Q Place began with the name Neighborhood Bible Studies (NBS) in 1960 when Marilyn Kunz and Catherine (Kay) Schell, (former field staff for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and for Nurses Christian Fellowship, respectively), recognized that many people would be interested in the Bible if they had an opportunity to discover for themselves what it said. In response to this need, they began to help Christians invite their neighbors, co-workers, and friends into small groups to study the Bible together. They wrote discussion guides, helped Christians learn how to cultivate a thriving small-group environment, and developed three basic guidelines for healthy Bible discussions:
1. Keep to the chapter, building a common frame of reference.
2. Avoid tangents.
3. Let the Bible speak for itself.
These three guidelines and their underlying principles paved the way for healthy discussions among people of diverse backgrounds and personalities. Because these groups did not assume previous Bible knowledge and avoided religious jargon, people brand new to the Bible felt respected as thinking adults and were comfortable being there.
NBS grew rapidly. Within five years, 200 groups were meeting in the northern suburbs of New York City. Soon, groups began to multiply in pockets all over the U.S. and Canada. NBS then spread to other countries as people discovered the effectiveness of the inductive method and materials and took them to their own cultures. Several NBS study guides were translated into twenty-five different languages. There were NBS groups in England, France, Germany, South Africa, the Netherlands, Jordan, and Spain. Over the next forty years, NBS engaged more than a million people in discussing the Bible together.
Study guide sales hit a plateau in the 1980’s and then began a gradual decline. By that time the founders had retired and the culture was changing. The ministry suffered financial stress caused by numerous factors. But even through the most difficult times, faithful donors continued to support Neighborhood Bible Studies, and the method and materials continued to spread organically.
In 2007, the leaders of NBS took a close look at current cultural trends and recognized that people of post-modern cultures were often not drawn to Bible studies, yet tended to be more curious and open about basic spiritual issues. People who weren’t interested in attending churches would come to a group where it felt safe to discuss questions and discover answers for themselves. In fact, most of the principles of NBS’s method were a better fit than ever. What was needed for these discussions was curriculum that would get right to the heart of the questions that people were asking about God and the Bible.
In January 2008, Mary Schaller, an entrepreneur with more than twenty-five years of experience in starting new business ventures, became president and CEO of Neighborhood Bible Studies. Bringing a wealth of experience from business and leadership positions in a large church as well as a recent Masters in Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary, Mary seemed to be well-suited to lead NBS. Throughout graduate school Mary hosted a small group of people from diverse faith backgrounds to help them figure out what they believed about God. She also began training others to facilitate these groups for the spiritually curious. When she met NBS leaders, she recognized the strong similarities between NBS and what she was doing in the San Francisco Bay area.
It became clear that NBS needed a new name that would appeal to spiritually curious people even if they didn’t meet in a neighborhood or weren’t yet interested in studying the Bible. In the fall of 2008, a new name for the organization was chosen: Q Place. The Q is for questions. A Q Place is a small group where it’s safe to discuss questions about God, Jesus, and the Bible.
In January of 2010, the ministry moved its operations after 49 years in Dobbs Ferry, NY, to Carol Stream, IL, to be more centrally accessible to staff and volunteers. The method, materials, and ministry of Q Place continue to be refined to meet the needs of an ever-changing culture.