Have you ever been in a small group meeting in which no one really talks? Or maybe just one person does all the talking?
Ever felt more like you were doing dull and monotonous schoolwork rather than invigorating engagement with the life-changing Word of God?
Ever felt disappointed by shallow and tepid discussion when you really wanted to go deep and get real?
Ever wished your so-so Bible study experiences could be more meaningful, more engaging, and more connected with your real life?
Ever felt—let's be honest here—just plain … bored?
I confess: At times, I've been absolutely bored out of my mind during Bible study.
But I've also been part of Bible studies that were really amazing—life changing!
So what makes the difference between a dynamic Bible study experience … and one that bores people to death? What is it, exactly, that distinguishes an engaging small group meeting from one that leaves participants secretly waiting to escape the room?
Bored with Bible Study?
"The Word of God is alive and powerful" (Hebrews 4:12)! It's "inspired by God" and shows us the truth (2 Timothy 3:16)! It is the lamp to guide our feet and the light for our path (Psalm 119:105)! The Bible itself is never boring—it's the remedy our sin-sick souls desperately need. It's the refreshment we thirst for. It's the insight we long for. When Bible studies are boring, dull, flat, or lifeless, the problem is not with the Word of God—instead we need to evaluate how we're approaching it.
Can we open up Scripture with questions that truly invite meaningful discussion? Can we move our own agenda out of the way and better rely on the present Holy Spirit? Can we intentionally deepen relationships in our Bible study group so participants can be more authentic and real?
Yes, yes, and yes! Consider these principles to take your Bible study to the next level.
Embrace a Facilitator Mindset
If you're a Bible study leader, start by revamping your mindset: View your role as a facilitator rather than as a teacher. God is the teacher! God is the one speaking to, guiding, changing, and convicting participants—not you. Your job as a leader is merely to facilitate participants' learning from God.
Should you still share your thoughts and insights? Yes! But always do so with the goal of facilitating participants' connection with God through his Word. Before each meeting, pray something like this: God, this is your Word, your Truth. Help me to lead in a way that connects readers to you. Help me get out of the way.
Value Relationship Glue
I was once at a Bible study where, within about three minutes of arrival, the leader cut through the small talk and said, rather piously, "Enough of this chit-chat. Let's get to what really matters: the Bible."
We talked quite a bit about the Bible that night, but did people ever truly open up? Nope. Because relationship-building was cut short and undervalued. There wasn't a sense of safety or real friendship. The study was all "out there" while our inner lives and the matters of our hearts were kept tucked away.
The reality is that the seemingly "light" stuff—like small talk, chitchat, laughter, silly icebreakers, sharing snacks, catching up, playing games, goofing off—is actually critical to building the relational bonds participants want to have in a small group. As we laugh and build memories together, we feel safer with each other. As we listen to each other's stories and life experiences, we strengthen the sense that we can be authentic and vulnerable with each other. As participants in a Bible study feel more secure, the real work of fellowship happens! We sharpen each other (Proverbs 27:17); we encourage and build each other up (1 Thessalonians 5:11). To enliven the fellowship in your group, choose to value what might appear on the surface to be inconsequential; intentionally make time and create space for the relationship glue of light-hearted interactions and fun shared experiences.
Make it 3D
God made us all different—and designed us to learn and engage best in different ways. There are introverts and extroverts and those somewhere in between. There are people who love to talk and others who love to quietly reflect. Some love to—even need to—move around in order to really learn. God created some people to really "get it" when music is involved or to naturally gravitate toward nature and the outdoors. Some love logic and puzzles while others love interpersonal communication. Some love art and creative expression. Some people are visual learners while others are auditory learners.
To help your Bible study really connect with the diversity of participants in your group, think about ways you can move beyond the flat page of a Bible study guide in order to engage with three-dimensional, real, whole people. For example, could you include a movie clip or listen to a song? Could participants pair up to talk or pray one-on-one? Could participants draw, create a poster in small groups, or search out examples in the newspaper? Could you try an outdoor worship experience or a fun opening game? Could you come up with a creative way participants can interact with (and eat!) food during your study? As you move beyond just the printed page to add three-dimensions to the experience of your study, you'll breathe fresh life into your time together—and see facets of participants' personalities that may have been hidden before.
Question Your Questions
Great discussion questions are critical to a lively, engaging Bible study. A well-crafted question can excite the mind, connect the spirit, and draw participants into meaningful and life-transforming dialogue with God and with others. But a poorly structured question can do just the opposite: disengage participants, lead to boredom and frustration, and dull—or even end—conversation. So question your questions!
Consider these three keys to crafting strong discussion questions:
1. No Duhs! Avoid "duh!" questions at all costs. What is a duh!-question? It's one that requires no exploration, no real engagement, no depth or insight or real interaction with God's Word as the living, active, life-transforming, speaking truth that it really is! This means absolutely no parroted questions (where people simply repeat exactly what a verse says), no yes-or-no questions, and no fill-in-the-blank questions. No human being on the face of the earth is deeply and meaningfully engaged by duh!-questions!
Duh!-questions set the bar too low … and end up losing participants. Ever been there? A Bible study leader asks a question that insults everybody's intelligence … so no one talks. The answer is so blatantly obvious that people are baffled the leader even asked it. Like the "Limbo game" in which the bar gets lower and lower and the number of active participants dwindles to none, if you set the bar too low with your discussion questions, you'll destroy a spirit of true participation.
2. Explore vs. Declare. Some Bible study questions are actually declarative, teaching statements in disguise. They're trying to make a specific point—with a question mark tacked on the end. Aim, instead, to ask questions that draw in, open up, generate curiosity, have room for surprising answers, and make people want to talk. For example, exploratory questions ask things like,
- "What do you notice …"
- "What details seem important to you?"
- "In your opinion …"
- "How does this compare or contrast with …"
- "What stands out to you most?"
- "From your own experience …"
- "How would you explain this in your own words?"
Strong exploratory questions invite participants to internalize a biblical truth or idea rather than just let it sit on the surface.
3. The Real-Life Answer Test. Always ask yourself: What would someone actually say in response to this question? Would people know how to answer … and be eager to do so? Scrutinize a question by imagining several different group members or even random people answering it—like your younger sister, a single 20something, or a great-grandmother from your congregation. Would they know what the question is driving at? Or should the wording be adjusted to make it more clear and inviting? Many discussion questions (even in published Bible study guides!) don't pass the real-life answer test! Just following this simple step of imagining actual answers will help you clarify and reframe your discussion questions in crucial ways.
God Behind the Scenes
Putting these principles into practice, even just one or two at a time, can transform a hum-drum Bible study group into a vibrant, engaging meeting participants can't wait to come to. These tools and ideas will improve group dynamics and help all personalities of participants feel welcome, valued, and safe. And as you do your best to take your study to the next level, God will be at work—as he always is—in participants' lives. God will speak—as he always does—through his Word. God will guide—as he always does—through his Spirit. And ultimately through God's work, lives will be changed.