Bible Studies

7 Audacious Practices of Those Who Lead Ice-Breakers Effectively

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Many small group leaders have backed away from doing ice-breakers. As you understood after reading yesterday’s seven reasons for doing ice-breakers, these moments are important if you want to have a transformational conversation.

There are seven audacious practices of those who use ice-breakers effectively that may be helpful.

  1. When asking an ice-breaker question, keep your tone light.
  1. Use questions that anyone can answer easily and none that demand a response that leads the group into deep or dark places.
  1. Be an active listener when each person is responding to the ice-breaker question.
  1. After each person responds affirm them for speaking. This will help get them involved in the deeper discussion to come. Phrases like, “Thanks for sharing, I’m really looking forward to your input in a few minutes.” or “I always appreciate your responses to any of the questions we discuss. I’m especially looking forward to your comments in a few minutes.” etc…
  1. When it’s appropriate, be the first to laugh. When you laugh others will join you in it. Laughter throws the heart open more quickly than almost anything else.
  1. Don’t allow group members to ask follow-up questions of one another. This will hijack your evening.
  1. Keep people’s responses as short as possible and be certain the overly-talkative group member (or anyone else) doesn’t get into telling a long story. You can keep this from happening by asking the question then saying something like, “Let’s each take about 30 seconds.”

 

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“Ice-Breakers Suck!”

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I was once again leading a small group leader training event in a southern state. The room was completely full. Over 100 group leaders were there. The small group pastor had invited me to spend 4 hours with them. His one major expectation, “Be sure you help them know how to host an effective conversational Bible study.” Since aiding group leaders in doing that specific thing is one of my passions I was jazzed. That is, until I announced, “If you want to experience a truly transformational conversational Bible study, start with a couple of good ice-breakers.” That’s when the moment went south. From the back of the room came this shout of exasperation, “Ice-breakers suck!”

This is not the first time I’ve encountered group leaders frustrated when ice-breakers are brought up. After interviewing many group leaders who verbalized their frustration with ice-breakers, I find that most of them aren’t personally frustrated. Rather, they’ve had complaints from a few group members when the leader opens the meeting ice-breakers.

There are a few super important reasons to do a couple of ice-breakers before diving into the Bible study conversation.:

  1. It gets group members talking about their own story.
  1. It levels the playing field. A good ice-breaker is simply a question that asks about something from one’s childhood or teen years or asks about a preference you have, etc… It’s a question anyone can answer. And, when you have a garbage collector in the same room as a bank president, when a question of this nature is answered by both individuals, a level playing field is created.
  1. It gives the leader a chance to model active listening for the group prior to the Bible study conversation.
  1. It sets the tone of the meeting as being relaxed. This is especially important when new group members are in attendance or when discussing some heavy stuff during the Bible study time.
  1. It gets the person who is hesitant to talk into the conversation early on.
  1. It allows the non-talker to say something during the meeting, even if this is all they say, helping them to feel a part of the group.
  1. It gives the group leader a chance to speak a word of encouragement to every group member which will make them more apt to speak when the real Bible study begins. After each person responds thank them for sharing then tell them you look forward to hearing from them later.

Provocative… Group Sizes and What Is Best Accomplished in Each

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There seems to be great debate concerning the number of people that make up a healthy group. Part of the reason this is so is due to the fact that today’s church seems to have embraced the idea that almost any group that has fewer people in it than is in a weekend worship service and can fit in one room is a small group.

There are groups of 13 or more meeting in a large classroom with one celebrity teacher proclaiming information to those in attendance. Some call this a small group.

There’s small groups of 4 to 12. These groups have been called small groups for decades.

There’s the disciple making group made up of 2 to 4, one person discipling another person or few others. This too is often called a small group.

So, what’s the deal? The deal is, the term “smaller” (denoting size) has become synonymous with “small” (denoting the actions and activities of a stereoptypical small group, a group of 4 to 12). No group size is the wrong size as long as it knows what it can do best in light of the number of people in attendance.

13 or more – This group is best for the proclamation of The Word of God by an effective Bible teacher. Those in attendance are most apt to sit and listen, take notes, and leave fulfilled knowing they’ve attained knowledge they didn’t have upon arrival. This is more of a university class than a small group.

4 to12 – This group is best for living in intimate Christian commnunity, doing life together. Those in attendance are apt to have a conversation around God’s Word, verbalize their own shortcomings, encourage one another on a personal level, pray for one another’s deepest needs, and leave fulfilled knowing they are not alone in their journey toward Christ-likeness or in the messiness of life. This is more of a family than a class.

2 to 4 – This group is best for high expectation, accountable, disciple making. Those in attendance are led by one person who is discipling them, are driven to memorize Scripture, study the Bible daily, share a verbal witness with others, and leave knowing they are growing toward substantial spiritual maturity. This is more of an accountable disciple making group than a small group or a class.

The 10 Commandments of Conversational Small Group Bible Study Facilitation

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Facilitating a small group Bible study is one of my favorite things to do. Hearing the combined wisdom of the group, drawing the hesitant group member into the conversation, searching for God’s truth while keeping each other’s opinions in check, and seeing the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit as He uses many voices to find out what God is really saying, is a thrill I never get tired of.

Being an effective conversational Bible study facilitator demands keeping a few things in mind. Below are my 10 Commandments of Small Group Bible Study Facilitation.

  1. Thou shalt make Scripture the centerpiece of the conversation.
  2. Thou shalt talk less than 30% of the time (20% would be even better).
  3. Thou shalt prepare easy to understand questions.
  4. Thou shalt ask open-ended questions.
  5. Thou shalt be an active listener.
  6. Thou shalt allow group members to answer one another’s questions (Don’t jump in and answer someone’s question unless you have to.).
  7. Thou shalt make the goal to find out what God is saying (not people’s opinions concerning what God might be saying).
  8. Thou shalt not allow the overly-talkative person to ambush the conversation.
  9. Thou shalt never demean anyone (for a question asked or a response given).
  10. Thou shalt call the group to apply the truth learned (The greatest spiritual growth comes in doing God’s Word, not just knowing it.)

My Astonishing Interview With Dwayne McCrary… How to Write Bible Studies

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Dwayne McCrary is responsible for the most utilized Bible Study material in the world, Explore the Bible. I was super jazzed when he said he’d do a three day interview with me. You’ll be stunned at the depth of understanding he brings to every subject and shares his own journey in leadership.

Check out what Dwayne has to say about writing your own Bible studies.

Rick: Dwayne I can’t thank you enough for doing this interview with me. I’m so honored that you’d take the time. Since you edit the Bible study used by more people than anyone else in the world, I’d like to ask you a few questions about that aspect of your work.

First off… Who do you work for and what is the Bible study series that you create for them? Also, feel free to describe what these studies are like and do a little commercial about them. I’m always psyched when the people that read this blog are made aware of transformational Bible studies they can use with the ministries they lead.

Dwayne: I lead teams that create different Bible study resources for LifeWay. I work with a great group of people and we are responsible for the following resources:

  • Explore the Bible (for adults and young adults; we touch all the Bible books in a 9 year plan),
  • MasterWork (condensed content from books by recognized Christian authors, with questions and leader helps added),
  • Access (Bible study resource for adults with learning disabilities),
  • Baptist Adults (for groups meeting weekly, focusing on doctrine, disciplines, and discipleship),
  • Biblical Illustrator (biblical backgrounds resource that supports LifeWays three main Bible study families).

 

Rick: I’m intrigued, Dwayne. How many people use these Bible study series weekly?

Dwayne: Explore the Bible has the largest audience with 1.2 million people using it weekly. It is humbling, exciting, and daunting all at the same time.

 

Rick: That’s amazing, almost unfathomable.

Since I’ve got you, a true Bible study expert in front of me, I would really be grateful if you’d talk to the people reading this blog who are trying to write their own Bible studies.

Dwayne, what would you say are the essential components of a transformational Bible study and how did you come to this conclusion?

Dwayne: Let me deal with the second half of this question first. God has allowed me to be a part of different church staffs and to write for some time (my first writing assignment for LifeWay was in 1989). I have taught every age-group imaginable (right now I teach two groups for my church on Sunday mornings; a nearly-newly empty-nester group at 8 A.M. and then a 4 year old group at 11 A.M. with worship in between). I have also been a student of teaching and continue to seek to understand the craft. My experiences and continued study feed into this conversation.

Having said that, here are the things I believe to be essential:

  • The Bible: I shouldn’t have to say it, but I see resources all the time that focus more on the writings of some leader (Luther, Augustine, etc.) than they do on examining what the Bible says.
  • Opportunity to Discover: Groups ought to be designed so that the members can participate in the study (and do more than listen and take notes).
  • Opportunity to Think: Bible study ought to challenge people to think critically about what they believe, why they believe it, how their beliefs stack up against the truths of God’s Word, and how they should respond to what they discover.
  • Opportunity to Dialogue: most of us need an opportunity to think aloud if we are going to understand a truth we just discovered or rediscovered.
  • Opportunity to Define Action: I may only be speaking for myself, but I need to be challenged to act or I will simply not make the needed effort.

One more thing…I think people learn best in a group that is led by someone prepared to lead that group. This person should have something that prepares him or her to lead the group and respond to questions that may arise in the discussion. Failing to provide the additional tools to the group leader is irresponsible.

 

Rick: I’m wondering… What process do you use in the creation of a Bible study session? Also, how long does it take you to create a really good study?

Dwayne: That is a loaded question! It depends upon what you are doing and who all is involved. Take Explore the Bible as an example. Every session is part of a larger plan to touch every Bible book in nine years. Because of the magnitude of the resources, others are involved who provide different input along the way. We follow a process with these steps:

  • Determine the characteristics of the study set (scope and sequence, starting point, duration, goals)
  • Identify the individual studies
  • Create outlines (with review)
  • Enlist and train writers
  • Writers submit files by set deadlines
  • Edit content
  • Review (for grammar, clarity, and doctrine)
  • Adjust and prepare for delivery (graphic design for print, PDF, etc)
  • Deliver

For Explore the Bible, from the time we create outlines to the first day of use of the first session in a study (3 month set), it takes about 18 months.

If we are talking about creating a single session, let me suggest a process I have found helpful. This process assumes you have already determined the passage to study.

  • Step 1. Read the Bible passage and list people/places/words.
  • Step 2. Use Bible study resources to define and describe the items listed in step 1. Star key discoveries that speak into the overall understanding of the passage or give deeper insight.
  • Step 3. Read the passage again and list the actions taken or directed in the passage. Include actions taken by God in the passage.
  • Step 4. Synthesize your discoveries. Compare the passage examined to other passages. Identify theological categories addressed by the passage.
  • Step 5. Identify principles and personal actions. Use the actions taken or directed (listed in step 3) as a starting point, seeking to frame them into a question. (Example: Action: Angels delivered God’s message to the shepherds. Questions: How does God deliver His message today? What role do I (we) have in delivering God’s message? What message do I (we) have to deliver? How does our message compare to what the angels delivered? How can I (we) deliver that message?) As principles are identified, look for ways the actions are tied to the principle(s).
  • Step 6. Organize question sets. Look for paths from the action questions back to the items in the text that feed into that question. Create questions sets that move people through the discovery process to the action question(s).

Use the content from this process to create the resources you plan on providing. One of the important parts of this process is deciding what you will not include. Mastery happens when we understand one element of something really well. Good teaching is helping others master ONE thing at a time really well. We will leave some good content on the table, but we must do so if we are going to be effective teachers.

 

Rick: What training did you get to be able to write effective Bible studies and what understandings and abilities are necessary for anyone who wants to be able to write them?

Dwayne: Training…I have taught a Bible study group in some form since I was a senior in high school. Experience is a great teacher! I studied education in my post-graduate studies and continue to read books on the subject. Writing is something you can only learn by doing it. Everything I write is evaluated by someone. That alone helps be continue to improve my skills. One thing that also helps is reading other people’s Bible study helps even if you know the helps are inadequate.

To create effective Bible studies for others to use, you must have a growing understanding of the Bible and of educational practices. These two disciplines are very different with a person usually being strong in only one of them. You also need to practice clearly communicating something in writing. Social media works against us here because we are not as precise as we need to be.

Let me say this as well…Bible study helps for leaders should be more than lecture notes. Group leaders need to know how to lead the group to discover what the leader has already discovered. In a way, the leader helps should take the leader to a specific destination and then give the leader a plan for taking others to that same destination.

 

Rick: Dwayne, there’s a movement in the groups world today… sermon based Bible studies. Many of the people who are reading this blog post have the responsibility of writing them on a weekly basis. What suggestions would you have for them as they carry out this important expectation?

Dwayne:

Give the group leader more than the group members have or have heard. Doing so will bolster the group leader’s confidence and give them the background to lead a meaningful discussion.

Point them to the Bible. The group ought to look at the Bible and verses that support a central idea. What the Bible says ought to be precedent.

Think in question sets with a destination in mind. The hardest thing to do is write a good question set. It takes practice and discipline. You can have a great question but still have lousy discussion if it doesn’t move people to an actionable conclusion. Questions ought to build toward an action with the previous question giving context for the next one. Most good question sets will move people along in the following steps: inviting the learner into the learning process (why should I study this?), defining a focus for the group (what is the issue we will examine?), directing the learner’s discovery (what does it say?), helping the learner process the content (what does it mean?), then challenging the learner to practice what they are discovering (what do I do?).

Fifteen Reasons People Join a Small Group

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Ever wonder why people join groups. Below are fifteen reasons I’ve heard people state is the reason they joined a small group.

  1. My husband and I needed a shared experience.
  2. My wife and I needed some people to help us understand marriage.
  3. I wanted to grow in my relationship with Christ.
  4. I needed some real friends.
  5. Our church won’t let anyone become a church member until they join a small group.
  6. We knew nothing about the Bible and knew that being in a small group would help us understand it better.
  7. We have a problem teenager and needed encouragement and support.
  8. We moved to a new town and wanted to meet some people who had the same values that we have.
  9. I’m a new Christ follower and I want to do what is the right thing to do with my life now. I was told one of the most important next steps was to join a small group.
  10. I want to lead a group of my own someday and, in our church, in order to become a small group leader you must first prove you’re a trustworthy Christ follower. I’m an apprentice group leader right now.
  11. I was going through a dark and difficult time and the groups pastor at my church told me that being in a small group would be really helpful.
  12. I’m a first time mom and really wanted to spend time with other first time moms who could empathize with me.
  13. I’m struggling to live counter-culturally so I need to be around other Christians who are willing to go against the grain.
  14. I’m not a Christian but I’m willing to meet with some people who are and talk about Jesus. That is, if they’ll let me be me.
  15. Our senior pastor keeps saying this is really important. I don’t know that he’s right but I trust him enough to give groups a try.

What are some reasons you’ve heard?

Great Small Group Bible Studies for Your Church-Wide Campaign

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If you’ve been following the blog this week you know that each post has been about church wide campaigns and the work of the small group point person during a campaign.

LifeWay has a series of studies that are perfect for church-wide campaigns. The series is called Bible Studies for Life and is designed for new groups. Not only that, each of these studies is topical, video driven, and conversational, precisely what you need when doing a church-wide campaign.

Any of the small group study topics in the Bible Studies for Life series can be the theme of a church campaign. You’ll find great tools in each title’s Leader Kit including, a 1) Promotional video, presentation slides, banner ads, and posters, 2) Video: One for each session featuring the author, 3) Leader guide that expands on the commentary you get in the Group Member book, 4) Free online sermon outlines: Two sets for each session. One uses the same Scripture passage as the session. The other expands on the them but uses different Scripture passages.

Below is a list of great studies in the Bible Studies for Life series.

Connected: My Life in the Church by Thom S. Rainer

Let Hope In with Pete Wilson

Resilient Faith: Standing Strong in the Midst of Suffering with Mary Jo Sharp

When Relationship Collide with Ron Edmondson

Pressure Points with Chip Henderson

Do Over: Experience New Life in Christ with Ben Mandrell

Honest to God: Real Questions People Ask with Robert Jeffries

Productive: Finding Joy in What We Do with Ronnie and Nick Floyd

Beyond Belief: Exploring the Character of God with Freddy Cardoze

Overcome: Living Beyond Your Circumstances with Alex Himaya

Awake: The Call to a Renewed Life with Ronnie Floyd

Storm Shelter: Psalms of God’s Embrace by Philip Nation

Ready: Ministering to Those in Crisis by Chip Ingram

Like No Other: The Life of Christ by Tony Evans

Like Glue: Making Relationships Stick by Ben Mandrell