This guide is a companion to the book What Jesus Said and Why It Matters Now. It outlines a simple approach for using the book as the basis for an individual or small group Bible study. I know the power of such groups firsthand. When I was in college, participating in a Bible study helped me make a life-long commitment to living the Gospel.
This guide is divided into the following sections so that you can quickly reference those that are most helpful to you:
- Description of a Small Group Bible Study
- Suggestions for Inviting People to Join the Group
- Suggested Meeting Format
- Participant Preparation for Each Session
- Leader and Host Preparation for Each Session
- A Concluding Thought
Description of a Small Group Bible Study
Small group Bible studies use a wide-range of approaches and techniques, No single approach is best. Here are some characteristics of successful Bible study groups:
- People who are open to growing in faith gather to focus on making the Word of God a more vital part of their lives.
- Each session includes prayer, reflection on a Scripture passage, and discussion of how to live God’s Word in everyday life.
- The group is small—usually between 2 and 12 people. The small size helps keep the atmosphere informal and the discussion personal.
- Meetings usually last 1 ½ to 2 hours. Sometimes the session is followed by refreshments and social time.
- The Bible study group meets at regular intervals—usually once a week.
- Some groups agree to a set number of meetings—such as for the six weeks of Lent. Other groups have a more open-ended commitment.
Suggestions for Inviting People to Join the Group
Some groups start as simply one person taking the initiative to invite several friends to gather. Others are more formal—organized by parishes or congregations. Whatever approach you choose, here are some thoughts on inviting participants:
- Make the invitation as personal as possible—a handwritten note, a phone call, or even a personal visit
- Extend the invitation freely—letting each person respond with a “yes” or “no” based on where they find themselves on their journey of faith. Be positive and encouraging, but avoid arm twisting and guilt trips.
- Encourage people to take time to think about the invitation before deciding whether to participate. Offer to check back with them after they’ve had a chance to consider the invitation.
- Although you may want to invite people you know, consider extending invitations to some people beyond your normal circle. This can provide an enriching freshness and diversity to the group.
- Be willing to take the risk of extending the invitations . . . for some people, this is difficult. Yet, extending yourself that can lead to exciting results.
Suggested Meeting Format
What Jesus Said and Why It Matters Now provides an ideal resource for a seven-week Bible study. Although it can be used effectively in any season, it is particularly appropriate during Lent and Easter—when the Gospel stories from each chapter are the Gospels of the season.
Here’s the meeting format I recommend:
Welcome and Gathering: 5 to 10 minutes
Participants enjoy a brief time of gathering and informal conversation until all participants arrive and the group is ready to begin.
Quieting Prayer: 5 minutes
The session begins with both silent and spoken prayer that quiets participants and helps them become more open to hearing God’s word.
A sample quieting prayer can be found in Chapter 8 of What Jesus Said and Why It Matters Now, page 134. This prayer provides a good opening prayer for your first session. (Consider using a small section of this prayer for the first session and then using other sections for later meetings.) As the group continues to meet, various members of the group may be willing to lead the quieting prayer—either praying spontaneously or using other prayer resources.
Proclaiming the Word: 5 minutes
A member of the group reads aloud the Gospel story that is the focus of the meeting. The reader should try to proclaim the Word slowly and reverently in order to invite the others to experience the story.
The Scripture reference for each Gospel story in What Jesus Said and Why It Matters Now can be found on the first page of each “story chapter”—Chapters 1 through 7.
Silence: 2 minutes
After the reader concludes the passage, the group sits quietly for a time reflecting on what they have just heard.
Discussion: 60 to 70 minutes:
The leader launches the discussion using a focusing question, and the group takes it from there.
Chapters 1 through 7 of What Jesus Said and Why It Matters Now are structured around three focusing questions:
- What is the experience of the story?
- How does the story touch me?
- How does the story call me to live?
These questions—particularly the second and third one—provide a wonderful starting point for the group’s discussion.
If you want additional questions, chapters 1 through 7 have a section near the end entitled “Living the Questions.” The questions in this section can also be used to guide the group’s discussion. I also encourage the session leaders to formulate additional questions based on their own experiences.
Remember, your goal is not to cover all the questions. It’s to find the right few questions that help participants personalize the story and live it everyday.
Silence: 3 minutes
At the appropriate time, the discussion leader concludes the discussion. He/she then invites the group to take several minutes of silence to reflect on the discussion and prepare for closing in prayer.
Closing Prayer: 3 to 10 minutes
The session concludes with prayer. There are many options for this prayer—from a formal prayer led by the session leader to a spontaneous prayer that encourages group members to offer prayers of their own. Whatever approach you use, the key is to keep the prayer simple and heartfelt.
Social Time (Optional): 15 to 30 minutes
Some groups take time for socializing after the closing prayer. Others tend to conclude immediately after the prayer. This is a matter of group preference and timing. (For example, an early morning meeting may conclude with prayer because people need to leave for their other commitments. An evening session may lead naturally to some relaxed conversation among group members.) Each group will also want to decide whether to include social time and refreshments in its format.
Participant Preparation for Each Session
Each participant prepares for the session by:
- Reading and praying the assigned Gospel story
- Reading the appropriate chapter of What Jesus Said and Why It Matters Now
- Reflecting on the connections between the Gospel story and experiences in their own lives
Participants may also want to read Chapter 8 of What Jesus Said and Why It Matters Now. It outlines a method for personalizing the Gospel that participants will find helpful in preparing for each session.
Leader and Host Preparation for Each Session
Most groups have at least two roles that members take turns carrying out:
- A leader that guides the group through the session using the format outlined above
- A host that welcomes people, handles session logistics, and provides whatever assistance the group needs.
The leader begins preparing for the session using the same approach as the other members of the group, which is outlined above. In addition to these preparations, the leader also needs to prepare for the session by:
- Praying for God’s help in leading the session
- Preparing to lead the quieting prayer that begins the session (or asking a group member to do so)
- Preparing to lead the group’s discussion of the passage—using the questions in What Jesus Said and Why It Matters Now and/or additional questions based on his/her own experience
- Preparing to lead the closing prayer (or asking a group member to do so)
- Touching base with the host to make sure they are both ready for the session
Some groups have the same leader for every session. Other groups rotate this role from one session to the next so that each group member has a chance to serve as leader. If the group rotates the leadership role, each leader should make sure that a group member is designated to carry out the leader’s role at the next session. (If the host role also rotates, the leader should also ensure that this role is assigned for the next session.)
The host’s role includes:
- Selecting a comfortable setting for the meeting and preparing it
- Welcoming group members upon arrival and making sure they are introduced to other members
- Handling all logistics for the session—including refreshments, if they are served
The setting for the meeting can be a living room, a church meeting room, or another suitable location. The key is to select a space that is conducive to prayer, listening, and personal discussion.
Although the session logistics are fairly simple, the host’s careful preparation frees other participants to focus on being present to God’s Word and to each other. A good host avoids a last minute rush to handle details that might distract the group.
A Concluding Thought
What Jesus Said and Why It Matters Now provides you with a basis for a wide range of Bible study opportunities. Whether you use it for your own individual Bible study, a gathering with several friends, or a parish or congregation-wide approach, try to keep these simple things in mind:
- Pray for a quiet heart that is ready to hear God’s Word speaking to you in your everyday experiences.
- Don’t worry about “doing it right,” just get started.
- Trust that God will guide you.
- Surrender to wherever the journey leads you.
May your efforts to pray and personalize God’s Word bear abundant fruit!
Let me know if you have suggestions for improving this guide or a story about how you or your group used it.