How to Prompt Ongoing Engagement in the Last Minutes of Bible Study
Learn to end your small group effectively
This is the third in a three-part series about leading small-group Bible studies. After discussing the opening of the session and the heart of the study, we now turn to the final stages.
“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22). The very practical epistle of James gives us good advice, not only for our individual Bible engagement, but also for group study. There are certainly many profound ideas to be gathered and shared in a small-group session, but so what? How can these ideas take shape in our lives?
The last few minutes of group session may mean the difference between mental stimulation and life transformation. How will you prompt your group to internalize the messages of Scripture?
Approaches to Application
The Bible doesn’t just tell us what to do; it tells us who we are. In fact, its guidelines for living are often couched in identity statements. The Ten Commandments, for instance, follow from a recognition of relationship—the Lord brought the people out of slavery in Egypt. Other Old Testament laws as well are based on the fact that the Israelites are redeemed slaves.
Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount with a blessing for all the needy, meek mourners in his audience, and then two strong identity statements—“you are the salt of the earth ... the light of the world” (Matthew 5:3-16). The rest of that famous sermon is not just a daunting to-do list, but an expression of what it means to be who we are. And so it goes throughout the New Testament. We forgive, Jesus says, because we are forgiven. We love, John says, because we are loved. In contrast to the rebellious sins of the flesh, Paul offers fruit—noting that love, joy, peace, etc. are not matters of legislation, but the natural outgrowth of the Spirit in our lives.
In this light, the attempt to come up with some sort of “action step” at the end of a Bible study might be missing a beat. Actions are good, but they arise out of identity. Based on the Bible study in this particular session, who are we? That’s the question to ask first. Then we might consider how to live out that reality.
As the leader, be specific but tentative in suggesting ways to apply the Scripture studied. It’s easy for people to say, “I’ll try to be nicer,” but that probably won’t mean much when the alarm goes off the next morning. Suggest specific ways they might show the love of Christ. By the way, this might be a chance to use some of the relationship-building information you heard in the opening conversations and icebreaker. “You mentioned your friend was concerned about her son’s health. Could you pray with her about it?” Don’t give people orders, but suggest real-life ways to play out the Scriptures. A tentative quality in your suggestions might keep you from seeming too pushy: “I don’t know how things are where you work, but maybe something like this would be helpful ...”
Embrace the Mystery of Prayer
Many Bible study sessions end with prayer times, in which people share their requests and voice their prayers. It makes great sense to include prayer in a session that focuses on hearing God’s message in Scripture. Our communication with the Lord goes both ways.
A group member challenged me once about our prayer process. “Wasn’t God here when we shared our prayer requests? Didn’t he hear us talking with each other? Why would we need to tell him about all that again?” I didn’t have an answer, and I still don’t, but it made me think about different ways a group might pray together. Prayer is sacred. Our familiar ways of doing it? Not so much.
Some group leaders use the prayer time as a way to hammer home the main points of the Bible study. This is generally a bad idea, since it hijacks time devoted to communication with God. But what if we simply merged the prayer time with the application time? “Let’s talk with God about how he might want us to ‘let our light shine’ this week. Let God bring certain people to your mind who might need his light in their lives.” Surely God is tuning in to the entire Bible study, too, and prayer could become an organic element of any part of it. Could this become a time of Spirit-led brainstorming (or perhaps “soulstorming”) as the group listens to the Lord and talks together about the specific ways in which they are being led?
Follow Up for Bible Engagement
Quiz questions. One newcomer to a men’s Bible study at my church was surprised to get quiz questions texted to him a few days later from the group leader. That text message reminded him of the Bible passage being studied at the next meeting and had two basic quiz questions to answer by end-of-day, just to prove they had read the Scripture. The newcomer felt pushed, but in a good way. He read the Bible passage and responded to the questions ... and kept coming back to the group week after week.
This approach might not work in every group, but these guys were happy to push each other into a greater experience with the Bible. Maybe a group has a social-media page where they share “sightings” of the Bible-study theme during the week. Maybe a leader makes it a point to call, meet, or email various group members in between sessions.
One purpose of a Bible study group is fulfilled when the group meets. Scripture gets studied, and people share their ideas about it. But there’s another, longer-lasting purpose: ongoing Scripture engagement in the lives of group members. Can we help these Bible-readers develop a passion for the Word, something that kicks in every day of the week? Could they begin to see how God speaks into every aspect of their lives?
In this regard, when the Bible study session gets to its closing prayer, the leader’s work is just beginning.
Thanks to the support of our faithful financial partners, American Bible Society has been engaging people with the life-changing message of God’s Word for more than 200 years.
Help us share God's Word where needed most.
Connect with our Bible engagement blog for leaders and receive a Bible-reading Habit Guide for your community.