April 19, 2017

So You Want to Start a Women's Bible Study Group


Alright, sister, don't bail on me just yet. Because I can already imagine what you might be thinking.

"Well, no, actually, I don't really want to start one at all. I don't know what I'm doing! I'm scared to death. I wish God would ask someone else. But I'm thinking maybe God is telling me I should start one, and so I'm hoping for a little guidance on how to do that. Even though I'm terrified."

All of which is totally understandable. And I would have given this post a title more reflective of that reality, except that "So You Think God Might Be Calling You to Start a Women's Bible Study Group and You're Trying to Be Obedient To Him Even Though You Don't Know What You're Doing" wasn't going to do much for us, search-engine wise.

If you're still with me, allow me to say this: congratulations! Because if God is calling you to this, He will equip you for it. And if He is calling you to it, that means He has amazing things in store for you. Joys and honors and delights and blessings you cannot even imagine right now...especially if your brain and heart are semi-frozen in fear or dread.

I know that fear and dread pretty well myself, because that's how I felt 12 years ago when God first dropped several pretty clear hints (not burning bushes, but close) on myself and a friend of mine that we should start a small-group women's Bible study at our church. More than a decade later, I can tell you that Proverbs 32 (the name of our group...check out this post on my neglected second blog for the story behind the name and the group) has been without a doubt one of biggest blessings God has brought to my life in my entire life. 

I didn't know what I was doing then, but God has graciously taught me a few things along the way, and I'll do my best to pass them on to you. But first, a couple disclaimers (my attorney husband would approve):
  • I am not a theologian nor a Bible scholar. I do not have a degree in biblical studies. I have not taken a class on how to lead Bible study. I cannot read Greek or Hebrew, and it takes me a while to find the book of Nahum without using the concordance.
  • The suggested steps I'm going to outline are what have worked for my little group. They are not the be-all and end-all of women's Bible study. They are not fool-proof. 
  • This is not the only way to do women's Bible study. This is just the way my study sisters and I have done it.
Still reading? Wonderful. Let's get to it.


1. Pray about it. You knew this had to be first, didn't you? Nothing (with the possible exception of being the mother of a teenage driver) has amped up my prayer life more than facilitating women's Bible study. You're going to need to pray this thing up all the way along, so you might as well start now. 

Ask God if He wants you to do this in the first place. Ask Him to help you do it. Pray for your future group members. Pray. Then pray some more.

2. Consult wise counselors. Now that you've checked this out with The Wisest Counselor, ask a few other trusted sources (pastors, friends of faith, your spouse, your mom...) to pray for and with you on this. Tell them what you're thinking of doing. Ask them what they think. If they all say you should do it, that might tell you something. On the other hand, if they all say you shouldn't do it, that might tell you something, too.

3. Get permission. For starters, you might want to consult your family. Their support will be invaluable. My husband is actually Proverbs 32's biggest fan, because he's seen first-hand what a difference it makes in our life. Logistically speaking, you might also need to get permission from your pastor or your church board if you're planning to be affiliated in any way with your home church and/or use their facilities.

4. Round up a team. Or at least a partner. Maybe. You can do this on your own, but there's a lot of truth to this counsel:
"Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their efforts. For if either falls, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up." (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, Holman Christian Standard)
It helps to have at least one other person as a sounding board, a sharer of the load...someone you can bounce ideas off of, someone who can tell you, "No, it is not a good idea to play an ice-breaker game at the first meeting where everyone has to go around the table and tell what kind of animal they would be if they were, in fact, an animal." 

5. Decide what kind of group you want to be. Do you want your main focus to be solely Bible study? Prayer and Bible study? Bible study along with activities and outings? Topical discussions? Do you want to slant this for a particular age group or demographic or life situation? 

At P32, we decided we wanted to be mostly about the business of in-depth Bible study. We do pray with and for each other, but it is not how we spend most of our time. (Check out that post I mentioned above for details on how we maintain this balance.) Our only demographic limitation is that participants have to be women. Young or young-at-heart, single or married, with or without children...all are welcome, and we always choose study materials that are not dependent on age or marital status or maternal status. This has worked well for us, because we are affiliated with my small country home church, and our group size--around 15 women weekly--easily accommodates a range of ages and backgrounds. But if you are in a more populated area or are going to be affiliated with a larger church or just want your group to be more specifically focused on a particular demographic--say, young moms--you might want to settle on that from the get-go.

6. Figure out some facts. How often are you going to meet? Where are you going to meet? What time are you going to meet? Will you provide childcare?

When my friend Pam and I were initially discussing starting P32, childcare was our first hurdle: both of us, along with several of the other women we thought might be interested, had young children who were not yet in school. We decided we would just provide childcare on a rotating basis: everyone in the group would take a week when their turn came up and would then be free to participate in the study all the other weeks. As it turned out, though, my mom heard about this plan and announced she would be our P32 "grandma." This she did faithfully for many years. Now, my mom sits next to me at the Bible study table; several wonderful home-school kids lovingly watch our nursery clients while their grateful moms drink in the refreshment of God's Word and converse with other human beings who aren't begging for snacks. (Please. We bring our own snacks.) 

As for the other details, we meet every Tuesday morning from about September through March (with time off for Thanksgiving and Christmas and uncooperative weather) from 9:30 to 11 a.m. in one of our church's classrooms. Since it is on an upstairs level, I've taken to referring to it as our "upper room." Your group, though, might want to meet every other week. You might want to gather in a home. You might want to go year-round. An evening might work better if you're trying to accommodate work schedules. Here again, there is no one "right" way to do this...there is just what's most right for your situation in a certain season.

7. Choose materials. I'm assuming you want to study the Bible. But do you want to use auxiliary materials to help you do this? Do you want to study a topic or a book of the Bible? Do you want to include video teaching? Do you want to have homework?

Many women's Bible studies follow a similar format: a video teaching session and group discussion during your weekly meeting, followed by five days of personal homework. The video sessions are usually about an hour long. But at P32, we've done things a little differently, because the fact is that an hour of video teaching and five days of homework is too much for many participants to sustain over the course of several months. I never wanted P32 group sessions or the homework to end up being just another "have-to-do" on someone's list.

For that reason (and also to be good stewards of our church's financial resources...the leader kits for these studies are not inexpensive), we have taken the following approach: each week during our class time, we watch approximately half of a video session and do the attendant discussion. For homework, we break the five days of study into two weeks: one week, I assign the first two days of homework from the workbook, followed the next week by the other three days. We've done this every year, and again and again, I hear women say how thankful they are for this somewhat unconventional approach. Again, our goal is not to power through our study as if it's some chore like cleaning the toilet; our goal is to study God's Word and to be changed by it. While our approach may be "rule-breaking," it has worked beautifully for us. Yes, some weeks, the video teaching refers to homework we haven't yet done, and sometimes the homework references a portion of video we haven't yet seen, but I always tell my ladies to sit tight when that happens. Everything comes together in the end. 

My two favorite sources for study material are Lifeway.com and Christianbook.com (a.k.a., Christian Book Distributors--CBD). If you're not sure what you want, start with CBD. You can browse "Bible studies and curriculum" and then refine your search several ways (audience, books of the Bible, media type, etc.), narrowing your choices from the approximately 15,000 options out there to those that might be a good fit for you and your study sisters.

And if you know someone else who's done small-group studies in the past, ask them what they've liked! If they're fired up about something, it might be a good place for you to start, too.

8. Gather a group. Now find some people to be in this study with you. Spread the word via social media. Talk to your friends of faith. Run an announcement in your church bulletin. But don't be too concerned about numbers: our first year, we had "only" seven ladies in P32, and it was life-changing. All of us had a sense we were part of something BIG that God was doing. Other women in our church started noticing what was going on, and the next year, we jumped to 20. We've hovered around 15-ish every since...a lovely number that doesn't require breaking up into smaller groups for discussion. But if you end up with 100 women, that's great, too. You'll just need more chairs and probably at least three boxes of tissues.

Our ladies are a mix of young mamas with diaper bags and grandmas with some life mileage behind them and every age in between. We have members of our church and members of other churches and women who don't attend church at all. Our only "requirements" are that participants want to study the Bible and that they respect the other members. Our attendance policy is "come as often as you can, and we'll miss you when you're gone," and our homework policy is "do it as much as you can because you'll get more out of the study." 

9. Just do the thing. There comes a point when you're prayed and planned and promoted and prepared the best you know how. Now, it's time to jump in. Cue up the video if you're using one, make sure you've got some working pens and enough seating, and go forth with the confidence that God loves it when His daughters dig into His love letter to them. He is your leader; you only have to be His willing instrument. 

Feeling terrified? Not sure what you're doing? Not sure what you've gotten yourself into? Not sure you can even do this at all? You're right on track. (For more on this subject, head over to this post I keep referring to.)

10. Pray some more. Pray for your participants. Pray that God will give them victory each week over whatever the enemy throws at them to try to keep them away from Bible study. Pray for yourself: my Tuesday-morning prayers are usually along the lines of, "God, I can't do this today! You'll have to do it for, through, with, and in spite of me." And He does. Every. Single. Time.

Well. If you've read this far and you're still thinking of jumping into this life-changing ministry, I am thrilled for you! I have a holy jealousy for all women to experience what I have through P32. Please know that I would be honored to answer any other questions you might have as you move forward. I'll say it again: I am not an expert (see "disclaimers," above). But I love this subject, and I love sharing what God has graciously taught me. And if you're a seasoned veteran at this and have something to add, please do it in a comment or over on Facebook. I, for one, am an old Bible study facilitator who's more than willing to learn some new tricks.




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