint. When it is your turn to answer a question, you should answer from your perspective, but do not try to challenge another person’s perspective during or after they have finished sharing.
Opening Prayer & Closing Prayer
Your group should decide if it is better to start with prayer, end with prayer, both, or neither. In some groups, especially if some do not identify as Christian, communal prayer may not be appropriate. Be sensitive to your group dynamics, but even in seeker groups, it is often appropriate to have a moment of “thankfulness.” Have everyone name one thing they are thankful for from the week (and remember, passing is always an option). Know your group.
- Take turns facilitating prayer.
- Do NOT limit prayer time to “personal prayer requests.” When you do decide to take personal requests, do not let one person hijack the group with an hour-long monologue about their Great Aunt Ruth’s broken toe.
- Be Creative. Model different styles of prayer.
- Pray for current events.
- Create space for silent meditation.
- Cite Liturgical Prayers.
- Practice the ACTS model together. Spend one week on Adoration, the next week on Confession, then Thanksgiving, then Supplication.
- Take turns reading a favorite bible verse as your prayer time.
- For personal requests, pray immediately after each person has shared instead of waiting until all requests have been collected.
I highly recommend printing out the passage each week. This is known as a manuscript study. Print the group’s preferred translation out each week (copy and paste a passage from BibleGateway into a document and delete any section headers that have been added to the passage because these headers influence interpretation and arbitrarily break up the passage.)
Read the passage together as a group. Have one person read the passage, or switch it up. Take turns reading verse-by-verse, paragraph-by paragraph, or assign roles—narrator, Jesus, Peter, etc. Practice Lectio Divina.
This is often the most difficult part for the group to learn and will take some discipline from the facilitator to make sure it is enforced. Take time as a group to share observations, NOT interpretations. Make sure the group understands the difference and enforce. After a few weeks, people usually get the hang of it, but there is usually a learning curve.
For interpretation, go around in a circle; everyone is encouraged to answer each question, but no one is required. “Pass” is always an option. The Etiquette Rules established in the Discussion Section apply here as well. It is important for the facilitator to ensure that each person is provided with an opportunity to answer the question and they are not interrupted in the process.
For the “What do you not understand?” question specifically, FIRST go around in a circle and collect everyone’s thoughts, turn those thoughts into questions, decide which questions to focus on (1-2, depending on time), and THEN spend some time in group discussion. It’s often beneficial to stick to circle-style. Go back around the circle for each person to respond to the chosen question. However, once people feel more comfortable in the group and respect has been established, it might be conducive to have an open-discussion format during the “What do you not understand?” segment after questions have been collected, but ONLY if the facilitator is able to ensure no one is attacked for an unpopular interpretation and no one person dominates the conversation.
Again, circle-style. You may want to provide notecards for each person to write down their reflections to take with them for the week.
1Questions adapted from:
- OIA method
- Discovery Bible Study, John Devries. Mission 21 India, 1989
- various church groups
For more information on forming a group, see
Craft and Conversation Table
Title image is Lord’s Supper by Vasily Polenov.
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