Neighborhood Bible Study Evangelism
By Patric Spier
During the past dozen years, each succeeding Gallup survey has revealed an increasing number of Americans involved in Bible study. The proportion of young adults so involved is growing much faster than other age groups. Many publishers provide appropriate study materials. One of the more popular systems was developed by Neighborhood Bible Studies, Inc., whose method is described below.
A method developed by Neighborhood Bible Studies, Inc., has repeatedly proven both appealing and workable. The strength of this approach is that it enables the person beginning the study to participate as a peer group member in the study, eliminating the tendency of the group to believe that the one beginning the study must also be the answer person. This is particularly important in neighborhood studies.
Lila Jones decides God wants her to begin a neighborhood study. Perhaps by now she already knows of one other interested person in the neighborhood who supports this idea. On the other hand, she may hardly know any of her neighbors. She gives a neighborhood coffee, extending the invitation to every house as far down the block as she wishes to go, and across the street. (In other words, she does not prejudge who will be interested.) The invitation is to come to a coffee and also meet a friend who will share some ideas about a neighborhood discussion group, using the Bible as a study book. At one house the woman says, “I’m interested in the coffee, but not in the Bible.” “Fine,” says Lila. “There’s no. obligation at all. Come for coffee just to be with the rest of the neighbors.”
If Lila is like most of us, she may have some shaky moments over this new project of hers. It does take courage. But she prays and believes it is God’s idea. She invites fourteen women. Twelve show up on Tuesday morning at 9:45. The group spends half an hour chatting together, then Lila introduces a friend from outside the neighborhood who explains the idea. The friend talks about the advantages of having a regular opportunity to be together and come to know each other really well, while at the same time learning something important. She mentions other groups across the country who are doing this and finding the Bible a rewarding book to study. No one teaches the group, she says, but the members read the chapters and with the use of good discussion questions they dig into the text and discover what it is saying. It is not for experts, but for people who want to learn. Group members take turns leading the study, using a prepared guide. The variety of their backgrounds enriches the study and provides a stimulus for learning. She suggests that they do a brief study together to illustrate what she is talking about. She has asked Lila to have a Bible ready for everyone, with a marker at the page they will study. She leads a brief study, using discussion questions, urging everyone to investigate the passage, trying to get everyone present to participate in the discussion. When she has finished answering any questions the women have about the concept of a small group Bible study, and has shown them the guide, she turns the group’s response back to Lila. Lila may ask, “What do you think? Would any of you be interested?” From that point on all that must be decided is the day, the time, and the place. Then, “Who wants to lead the first study?”
Does it work? Yes. Someone always responds at the end of the presentation. It may be, “This is just what I need,” or, “I’d like to try it. I do not know very much about the Bible, but I’d like to learn.” God always works in someone ahead of time, and others join in the same response.
It is the risk of faith. Lila and her friend trusted God in this venture. Later Lila helps her friend in her neighborhood by being the outsider who explains the idea.
We began to put this idea into practice in our own sophisticated town several years ago. I was the friend from outside the neighborhood who began explaining the idea. Then women who had already begun Bible studies began helping others start studies. Today I have lost all track of how many studies exist in the town because their development has been so spontaneous. Only recently I met a woman at a club meeting, and in the course of conversation she mentioned a Bible study group she attended in her neighborhood–a new one I had not heard about–explaining it to me with enthusiasm because she did not know if I had ever heard of the idea.
In some neighborhoods where we have used this idea, the person beginning the study had never met some of her neighbors. She telephoned names, but had no faces to go with them in her mind. The women came, though, and as they walked in the door they introduced themselves to her–and to me, the guest in the neighborhood. They were delighted that someone had at last come up with a way to get acquainted. Obviously, this is not the only way to begin a study. I have already mentioned less structured ways. But it is an idea that works, and I have gone into detail about it because it provides the boost many need to get started.
Clearly this method enhances the initiator’s ability to operate as a peer group member and fosters group ownership of the study. In another neighborhood where people live isolated from each other in large homes on acre lots, a woman sent out invitations to a coffee and an opportunity to hear about Jesus Christ. (She put that right on the invitation.) Twenty neighbors came. It was a coffee, a get-acquainted time, and a forthright presentation of the gospel. Several women became Christians as a result, and three study groups are now being held in that neighborhood.
It is not just for neighborhoods. These are simply workable ideas and good illustrations. Adapt them. Expand them. Be flexible. Some idea will surely fit your situation. A most important tool for the small group study is an adequate study guide. This means that someone ahead of you has studied the passage intensely and has discovered some of the gems, the truths, the relationships, and the applications. They have formed their discoveries into questions to help the group dig out the content for themselves. Good questions drive the group into the text to find answers and are worded in such a way that a superficial answer is not enough. A good study guide insists that you get the facts before you make any attempt to interpret or apply what you have read.
1. The material in this article is reprinted from You Can Start a Bible Study Group: Making Friends, Changing Lives by Gladys Hunt, by permission of Harold Shaw Publishers, copyright 1971, 1984 by Gladys M. Hunt.
2. Details for a sample study are found in How to Start a Neighborhood Bible Study, published by Neighborhood Bible Studies, Inc., Box 222, Dobbs Ferry, NY 10522. Phone: 914/693-3273. Cost: $2.95 (plus shipping and handling).
New Ideas in Evangelism and church Vitality
Net Results/August 1990
By Patric Spier
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.”