Mask or no mask? Dine-in or take-home? Christmas with family or a virtual Christmas? In-person worship or online worship? We have been barraged with many decisions over the last few months. Some of us are weary, and now as we prepare for 2021, here comes yet another decision for some of us: What will our Bible study groups study next?
Many churches make this decision for their groups (Mine does; in fact, I’m the one who makes the decision.). Some churches delegate this important decision to you, the group leader. You are charged with deciding on any number of studies approved by your pastor or other staff leader, or maybe you are the one who develops a list and presents it to your pastor for approval. How will you decide which one is right for your group? Yes, I know. It’s another important decision you’re facing after a year of making tough decisions. Take heart! I have some ideas for you that may make this process a bit easier.
1. Select based on your group’s needs, not your preferences.
I’m a group leader, and if I was given the privilege of selecting my group’s studies, I would tend to pick books of the Bible I resonate with more than others, or I might choose topics I feel more comfortable teaching. I might even steer toward either the New Testament or the Old Testament (I’ve known teachers who love to camp out in one testament of the Bible, almost ignoring the other one.).
For these and other reasons, it is important that I consider the needs of my group. What will help them grow as disciples? Their needs and my preferences may not align, and when that happens, I should serve them well by deferring my preferences and selecting studies that are more in tune with their needs.
2. Decide based on the eight signposts of discipleship.
In our quest at Lifeway to understand how disciples are made, research pointed us to eight “signposts”—markers in the life of believers that indicate whether they are on a path of spiritual maturity.
The idea here is balance. If disciples grow in eight key areas, wouldn’t you want your group to be involved in Bible studies over time that lead them to be exposed to these eight key attributes of discipleship? Of course you would. If you choose studies like I mentioned in #1 above, you won’t provide a balanced diet of studies that produce well-rounded disciples. No one wants that for their group members.
One of Lifeway’s “ongoing” study series, Bible Studies for Life, does this automatically (it’s one reason I chose this series for the adult and student groups at my church). Each six-session study intentionally introduces group members to one of the eight signposts; the next six-session study introduces them to another of the eight signposts. Over the course of one year, group members are exposed to all eight signposts—without me having to overthink it.
If you want to learn more about the eight signposts, click here, and to get a free copy of the book Creating a Discipleship Pathway, click here. If you are intrigued with the way Bible Studies for Life does the balancing for groups, you may want to take a minute and check it out here.
3. Understand your group’s “starting point” for Bible study.
I mentioned earlier that I have selected Lifeway’s series, Bible Studies for Life, for the adult and student groups at my church. One caveat: I had two adult groups that just couldn’t get into that series. “No problem,” I told the group leaders. I could say that because I knew there were other options that would fit the way their group members wanted to study the Bible.
I call those study preferences “starting points.” Let me explain. Some groups enjoy studying the Bible topically—that is how Bible Studies for Life does it. But some groups prefer to study the Bible book-by-book, which is the way Explore the Bible goes about it. Still other groups like studying the Bible and seeing how all the stories connect together to tell one big story—the story of redemption, and how Jesus is in all the Scripture—that’s how The Gospel Project approaches Bible study.
To select a study for your group, you need to know your group’s “starting point”—do they prefer topical studies, book studies, or studies with the larger meta-narrative of Scripture in mind? There’s no wrong answer. Think of it like this: you may prefer to eat your steak rare, I may prefer mine medium, and a third person might like their steak cooked well done. We all like steak, but we like it prepared differently. That’s one key to unlocking your group’s future studies: Know how they like to “eat their steak” (study the Bible), then make your decision about curriculum.
4. Avoid “group think” and use a team approach.
One area of stress for group members is constantly being asked, “So, what do you want to study next?” They often don’t know. And even worse, they may just not care. They trust you, and they trust their church—and they need someone to make the decision for them. One or two vocal group members can steer the direction of future studies into topics or subjects they want to study, and then “group think” happens and everyone goes along to get along.
Most group members are happy with anything you decide—they enjoy the relationships and connections within the group, and any Bible study is fine by them. If you are not comfortable being the one to make the decision, consider putting together a small team—with the emphasis on small—to avoid “group think” and help you guide your group’s future study choices. You, the group leader, along with two to three others who represent the group, can speed up the process of selecting future studies. The rest of the group may appreciate the fact you’ve included others in the selection process.
So while you are making important decisions like hot or mild sauce, fried or grilled, and regular or diet soda, remember you don’t have to stress out about the important decision related to what your Bible study group will study next.