In the beginning
Find out what people are interested in! Spend time finding out what people would like to look at. Have a suggestion box or notice board where people can share their ideas.
Stuck for ideas?
Try picking a faith or life issue e.g. prayer, justice, sexuality, politics, refugees, the environment. Anxiety and hope might be good topics around exam time!
Pick one of the books of the Bible, and split it into bitesized chunks for each session. This might work well for a Lent or Advent study, when you are meeting regularly.
The Beatitudes, the ‘I am’ sayings, the Ten Commandments,the fruits of the Spirit, Jesus’ parables, would all be good topics for a short series of Bible studies.
Take a look at the Bible Study outlines written for SCM in the resources section.
Spend some time reading different passages and deciding which would work well for your theme. This could be the one(s) you find most challenging, interesting or moving. Don’t worry about not picking the ‘right bit’; it’s all good stuff!
Once you’ve chosen your material, spend some time reading and re-reading it and prayerfully reflecting to help you to come up with points of discussion. What do you find interesting? Is there a phrase or reference you don’t understand? What challenges you? What is the historical context? How does it apply to our lives today? Don’t overwhelm yourself with research; a simple discussion reflecting on personal reactions to a Bible passage can be very interesting and powerful.
Follow the leader?
If you have people confident enough to prepare and lead a Bible study, great! Try to vary the leadership and encourage new people to volunteer. A leader will need to do some preparation beforehand, make sure the space is set up, enough resources are printed or photocopied, and that people are welcomed when they are arrived.
A leader does not need to be an expert and they certainly shouldn’t do all the talking, but they will need to keep track of the discussion so it doesn’t go too off topic. They can throw in extra questions if people get stuck, and encourage shy people.
If you don’t know where to start, why not invite a local chaplain, minister or theologian to lead a Bible study or two. Don’t be afraid to give them a specific topic to look at, they will probably find this helpful.
How are you going to help people feel relaxed and comfortable about sharing their thoughts? Does everyone know each other? If not, make sure you do some introductions and start with some social time. Agree some group rules e.g. confidentiality, respecting different opinions.
Discussions work best in small groups of around 5 – 10 people. Much smaller and there may not be much diversity of opinion, much bigger and people will be too shy to speak. If you have a bigger group you can split people up into smaller groups and tackle the same or different questions, feeding back discussions to the whole group at the end.
Diversity should be celebrated! It will lead to interesting discussions and insights. Think about how you will involve everyone regardless of background, gender, sexuality, language, academic experience etc. Avoid using jargon such as theological terms that others may not know. Think about what words and concepts will need explaining or exploring further. What topics will need sensitive preparation and discussion?
Think outside the box
It might sound obvious but Bible studies don’t have to be just a group of people, a Bible and some questions. Think creatively, use drama, film and music to stimulate discussion. If you’ve been studying issues of poverty in the Bible, follow it up with some campaigning or volunteering. Apply what you study to your everyday lives.
Here are some different formats that you could try:
- Lectio Divina is a prayerful way of engaging with scripture, which includes silence and repeated reading of the text. Find out more in here.
- Film discussion: arrange for your group to see the film together before you discuss it. Pick out some clips and choose some Bible passages which touch on similar issues. After each clip, read the Bible passage and discuss as a group the questions raised. We have some suggestions of films here.
- Reading between the lines: use liberation theology or feminist theology as a basis for your Bible study. Think about where power lies within the text. Whose voices are marginalised? What might they say if their words had been recorded? In today’s society, who are the marginalised? What might the Bible have to say to them and to us?
- Exploring different translations: use a Bible study to explore different translations of a particular verse or passage. Think about the differences in language. Does the meaning change? Which do you like best, and why? Who is the intended audience? Why, do you think, do the versions differ from each other?
You could end with liturgy or open prayer, or a quiet time for people to reflect on what they have discussed. A social time, shared lunch or trip to the pub might be good if discussions got a bit tense or heated! Did the discussion spark off ideas for future studies or events? Make a note of these.