After more than a year of pandemic-related isolation, even my severely introverted self was excited over the idea of starting a Bible study group at our home. I was tired of living like a hermit and actually wanted to have strangers sit on my couch.
But I’ve led Bible study groups before, and I’m not very good at it. Sure, my groups last the required number of weeks to make it through the curriculum, but they rarely continue past that. And they certainly don’t experience the explosive reproductive growth I’ve seen other groups have.
Do I really want to go through all the work to host a group only for it to fizzle out? I thought. Maybe I could just find one to attend…
Before long, my flash of inspiration turned into a sea of excuses, and I was paralyzed.
What to avoid in leading a Bible study group
Perhaps like me, soon after the thought of leading a Bible study enters your mind, a tsunami of excuses crashes over you, preventing you from moving forward. Or maybe you’ve tried to lead a community group in your home, and it didn’t turn out the way you had hoped, so you’re hesitant to try again.
If so, maybe you can have better success as a small-group leader by avoiding the following mistakes.
Focusing too much on the curriculum
Sometimes, I worked so hard on the lesson and how it would be presented that I forgot to leave room for discussions, questions, and the occasional off-topic tangent. Someone in the group would vulnerably reveal a struggle and I would feel the need to get the group “back on track.”
Preparation and biblical context are important, but a Bible study group is not the place for a full-on seminary lesson. Teach the lesson, but keep it simple. I found the less I tried to impress people with my insight, the more engaged they were. And if I needed to take an occasional detour from my prepared material to deal with a pressing prayer request, that was fine.
Focusing too little on the Bible study group members
In a small group, community and relationship formation is as important as the material being taught. After each meeting, take notes on what you learned about each person. How many kids do they have? Where do they work? What are they struggling with? Before each meeting, review your notes and be prepared to ask good questions. And if you promise to pray for them during the week, actually pray for them.
When people feel loved, they’re more willing to open themselves up to the growth God has waiting for them.
Squashing group discussion
Knowing the right answer is good, but giving it too quickly can be a problem. Some people need to process out loud. That means the things they say may not be 100% accurate all the time. Their train of thought may make you uncomfortable, but as long as they are not leading others astray, it’s okay to give them a little room.
In the past, I felt such a strong responsibility to protect the members of my group from false teachings that I shut down group discussions too quickly. But I realized answers are of no use to people if they aren’t yet asking questions. My job as a Bible study group leader is it is to help people ask the right questions. Only then can I gently guide them to the answers.
Insufficient group communication
I did a lot of advertising in preparation for my group’s first meeting—emails, announcements, and social media posts. But once we started meeting, extra group communication stopped. I assumed people would remember things like our meeting schedule and required readings, so I didn’t send reminders. But without continued group communication, some had a difficult time being prepared and eventually stopped coming.
To make it worse, those who missed meetings felt unloved and unseen by my lack of follow-up. I learned a successful Bible study group needs a consistent stream of communication.
Trying to do it all
Small groups are a lot of work: lesson preparation, teaching, leading discussions, coordinating prayer requests, food preparation, cleanup, coordinating social events, etc. But there’s no need to try and do it all yourself. I learned that the hard way.
I’m a control freak, so I usually try to do everything. Unfortunately, this means some things get done well, some things get mediocre treatment, and others are overlooked altogether. A better approach is to spread out the tasks among group members. This not only eases the burden on the leader, but it creates a sense of ownership within the group. And when members serve in areas of strength, the quality of the experience improves.
The first time I did this, I asked one member to keep notes as people shared requests. She not only consistently distributed the requests to the group after the meeting, but she also sent out prayer reminders mid-week. I hadn’t thought to do either of those things.
Displaying marital discord
Being transparent and letting group members see your weaknesses is a good thing. Fighting with your spouse in front of the group is not. Even if disagreements don’t escalate into full-blown conflict, people will notice if you and your spouse are not on the same page. Disrespectful comments, sighs, and even a negative tone of voice can undermine everything you’re trying to achieve.
Eliot, an experienced Bible study group leader from Ohio, described his own struggle. “We are two different personality types: an introvert and an extrovert. She can dominate the discussion, which leaves me feeling unheard and unimportant. The challenge is to be a harmonious duet that creates a natural banter between us.”
After group meetings, it’s good to debrief with your spouse and ask, “Did I say or do anything that disrespected you today?” If so, ask for forgiveness (if appropriate, confess in front of the group at your next meeting). If you get into the habit of asking, you’ll learn to catch yourself before it’s too late.
In the planning phase, it was easy to rely on God. The task before me was big, and my inadequacies were apparent. I asked Him to help me pick the right curriculum, draw in the right people, and empower me to lead well. Every decision was saturated in prayer.
After the group started, I quickly got so caught up with doing the work of ministry that I no longer had time for Him. Preparations went from an exercise in dependence to routine. From God’s power to my own. Sure, I read Bible passages and sang worship songs while preparing for lessons, but they quickly became tasks to check off a list.
Be careful that you don’t get so busy doing things for God that you forget to spend time with God.
We need more Bible study group leaders
I’ve made plenty of mistakes leading Bible study groups. It often makes me feel like sitting the whole thing out. The easiest thing to do is nothing. But then I see a new couple at church with more kids in tow than arms. Or that one older woman sitting alone in the back row and I realize there isn’t a place for everyone yet. We need more groups, and my invitation could be the very touch of God that those people need.
Sure, I’ll probably make plenty of mistakes during my next attempt as a small group leader, and you will, too. But as long as we grow closer to God in the process, it’ll be worth it.
Are you ready to give it a try?
If you are ready to try your hand at leading a small group, the following resources can help:
- 5 Tips for Hosting a Small group Online
- FamilyLife’s Video Based Small Group Curriculum
- 10 Tips for Leading Marriage Small group
- Your Marriage Can Make a Difference
Copyright © 2021 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.
Carlos Santiago is a senior writer for FamilyLife and has written and contributed to numerous articles, e-books, and devotionals. He has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in pastoral counseling. Carlos and his wife, Tanya, live in Orlando, Florida, with their two children. You can learn more on their blog, YourEverAfter.org.