Evangelism and Bible Study
Sharon Beougher and Mary Dorsett
I. INTRODUCTION AND DEFINITION OF AN EVANGELIS¬TIC BIBLE STUDY
Evangelistic Bible studies are an important tool for outreach. Because they usually meet in homes, these groups often attract people who are hesitant to attend a formal church service. Conse¬quently, it is important that Christians know how to organize and lead such a study. An evangelistic Bible study is one where believers and nonbelievers meet to discuss in an open and nonthreatening way the claims of Jesus Christ. The goal of an evangelistic Bible study is to present the Gospel message in a clear and compelling fashion. The study seeks to give the unbeliever an opportunity to discover for herself the person and work of Jesus Christ. The facilitator of these studies will seek to raise questions or guide discussion in such a way that all who are present will encounter Jesus. This is not the place to debate creeds, theologies, or doctrinal differences between various denominations. All of these are impor¬tant topics and should be addressed by believers, but not in this setting. The evangelistic Bible study should focus on the greatest need of our life—our need to know Jesus as our Lord and Savior.
II. THE NEED FOR EVANGELISTIC BIBLE STUDIES
Many people in today’s world view churches as hopelessly out of touch with their needs and realities. Unsure whether God really exists, the thought of attending a formal church service never occurs to them. Furthermore, their view of Christians and Jesus is often formed by what they see of deceitful televangelists or other fraudulent Christians whose stories contribute to the secular desire for sensational news. Sadly, this false view of Christianity deprives them of the saving grace needed for eternal life.
What is worse, many nominal Christians never truly hear the message of salvation. Anne Graham Lotz lays the blame for this omission at the door of many evangelical groups that should be offering the bread of eternal life.
In our evangelism efforts, we have everything. I mean everything. We have seminars, and confer-ences… and videos, and audios, and books, and magazines! We have dramas; we have musicals; we have libraries; we have outreach banquets; we have Evangelism Explosion; we have Master Life. You name it—we’ve got it! But do we have everything except what is needed for life?…God’s Word. The Creator, through the power of His word, creates change.”1
Nonbelievers need to hear and study the Word of God if they are to be transformed into useful disciples for advancing the Kingdom.
A neighborhood or small group Bible study offers non-Chris¬tians a realistic alternative. The atmosphere is a familiar one. Sitting in a living room produces much less stress than attending a church service (where the unbeliever fears she will make a mistake or become the object of attention). Furthermore, if other neighbors or acquaintances are invited, the study will seem like a friendly gathering rather than a formal class. The casual setting fosters an honest, open discussion of the material, because the participants will feel more relaxed and less threatened by the surroundings.
Moreover, the study will probably meet the longing of many in our society who feel alienated or lonely. The small group will provide each member with a form of support and caring that may be unavailable to them in their daily lives. The leaders or Christian participants may be the only ones who daily pray for these precious lives. For those who are used to the competitive and often hostile environment the world offers, their first exposure to the consistent, loving care of Christian fellowship can be a life-changing experience.
Much of the secular world is looking for meaningful friendships; people feel isolated and uncared for even in the midst of large cities. Too often marriages falter almost as soon as they begin; partners that avoid divorce need help in developing a deeper, more enduring bond in marriage. Christians who live according to the standards set by Jesus for these relationships have much to offer from both Scripture and example. Those in the secular world desperately seek alternatives to their empty, shallow lifestyle; their hunger provides an open door.
Christians should be offering alternatives to these prevalent problems. However, fulfilling the Great Commission gives disciples an even more important reason for starting an evangelistic Bible study. As many Christians have pointed out, Jesus told us to “go and make disciples of all nations” [Matt. 28:191, not to “wait until all people come to you and then tell them about Me.” An evangelistic study takes the message to unbelievers in a format that encourages them to feel open and expectant about the meeting and the mate¬rial. Melody and Keith Green, whose Christian music ministry has touched millions of people, are two examples of people who were converted because of a home Bible study. Both were open to the idea of Jesus, but not to the thought of attending a formal church service.
III. HOW TO START AN EVANGELISTIC BIBLE STUDY
To be successful, the Bible study needs to be well-organized. The leader(s) need to make some preliminary decisions about intended participants and some vital logistics. A number of these issues must be considered in connection with each other. For the sake of clarity, the following section has been subdivided into three major topics. To be properly understood, however, the material must be considered as a unit.
Even though it has been said many times, it needs to be reiterated—prayer is the most effective ally. Prayer is to the Bible study what gasoline is to a car—the power that drives it. Without prayer, do not expect to see a ripe harvest. Prayer is the corner¬stone of evangelism because it invokes the power of God in the battle against Satan. Only someone very foolish or very ignorant would suppose that human power can fight and win against the forces of evil.
If possible, begin by gathering a group of other believers who will support the endeavor with prayer. Ask God for wisdom and direction about a time and place. Let God direct the invitation of potential members. Ask Him to open the hearts and minds of those who are invited so that they will respond favorably. Pray for His guidance in the selection of the material, and then seek to present it in the most compelling manner possible (see the Resource section at the end of this chapter for ideas).
Pray before the planning. Pray during the planning. Pray for those invited and the leadership of the group. Finally decide to pray daily for all the members. There is no such thing as too much prayer. All great soul winners will acknowledge that prayer is the great secret of their success.
After prayer, next decide whether the teacher will work alone or with another Christian woman. Then set the place, time, and length of study. Obviously, these specifics need to be established before the invitations can be extended.
1. Decide If There Will Be a Co-Leader.
Some women feel comfortable leading and hosting a study by themselves. However, most find that it is nice to have a co-leader who will share the responsibility for prayer, setup, and other duties. Those who feel uncomfortable leading a study should consider asking another Christian woman to facilitate the discussion, while the hostess assumes the tasks of inviting friends, providing the setting, and making sure that everyone feels welcome each time they come. Any Christians that are involved should spend their time talking to newcomers—not to each other. Avoid the look of a clique! Work on learning names and some details about each member. People feel flattered and loved when called by name or when they are remembered in a personal way.
2. Choose a Place.
When considering the place, look for a location where everyone will have a comfortable place to sit, preferably in a circle. Group dynamics work better when members can all face each other and the discussion leader does not seem more prominent than anyone else. If baby-sitting will be provided, make certain that the home or facility will adequately and comfortably accommodate the special requirements of the children.
If the meeting will be held in a public building, look for a quiet room where disturbances will be unlikely. In most instances, it is better to avoid church buildings, since some unbelievers will feel less comfortable there. However, one church in Illinois reached out to the community by starting an hour-long story time for older preschoolers. Mothers were then invited to a coffee time and study during that hour. Participation by the mothers was not necessary for the child to be enrolled, but many mothers were intrigued and elected to continue.’
If your study will meet in a home, do everything possible to make the guests feel comfortable. Pets should be out of sight and, if possible, out of earshot. Plan to take the phone off the hook, or have someone who can answer it quickly and unobtrusively. Look around the room. Try to notice any distractions and deal with them ahead of time.
3. Set the Time.
One-and-a-half to two hours should be sufficient if the group numbers twelve or less. If it goes on too long, the members will become bored or drop out because they cannot afford to commit themselves to such a large block of time. It is imperative that the sessions begin and end on time. Some in the group will have other things to do, and it is not fair to ask them to constantly readjust because someone else is late or careless about punctuality. Once the group realizes that the schedule will be followed, they will make the effort to arrive on time.
Most groups spend a few minutes either at the beginning or end, (or both) in fellowship. Simple refreshments give nervous hands something to hold and also break the ice as the group gets to know each other. It is nice to spend about fifteen minutes at the beginning around the coffee table. This gives the members a chance to catch up on the news of the week and should limit distracting questions during the study. It is wise to set a schedule for the meeting right from the first. Consider breaking a ninety-minute block into the following sections:
15 minutes coffee and fellowship – 60 minutes for discussion – 5 minutes for summary – 10 minutes for informal sharing or another cup of coffee
Ideally the leader and hostess should be available for a while after the study to answer questions or talk more privately with members who are hesitant to share more personal issues with the entire group. Be prepared to listen carefully and be open to opportunities to sharing the complete message of the Gospel if the occasion arises.
When selecting the date and time of day, try to consider the schedules of others. The small group Bible study has the potential of meeting at a time that should suit most schedules. Do not waste this great advantage.
4. Determine the Length of the Study.
Given the busyness of society, few are willing to make open-ended commitments to something new. People are much more likely to attend if they know that the sessions will only last for a set period of time—usually six or eight weeks. If interest remains high when the end is reached, a further commitment can be made.
5. Arrange for Baby-sitting.
If the group includes young mothers, child care may be needed. Some groups hire a teen to take care of the children; others look for a volunteer from their church who will view it as a ministry. Sometimes the women rotate the responsibility among themselves, but this is not the best option, because it means that someone will always miss the lesson. When providing for this vital need, look for a place where the children will be well cared for but will not disturb the study. Consider renting a video or providing some other special activity so that the children will look forward to being there.
1. Whom to Invite
Once again, the key to inviting people begins in prayer by asking the Lord to reveal the ones who are most open. It is not only the job of the Holy Spirit to prepare hearts to hear the message, but to direct the feet (and invitations) of the messenger. Remember, too, that some people will refuse the invitation. The excuses they offer may be genuine, or they may be a cover for their uncertainties or preconceived notions. Their refusal is not necessarily a dead end. When someone declines the invitation, accept their refusal graciously but keep them in prayer. When another opportunity presents itself, cordially extend another invitation but do not try to manipulate. Often people will come when asked a second or third time, because they were given a chance to become comfortable with the idea.
There are numerous possibilities when thinking about poten¬tial group members. Consider colleagues at work. Scout around your neighborhood. Young mothers will find that others in a similar situation will often welcome such an opportunity. Fellow members of the PTA, the health or garden club, or friends who share an interest in crafts need to hear about Jesus too. Look around; souls are dying while they wait to hear.
Sometimes the decision is complicated by an overabundance of prospective members. For instance, should everyone on the block be invited or just those that might be ready? Opinions are divided on this issue—some women reach out only when they feel led by the Holy Spirit; others will invite the whole neighborhood to a “kickoff” event. There are no definitive answers to this question, but never let fear of attracting too many people become the primary concern. If ten is the target number and thirty women show an interest, go back to the Lord and intercede for more leaders. Should this occur, rejoice that so many are willing to seriously examine the state of their spiritual lives.
Most authorities agree that a small group should not exceed twelve participants (a few go as high as fifteen), and many find six to eight to be an ideal number. Recognize that not everyone who starts will stay to the conclusion, so it may be wise to begin with a slightly larger gathering than the ideal.
Make sure that there are far more unbelievers than Chris¬tians. Imagine the group from their perspective. One or two unbelievers surrounded by six or seven Christians will feel trapped and maybe a trifle hostile. Some experts on this subject feel that only Christians who bring an unbelieving friend should attend, while others find that a mix of two believers with six or seven seekers to be a good ratio. In any case, do not overwhelm the group with “authorities” (Christians) who might intimidate newcomers. It will be far easier to facilitate discussion when people feel that they are on an equal footing with the rest of the group. When it becomes obvious that most are not familiar with the teachings of the Bible, the timid members should gain confidence about adding their own ideas or opinions.
2. How to Invite Prospective Members
Consider the following invitations and evaluate each one.
Hi Carol. I know you’re terribly busy with your work right now; so I don’t suppose you’d want to come to an informal Bible study with some of the other women on the block, would you?
Hi Carol. I’m so glad to have a chance to talk to you. I know you’re busy but I wanted to be sure and let you know about a neighborhood study that some of us are having at our house. I know that you are vitally concerned about the disintegration of families in America and so are we. That’s why we decided to meet for the next eight weeks and see if the Bible and its traditional view of the family still has any solutions to offer. I know that your input would enhance our discussions.
Hi, Carol. Could you come over for coffee Thursday at 10 am? I’ve invited all the neighbors on these 2 blocks to get together and get acquainted. A couple of us are interested in the idea of a neighborhood Bible Study. I thought you’d like to know how women are doing this. Just come meet the neighbors and hear about the idea.
Without a doubt everyone will find the second or third invitation preferable. The first invitation is negative in its tone and almost encourages “busy” Carol to refuse it. If the leader is not confident and excited about the study, the invitation will not be attractive.
The second one starts off with the same acknowledgment of Carol’s full schedule, but emphasizes the positive and then goes on to give some important information that should help Carol make up her mind. She now knows that the group: (1) will be made up of neighbors, (2) will meet for a specific length of time—eight weeks, and (3) will study the Bible’s view of the family. Finally, the inviter complimented Carol by assuring her that her ideas would be of value to the group. No matter what her decision, Carol will feel encouraged to know that she has some-thing positive to contribute. If she cannot or will not come this time, the door has been left open for a future invitation.
The third invitation represents a pre-evangelism or “middle ground” area which is not as descriptive as the second, but is still an effective approach in certain circumstances.
Some people prefer to prepare a written invitation that they send to perspective members and then follow it up with a visit or phone call. When choosing this alternative, remember to make the invitation as attractive as possible and include all relevant informa¬tion: place, dates, time, length of study, topic under discussion, general information about the makeup of the group, baby-sitting (if applicable), and who will be leading the discussion.
The lunch hour can be ideal for meeting with co-workers. If this seems best, try to reserve a quiet, out of the way room in your building where the meeting will not be easily observed or inter-rupted. If necessary, clear the room and time with the boss or the person in charge. Be honest and upfront about the activities so that a positive image of Christians and Christianity is presented.
No one likes being put on the spot, espe¬cially in front of oth¬ers; so be extra sensi¬tive when inviting col¬leagues. If possible, do it privately so that they can feel free to ask questions and accept or refuse without peer pressure. The same guidelines will apply when inviting club members or anyone who is part of a large group. Sensitivity to their feelings will help them to have a posi¬tive opinion about the group as well as Chris¬tianity in general. Some have found that it is better to give each person a response card which allows her to check one of three op¬tions. Take a look at the sample of an invi¬tation to a study held in the work place. The wording can be easily adapted for a neighborhood study. If young mothers will be in¬cluded, be sure to mention that child care will be provided.
A potluck supper, morning coffee, or afternoon tea can also be used as an avenue to issue the invitation. When choosing this route, plan to have someone share about her experience in a small group Bible study. Be sure to pick a woman who is enthusiastic and articulate. It is best to have someone else speak, because it allows the guests to decline the invitation to the study without appearing to turn down the hostess. Everyone will be more comfortable with this, and the door will remain open to include them at a future date.
Be certain to emphasize that this will be a discussion, not a class. Let them know that their input is valuable and that the group will look for answers together. Help them to see that this is not a school where one is expected to perform in a certain way, but rather is a group of interested people who are all searching.
IV. THE LEADER
A. Born or Made?
Although some women assume the role naturally, most gain confidence with practice. Anyone who feels led by the Lord to begin a Bible study can learn the techniques. For the most part, they require patience and practice rather than great knowledge or wisdom. The ideal leader should want to introduce every person in the study to Jesus, and she should know how to present the steps to salvation in a clear and appealing fashion.
B. Studies Scripture
Obviously the leader must possess an overall knowledge of Scripture, if she is to ask relevant questions and keep the discussion focused on the passage. Nevertheless, seminary training in theology is not a requirement, and in some cases it can be a hindrance. Most non-Christians are not concerned about in-depth discussions of esoteric issues that captivate theologians. The leader needs to relate to the group at their level of understanding and interest.
Ideal leaders need to be committed, enthusiastic Christians who are willing and capable of studying their Bible, asking mean¬ingful questions, and guiding a discussion. The leader’s goal is for each person to discover the truth of the claims and person of Jesus in such a real way that the participants will be eager to surrender their lives to Him.
C. Loves Others
Good leaders are those who genuinely care about others. They enjoy people and feel comfortable talking to others. Like Jesus, the leader will look past the exterior and see the heart need of each individual. Following the lead of her Master, she will view herself as a physician who offers good and healing medicine for the heart that is plagued with sin. She will reach out to each newcomer in such a way that everyone will feel welcome and valued in the study. Learning and using the names of the participants will help create a sense of community and make each person feel appreciated and noticed.
D. Communicates Clearly
Members of the group need to understand the message, but they also need to feel comfortable with the discussion process and to be accepted for who they are. This kind of loving communication manifests itself in the leader as she:
1. Maintains good eye contact when talking and conversing with members of the group. Concentrating attention on the one who is speaking helps to make the person feel accepted and encourages her to speak honestly with the group.
2. Listens with eyes to the body language, ears to the words, and spirit to the “real” message being spoken by the participant. The leader tries to hear the heart as well as the words.
3. Encourages shy members with a smile, glance, or comment that will help them feel comfortable.
E. Leads the Discussion
A lively discussion keeps interest high and promotes active participation. The leader sets the pace at the first session and then keeps the group on target. The following guidelines give an over¬view of these responsibilities.
1. Establish the ground rules at the beginning and then repeat them as necessary. For instance, the leader should explain that the Bible will be accepted as the authority for the group. The purpose, after all, is to see what the Bible has to say on certain topics, and this can never be accomplished if the group is constantly debating what they think of it. The group does not have to accept it as the inspired Word of God, but they do need to examine carefully what it says about life and truth. Most people buy a guidebook when they take their first trip to a foreign country. Traveling through the country, they will begin by following the advice given in the book. If they find it to be helpful and true, they will increasingly trust the author. He becomes their authority for the trip. In a similar way, non-Christians will increasingly trust the Word of God—and God Himself—as they experience the truth of the Bible in their own lives.
2. Help the members to discover Biblical truth for them¬selves by asking appropriate questions rather than just “telling” them the relevant facts. (Remember that people remember 10% of what they hear but 90% of what they say.) The goal is to help others discover the truth for themselves.
3. Learn to be comfortable with silence. After asking a thought-provoking question, the leader must refrain from answering it herself if the group does not immediately respond.
4. Encourage questions from the group but refrain from answering them. Instead, refer them back to the group.
5. Deal with inappropriate or incorrect comments in a positive manner. Acknowledge the speaker without ap¬proving of the comment and then move on. Avoid saying or responding with “No, that’s not correct,” or any response which may appear to put a person down. For instance, “Thank you, Martha. I wonder, does anyone else want to speak to this point?”
6. Keep the discussion moving. Tangents need to be avoided, and so do in-depth discussions about unimportant details. Never let one person monopolize the session or others will rapidly lose interest. Likewise, the lesson needs to be seen as relevant to the lives of the members, or they will soon tire of it and drop out.
7. Summarize or restate the important points at the end of each session.
8. Avoid any sort of pressure tactics to manipulate a deci¬sion. Instead, focus on the material and discourage overly emotional testimonies or appeals from Christians which usually make seekers nervous and uncomfortable. The group is on a fact-finding mission. The Holy Spirit is the one who will cause these discoveries to become real and alive in their hearts. It is not the job of the leader to press for decisions, but to present the material and then wait for the Holy Spirit to quicken hearts.
V. PRACTICAL CONSIDERATIONS
Most experts on the topic of evangelistic Bible studies agree that the Inductive Method of study is preferable to one where partici¬pants merely listen to a lecture. Since the Inductive Method requires no previous knowledge of the material, it is ideal for those who are beginners. Participants read over the section of Scripture until they can answer the three basic questions used by the Inductive Method:
1. What does the passage say? [observation]
2. What does the passage mean? [interpretation]
3. What does this mean to me? [application]
Before each session, the leader needs to read the passage as many times as is necessary to feel completely comfortable with it. I though some passages might require additional information to properly understand the cultural or historical setting, those familiar with the Inductive Method discourage the use of commentaries or other Bible Study tools until the text has been properly assessed for itself. In all cases, the use of outside references should only occur after the leader has thoroughly reviewed the material by using the three questions. The group should always be encouraged to think through the lesson for themselves. The Bible is perfectly capable of speaking for itself and needs no outside authorities or commenta¬tors to defend it.
Most veteran Bible study leaders who follow the Inductive Method recommend a study that focuses on material found in one of the Gospels, because Jesus is most clearly seen when He speaks for Himself. Other leaders offer a strong case for using a topical study that includes a clear gospel presentation. In either case, the goal should be an appealing presentation of the steps to salvation and discipleship.
A discussion that is relevant will hold attention and naturally encourage participants to keep returning. The leader should try to help the group view the passage in contemporary terms. Begin with the details of the Scripture and then move to the concept that underlies it. For instance, when teaching the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well [John 4], Joseph Aldrich, a well-known spokesperson for Relationship Evangelism, asks the follow¬ing four questions to stimulate discussion:
1. Describe the physical appearance of the woman at the well. What did she look like?
2. Describe the emotional condition of this woman (rejected by five men and living with a sixth).
3. What did Jesus offer as a solution to her problem?
4. Does His solution have any relevance to the needy people in our world? If so, how does it become operational in our experience?3
The questions are designed to get the group thinking and talking. They do not have simple right or wrong answers and people should feel free to offer their opinions. There are no snapshots or home movies of the woman at the well, but thinking about the first question will force the participants to try and visualize the scene. They will begin to identify with this woman as they ponder the second question. The last two questions will help them to see the relevance of Christ’s message to each person alive today. Jesus becomes compellingly attractive as the group discovers the an¬swers for themselves. The leader’s love and knowledge of Scripture will be apparent by the way that she asks probing questions and helps the group discover the unconditional love of the Savior for each person.
Some leaders prefer to supply each member with an inexpen¬sive copy of the Bible such as the ones offered by the Bible Society. If everyone uses the same Bible, the leader can instruct members to turn to a certain page rather than referring to a chapter and verse. Looking for a page rather than a citation will remove the discomfort experienced by someone who is unfamiliar with the Bible. Furthermore, when one person reads aloud, everyone else can easily follow along and the discussion will not bog down on the relative merits of various versions. On the other hand, some leaders prefer to offer a Bible to those without one, and allow everyone to bring and use her favorite translation. They find that some folks are more comfortable with their own Bible, and sometimes the different wording in various versions affords valuable insight.
C. Common Mistakes
First-time leaders sometimes make one of the mistakes listed below. If this happens to you, keep the incident in perspective. Leaders should readily and graciously admit mistakes as soon as possible and then get on with the session. In most instances, the group will find such humility attractive, and it may even be used to help them see the true character of Jesus more clearly. Although not an exhaustive list, the following points should help leaders avoid the more obvious or common pitfalls.
1. Avoid Cross-Referencing of Scriptures
Christians who are familiar with the Bible love the interconnectedness of many passages because it adds to the overall richness and depth of God’s word. However, newcomers will find cross-referencing to be a confusing distraction which intimidates those who don’t know how to look up the citations. Unless another reference is vital to understanding the passage under consider¬ation, cross-referencing should be avoided.
2. Never Criticize Other Churches or Denominations
Disparaging remarks about any church or denomination have no place in the discussion. The leader should keep the discussion focused the passage and tactfully but firmly make it clear that unkind or derogatory comments about other Christians are unacceptable. If someone asks about a cult group such as the Mormons or Jehovah Witnesses, the leader should clearly explain the differ¬ences between the theologies, but she should never slander or belittle anyone.
3. Recruit Christians—Not Church Members
Furthermore, the Christian members of the group should be sensitive to the unbelievers by not spending the fellowship time promoting” their own church. If asked what church they attend, a member should feel free to respond and may even extend an invitation to the questioner, but no one should feel pressured into visiting or joining a church.
4. Sidestep Arguments
Never argue—not even with a person who is obviously in error. Remember that the group gathered to discuss and not to debate. Do not agree with an erroneous opinion, but merely keep the discus¬sion moving and emphasize the truth. Remember that winning the argument might lead to alienating the opponent and forfeiting an opportunity to share the Gospel.
5. Remain Humble
Never pretend to have all the answers or bluff your way through a question. When stumped with a difficult question, a good leader readily admits that she does not have the answer. She might respond, “That’s a good point, Hannah, but I must confess that I will need some time to look up the answer. I’ll make a note of it and we will plan to discuss it next week.” No one expects the leader to be perfect or omniscient.
D. The Difficult Person
Every small group leader can share stories of persons who presented them with difficult situations. Learning how to handle such members tactfully is a skill acquired through prayer, reflec¬tion, and practice. Nearly all the books dealing with the topic of small group Bible studies include helpful suggestions for handling these common problems. For instance, the following illustrations highlight three common personality types that most leaders en¬counter. Most experts agree that the leader should:
1. Draw out shy persons carefully, if at all.
If overwhelmed, they usually retreat or withdraw—sometimes permanently. Try asking them a question that requires general knowledge rather than a deeply personal response. Sometimes a smile, nod, or other sign of encouragement will help them to gather courage and timidly offer a suggestion. Your goal is to help them feel comfortable in the group.
2. Discourage the overtalker before the group feels overwhelmed by the volume of her comments.
Asking questions of specific people (not the talkative one) will help to slow the overtalker; for the most part, try to avoid eye contact so it will be more difficult for her to volunteer every time a question is asked. If it becomes necessary to talk with her, do it privately. Explain that her frequent contributions discourage the more timid members who need time to think before they volunteer. Be tactful and affirm her; try to enlist her help in allowing others equal time.
3. Deal gently but firmly with the ones who regularly introduce a tangent.
Do not argue with the person, but merely ask if the question can be deferred until later because it is not central to the issue being discussed. Sometimes tangential questions will be answered later in the study. If they are not, be sure to discuss the issue with the person during an individual meeting after the group or during the week.
VI. IMPROVING THE GROUP
Whenever refreshments are served or time is allotted for fellowship, the Christians must carefully avoid the appearance of being a clique. Look for the person who appears to be lonely; engage the newcomer in conversation about herself; follow up on a previ¬ous conversation with another member of the group. The person who hesitates to raise a question or concern during group times needs to know that the leaders will be available at certain times for individual conversations. A woman who is ready to profess faith in Christ as her Savior will normally be more likely to take the step during a quiet conversation rather than in the middle of a group discussion.
If time permits, build relationships with the women at other times. Briefly call, write an encouraging note, plan an informal outing, or schedule a meal together. Extending interest beyond the confines of group time will help dispel any notion that non-Chris¬tians are merely viewed as targets for conversion. When appropri¬ate, ask for their advice about issues where they can offer expertise.
A careful evaluation of the study will help to correct mistakes and point to areas that could be improved. Any Christians involved in the study should plan to meet at a separate time and discuss the presentation. The following list of questions, by no means compre¬hensive, may help to get the evaluation started:
• Was the leader prepared? If not, what steps need to be taken to correct this situation?
• Did the leader refrain from giving answers? Was she able to keep the topic focused, or was time wasted on tangents?
• Did everyone participate? If not, how can this be corrected?
• Decide on some questions for the next session that will draw out the more reserved members without making them feel self-conscious.
• Was the discussion interesting and practical? Did the women apply it to their own lives?
Christian bookstores carry a wide variety of inductive Bible study booklets to get you started. Among others, InterVarsity, Harold Shaw publishers, and Neighborhood Bible Studies produce many excellent guides for evangelistic Bible Studies. If your budget will allow it, buy two or three different guides that deal with the book of the Bible or the topic selected (especially if the leader does not expect or require individual preparation by group members). Take them home and study them carefully. Consider not only the questions they ask but the way they are phrased. Visualize future members of the group and try to anticipate which study will lead to the best discussions. Pray for the Holy Spirit to guide the choice.
There are many books that help potential leaders learn the practical aspects of beginning an evangelistic Bible study. For instance, try to find a copy of:
Bob and Betty Jacks, Your Home a Lighthouse, NavPress, 1986.
Ada Lum, How to Begin an Evangelistic Bible Study, InterVarsity Press, 1971.
Marjorie Stewart, Women in Neighborhood Evangelism, Gospel Publishing House, 1978.
Gladys Hunt, You Can Start a Bible Study, Harold Shaw.
The above list is merely intended to get women started. Books with information on this topic are numerous and readily available. They will give the nervous or novice leader step-by-step instruction and encouragement. There is more than enough available material to help anyone who is inclined to reach out in this way.
In conclusion, remember that the goal is to use the vehicle of a Bible study to introduce people to Jesus Christ. Although the Bible is God’s inspired word and His special revelation of Himself and His will for us, seekers are neither able nor ready to grasp this. It is of utmost importance, then, to keep looking at the goal. Through an examination of the Word which comes from God, pray that the seekers meet Christ, learn of Him, and choose to become His disciples. When the focus is misplaced, it becomes easy for a social club to develop. When this happens, eternal fruit is usually lost. Success comes through pointing them to Jesus—His promises, warnings, and commands. Lost souls will be saved and disciples developed only when they meet Jesus.
Now if you haven’t already done so, listen to cassette tape #4A in the series featuring Evangelism and the Bible by Anne Graham Lotz. Also on the tape is an excerpt from a message by Martha Reapsome.
1. Anne Graham Lotz, Talk given at Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois, March 26, 1991, p. 3 of transcript.
2. 2 Al Vander Griend and Neva Evenhouse, Evangelism Through Bible Discovery Groups (Discover Your Bible, Inc., 1976), Chapter Six.
3. Joseph C. Aldrich, Life-Style Evangelism (Portland, OR: Multnomah Press, 1981), p. 191.
The above article, “Evangelism and Bible Study” was written by Sharon Beougher and Mary Dorsett. The article was excerpted from their book, Women & Evangelism.
The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”