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Some Random Thoughts on Bible Studies
Some Random Thoughts on Bible Studies
While annual, seasonal studies (Lent and Advent) are held here, regular Bible studies through the year are not a part of the culture of this church; and when offered, attract little participation. How can this be? Christians should have a hunger for the word, and always seeking to learn more about it.
What have learned from the past?
- Short series (4-6 sessions) seem to work best.
- Ongoing series will attract a core group which rarely changes.
- Critical mass is between 6-10 participants.
- Tables for books and writing surface are needed. Just chairs doesn't cut it.
- Attendance is always better when connected to a meal/food event, or even if just coffee/snacks are available..
- People appreciate having a defined end time as well as start time.
- Studies at Berwick UMC followed the midweek community meal. This had an interesting cross-pollination. Some meal patrons remained for the study, particularly in winter, and when there was a wait for the bus. Some patrons began attending church as a result, and eventually became members. Meanwhile, existing church members would come early and eat at the meal, which was convenient for working people who did not have to go home first and prepare their own meal.
What are some barriers to participation?
- Ordering a book - Studies which require a study book are, by definition, not standalone, if someone misses the first session, they are unlikely to attend future sessions. This discourages spontaneous "just show up" attendance.
- Advance signup requirement - again, discourages spontaneous "just show up" attendance.
- Cost - Sunday School curriculum is provided by the church, yet we expect adults to pay their own way. Why?
- Schedule - It is difficult to find a day/time available to all. We have tried Wednesdays at 6:30 PM but this conflicts with the book group, and also scouts meeting upstairs at that time is very noisy and distracting in the conference room.
- Commitment anxiety - If someone cannot attend one of a series, they are unlikely to attend any of the series. A way to ease this barrier is to design, and emphasize, that each session is a stand-alone session.
Excuses we always hear
- "I don't know enough about the Bible". As illogical as this sounds, what it really means is "I don't know enough about the Bible to discuss it." We try to overcome this by having participants read certain sections under study aloud, allowing them to participate without causing anxiety that they are expected to comment or explain it.
- "It's too early" - people do not have time to have dinner at home and get to church for the study.
- "It's too late" - or "I don't go out after dark" A legitimate reason in the winter season, but people tell us this for 6:30 PM summertime studies as well, when the study is long over and everyone is home long before sunset; which just defies logic. It seems to be a stock excuse to not do anything in the evening.
Studies we have in stock
We have written these three series, are they are available at no cost. Each has a 1-page handout per session.
- Bible Pathways - 66 one-hour sessions. Basic Bible fluency, by covering one book per week, covers the entire Bible in one year. Includes a leader's guide. Can be used as a basis for people to read the entire Bible in one year. We have run this study four times.
- Apps in the Bible - 12 one-hour sessions, each aligned with a popular cell phone app (mail, calendar, maps, etc) to focus on how these functions were handled in Bible times. We have run this study two times.
- One Night With The King! - A 4-session study of the book of Esther. Each session consists of viewing a 20-minute excerpt from the DVD movie, and study of the corresponding chapters of the book. We have run this study two times.
- There may be studies in the Media Center but we have not looked at these.
Some potential ideas
- Progressive Study - Similar to a progressive dinner. People volunteer to host one session of a series in their home, provide a place to meet, and snacks. Hosting does not mean leading the session. The study then moves to a different home each week.
- The Commandments (just an idea, this is not even written) - 6 one-hour sessions. Session 1 is the history of the commandments. Sessions 2-5 cover ~3 commandments per session, reading Biblical examples and discussion of relevance today. Session 6 focuses on Jesus' greatest law and its application; does it replace or does it complete the commandments?
- Getting Things Done: - a study of Nehemiah. (just an idea, this is not even written) - This book is an exemplar of project management. The topic is organizing and completing a project on time and on budget. Nehemiah's techinques are just as valid today as when he rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem. This is an ideal study for anyone involved in church administration, committee, or mission work.
- Online study - or hybrid (mix of face-to-face and online)- proposed by Pastor Jeff, perhaps a study could be held online. Advantage: this would allow asynchronous participation, and also open the study to distant persons. Disadvantage: Not all have internet access and fluency. Much of the usual study time consists of spontaneous discussion which would be lost.
- Sandwich study - popular in education workshop circles. Mini study has nothing to do with sandwiches, but two group sessions "sandwich" an online or homework component. At session #1, homework or online task is assigned, and the results are reviewed and discussed at session #2.
- Change the venue idea #1 Move the study to Berwick UMC where it seems to be more a part of church culture, and historically has high participation. This could also be a mission of sorts to that church. Plus, we know the pastor really well!
- Change the venue idea #2 Move the study to a coffee-shop environment which is open to such gatherings. Panera (in Dover) comes to mind, is there a similar place in Rochester?
Studies of the Past
- Read the Bible in a Week - typically done in November during National Bible Week; but could be done any time of the year. Congregation-wide activity, in which people sign up to read a certain segment (typically one book) of the Bible during that week; so collectively the entire Bible is read in that period. People read their segment on their own. Can also include 4 one-hour in-church sessions (Mon-Tue-Wed-Thu evenings) in which one gospel is read aloud from the pulpit each night, with attendees taking turns reading. Entire initiative takes about 3 weeks - people sign up after worship for two Sundays, then the reading period, then participants are recognized at the following worship service. This was an annual tradition at Berwick UMC.
- Breakfast with the Bible - suitable for monthly or bi-monthly, this is a 90 minute study (Saturdays 8 - 9:30 AM) which includes a continental breakfast as part of the study. Participants sign up to provide various no-cooking-required breakfast items. Participants sit at tables in a circle/square and eat during the study. This was held bi-monthly at Berwick UMC.
- Vesper Service - similar to Breakfast with the Bible, but a dinner session. Participants bring potluck items, sit at tables in a circle/square and eat during the study. The idea is to replicate the format of Jesus "teaching at the table". This was held bi-monthly at Berwick UMC, alternating with Breakfast With the Bible.
- Home Studies - Two churches we know use a neighborhood study format, where small groups meet in homes in their own areas. Each church has multiple studies running simultaneously, and no one has travel a great distance.
- What's the Difference? - suitable for a static display session, various versions of the Bible are displayed showing the difference between translations/paraphrases; and between protestant/catholic versions. Can be helpful to those looking to purchase a particular version.
- The Sermon Study - We visited a church once which used this method. The Sunday sermon was a lecture study. As soon as the sermon began, everyone pulled out their Bible and notebook and began writing notes. We had somehow arrived in the middle of some ongoing study and were disoriented. We did feel a bit lost, as we were not expecting it.
Agenda and minutes for all meetings are online at http://rickmillsproject.com/ced