Evangelistic, Small-group Home Bible Studies: Evaluating three different Formats
By Steve Rudd
Home Bible Studies Defined
Various methods of small-group home Bible studies have been around for decades. Before we discuss the differences in three of these methods, let’s look at what they all have in common. First, they are evangelistic studies for non-Christians. Everything that is done in the study is for the benefit of the non-Christian visitors. These studies are hosted each week in homes that have good public access. You will need four to nine members who have made a commitment to attend every week. The primary function of these members is to work hard at bringing visitors to the class. If no visitors show up, the class is canceled for that evening; and the time is spent in talking about each member’s contacts and praying.
Virtues of Home Bible Studies
Home Bible studies provide a neutral atmosphere in which to learn the Bible and accomplish two things.
1. If we invited non-Christians to attend a small-group home study versus church services, a much higher ratio of people would attend a home study.
2. People feel much more at ease, so they are more likely to return.
One of the advantages of these home studies is that every member, regardless of Bible knowledge, can be evangelistic. In John 1:40-42, Andrew, a new disciple, brought Peter to Jesus. New Christians can immediately bring their family and friends to the weekly home studies. This is very important because statistics prove that new Christians have a great potential for influencing others to come to Christ even though they are the least equipped to actually teach.
If a non-Christian has attended a group study and is eventually baptized, he has already developed those important personal relationships with at least four other Christians. This accomplishes two things: it makes for a smooth and natural bridge to regular assembly attendance, and it decreases the chances of them falling away at the most critical time.
The small-group studies have another important benefit. They provide an ideal training ground for men to gain valuable experience for full-time evangelistic work. The evangelist can lead the study while training a willing apprentice to take over in 6 to 18 months. The leader must prepare a weekly lesson, work effectively with other Christians, make specific efforts to be evangelistic, motivate the Christians working with him to bring visitors, etc. The benefits are endless. If a man can’t function in the capacity of a group Bible study leader, he will have difficulty as a full-time evangelist. At a time when young men think that the primary function of full-time work is to preach twice a week, here is an opportunity to get grass roots experience in areas often overlooked in the development of our evangelists of tomorrow.
Three Popular Formats
Cottage Meetings are only five to eight weeks long. The subjects tend to be doctrinal in nature. For example, the Tisdale Charts are a popular choice of material. The class materials are often designed to impart enough knowledge of the gospel to convince non-Christians of their need to be baptized. Cottage meetings are very similar to one-on-one studies where the teacher tries to convert someone. The difference between the two is like the difference between a private skiing lesson and group skiing lesson. Rather than a one-on-one study between two individuals, a cottage meeting has five to ten Christians attending along with a variety of visitors. The cottage meeting method could be loosely described as a group one-on-one conversion study. Many people have been converted by this approach. Ideal if members have good quality prospects with whom they have developed a personal relationship and consider them ready for conversion.
Group Bible Readings
Group Bible Readings have been used successfully to reach the lost. Originally designed for one-on-one studies, they are also an effective method for small-group studies. With this method, a book of the Bible is chosen (Luke or Acts are excellent), and the readings are divided so that it is completed in about eight to ten weeks. Each person present is invited to read a predetermined portion and then paraphrase the basic message of the text. The teacher is especially interested in challenging the readers to give their personal evaluation of the text. Everyone present is encouraged to ask the leader for clarification of any question relating directly to the text. The ideal program for the average member to lead on his own initiative.
Bible Discussion Groups
Bible Discussion Groups are weekly topical studies. These studies are ongoing. The main objective is to introduce non-Christians to the Bible and to show them how it provides practical solutions to the problems of the 20th century. This method is not intended to baptize them as a result of the study but to increase their interest for further study. The teacher’s goal is to promote as much discussion as possible. Topics like, low self esteem, dealing with anger, when you feel like giving up, and overcoming bad habits will show them how the Bible provides answers to life’s problems. Hard-hitting lessons on sin, obedience, and commitment are also excellent topics. Examining the strengths and weaknesses of Bible characters is always a winner. However, strictly doctrinal topics like baptism, instrumental music, identity of the New Testament church, a variety of false doctrines, and general church basing are not recommended for two reasons. First, these topics do not easily lend themselves to group discussions. Second, they tend to be controversial and the teacher may never get a chance to teach them the gospel. As one brother put it, Non-Christians do not respond to a better doctrine as much as they respond to an opportunity to have their basic human needs (belonging, family, purpose, destiny, etc.) met. Once they have attended from three to five weeks, you can invite them to study one-on-one. The one-on-one study is the proper time to give them an in-depth teaching about the gospel and their obedience to it. It’s not a question of never teaching on baptism, but a question of teaching it at the proper time. Best method for developing trust, credibility, and friendship with “cold” contacts on an ongoing basis.
The teacher should not lecture or sermonize he should talk as little as possible. Remember, this is a group Bible discussion! The members work hard at making meaningful comments. The teacher accomplishes this by asking leading questions that directly relate to the Bible topic being discussed. For example, if the topic is Anger Without Sin, questions like How do you react when someone cuts you off while driving? generate excellent discussion as a foundation to the main topic. If you are discussing Materialism, then questions like If your house was on fire, what one possession would you run in and save? are excellent. If the topic is Salvation, questions like Describe a time when you were totally lost and how you felt, will bring the Bible to life. In fact, the entire study is a whole series of leading questions that relate to the topic. The kind of questions asked in the study are not, What must I do to be saved, but rather, Do I need to be saved?
Composing a group study outline is often harder than preparing a sermon outline. The questions take a lot of time and effort to design, but the end result is a lively, active discussion that brings the Bible alive and makes it relevant to the visitors immediate needs. The study will have been successful if all your first-time visitors have freely participated.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Each Method
Cottage Meetings Advantages
* If you get a person to attend all sessions, you have a high chance of converting them.
* Teaches doctrinal truth in fine detail.
* Short term commitment required of members (46 weeks).
* Once material prepared, little preparation time required thereafter.
o Lecture style with minimum of visitor involvement.
o Leans toward the controversial.
o Visitors need to attend every class or possibly miss continuity.
o Commitment to attend every class might be too much for non-Christians.
Advantages of Group Bible Readings
* High level of visitor participation.
* Little preparation time for leader.
* If visitor misses a session, little loss of continuity.
* Bible is primary focus of study.
* Builds person’s confidence to understand the Bible.
* The average member can lead the study.
o Limited flexibility in the short term because of individual readings.
o People might hesitate to commit to reading a book in 1 n wPPk c
o Concept of Bible reading may not be challenging or interesting enough for people to attend.
Advantages of Discussion Groups
* High level of visitor participation
* Visitors can miss with no loss of continuity.
* High flexibility to pick specific topic for visitors.
* Studies are upbeat, fun, exciting.
* People relate personal experiences to illustrate Bible principles which brings the Bible alive.
o Much preparation time required by leader.
o Long-term commitment required by the members (9 to 12 months).
From: www.interactivebiblestudy.com web site June 2009