The Bible is the best-seller of all time, bar none. And groups that study the Bible together can be extremely interactive, thought-provoking, and life changing. But they can also be downright boring.
What makes the difference?
The biggest game-changer I’ve found is getting hold of a great discussion guide.
What makes a great discussion guide? For starters—solid inductive questions that help people think deeply without telling them what to think. That was the key that opened the Bible to me.
And how can you tell that a discussion guide will help group members think without telling them what to think? As the saying goes, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” but asking the following questions can help you identify a great discussion guide:
- Does this guide have a wise combination of observation, interpretation, and application questions? If it jumps quickly to how group members feel about a few select verses, you won’t have done the important groundwork to understand the meaning of a section of Scripture. Good observation, interpretation, and application questions allow a group participant to discover for him or herself the truth of the Bible. And good questions are a lot harder to craft than you might think.
- Does the guide cover Scripture in context? Studying a whole book of the Bible will give group members the best opportunity to understand what is being communicated. But even if your group chooses a topical study, a great guide will use sections of Scripture in context rather than jumping around to many isolated verses.
- Does this guide help you process and come to conclusions for yourself? Many Bible study guides try to tell you “the right answer,” leaving little room for people to process what the Bible is saying and for God’s Spirit to work. Respectfully allowing for different viewpoints helps people to be honest about what they believe and start to compare it with what the Bible is saying. As a result, you’ll have deeper discussion, real buy-in over time, and a group that is safer and more interesting for everyone.
- Will this guide help your group treat the Bible as the authority, rather than the leader or the study material? By including a minimum of notes (just enough to help a group with essential cultural or background information), a good guide will push everyone back to the Bible to find answers. If all notes and cross references are in the discussion guide where everyone can see them (rather than in a separate leader’s book), the Bible remains the authority rather than the group leader.
- Is this guide accessible for participants who have little previous experience with the Bible? Some of the most interesting discussion groups I’ve experienced included people who were not Christians or who were new to the Bible. Those who had never read it before, including atheists, opened my eyes and greatly challenged me. They tended to see things in new ways and to think deeply, partly because they didn’t know the “Sunday school answer.” Finding a discussion guide that assumes no previous Bible knowledge is becoming more and more important in our post-Christian culture—but is not easy to find. A guide that avoids religious jargon and instead uses common vocabulary encourages comprehension no matter the spiritual maturity of the group.
- Will this guide help you to grow more leaders? If the discussion guide includes instructions and a format that encourage everyone to take turns in the role of question-asker, you’ll see group members developing leadership skills. You’ll also see more group ownership and stronger preparation and participation.
- Is this guide usable by the ordinary Christian? With the right discussion guide, any motivated Christian can start a group and see God use him or her in the lives of others. Well-balanced inductive materials allow the group facilitator the freedom not to have to create good questions for group self-discovery. This also means that the facilitator doesn’t have to be a Bible expert in order for the truth of God’s Word to come to light in a group.
- Can this guide be used cross-culturally? With internationals all around us, it is important to consider whether the discussion guide is full of North American idioms and unrelatable stories from our culture. Plus, with more people involved in online groups, those from all over the world can participate as long as the discussion guide has a minimum of cultural baggage.
Why not just have a “free flow discussion” rather than using a discussion guide? Here’s what I have observed:
- A guide helps my group look at a passage more authentically instead of picking out isolated thoughts that feel good, that I’m particularly drawn to, or that connect with my bent or pet peeves. Instead, it draws us all to what God is saying in this passage and helps us take it as a whole.
- A discussion guide keeps my group grounded in God’s intent for a Scripture passage with ample opportunity for the Holy Spirit to speak to each one, rather than for “me to speak to me,” which could lead to superficial “truths.” The heavy lifting of structuring an examination of Scripture is done with insightful questions that allow the Holy Spirit to speak.
- Study guide questions gently, wisely lead us to think about the impact of the passage, building on prior passages in context.
Studying the Bible this way makes it a plumb line of the truth of what God really said, rather than what any one person thinks God said or should have said.
3 Ways Q Place Discussion Guides Excel
Q Place discussion guides are designed with everything in mind that I have mentioned above, and here is a summary of three points that make these guides unique.
- The quality and variety of questions help a person learn how to study the Bible, what to look for, and what to ask. This is not to say that Q Place discussion guides are just for beginners. The same discussion questions push both seasoned Bible readers and people new to the Bible to examine the passage carefully and share fresh insights. Group discussion and applications take different turns because of the backgrounds of the participants.
- Q Place discussion guides are divided into levels so a group facilitator can be assured that a study is suitable for those who are new to the Bible or for those with experience in the Bible.
- Q Place guides excel in evangelistic discussion groups. You might start using a Q Place guide in a small group from your church, but you and two or three other Christians could use the same guide and approach with people who are not in church circles or who are brand new to the Bible. The discussion questions and group guidelines (outlined in each guide) create a comfortable learning atmosphere for people to discover Jesus for themselves. Q Place leads training sessions (Q Place Coaching) four times a year so that ordinary Christians can start Bible discussion groups with seekers—without having to be Bible experts!
But don’t take it just from me. Here are some comments from others:
- “[Q Place guides] are thoroughly biblical . . . they are timeless . . . they are time-tested. . . they appeal to anybody who can read, are not too difficult, not too easy…they are easy to use . . . slanted toward personal discovery . . . biblically balanced . . . they make you think clearly . . . they save time but are well prepared.”
– Cliff Westergren, publisher
- “No other ministry in our church develops leaders as well or as fast [as Q Place].”
– Pastor Don
- “I couldn’t imagine taking a baby outside in such cold weather in October, but I was awfully lonely at home. I had met one neighbor, and both of us had received an invitation to come to a Bible study and coffee from a person up the street neither of us knew. I had decided I probably wouldn’t go – I’d had a couple of bad experiences in Bible studies and was a bit wary. Anne wanted to, though, so we did. The minute we began actually looking at Scripture for ourselves and not having someone tell us what the right answer ought to be, I was hooked!”
– Nancy, a group participant
I have used Q Place Bible Discussion Guides and taught other Christians to use them for over three decades. In that time, I have seen God use these tools in the lives of many people, helping them understand the Bible’s message and apply it to their lives. I hope you’ll give them a try!
– Fran Goodrich, Q Place National Field Leader
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