As a new believer, I received a brand-new Bible with crisp, white pages that had never been touched. I was eager to break it in, but there was a problem: I had no clue where to start.
My childhood wasn't filled with flannelgraphs, church pageants, or Bible memorization challenges. In fact, I was 16 the first time I read anything in the Bible. What I knew about it came from pop culture—a sorry education on what's actually in Scripture. I was completely illiterate when it came to the Bible.
Recent research suggests that many are in the same position. Christians and non-Christians alike know very little about the Bible.
In January 2020, Barna Research “estimated that Bible Users—defined as individuals who read, listen to, or pray with the Bible on their own at least three or four times a year outside of a church service or church event—had reached a 10-year nadir, registering only 48 percent of Americans.”
Even if your group members are reading the Bible, they may be coming up short when it comes to actually understanding God's Word. As a new believer, I spent endless hours reading the Bible. But to be honest, I gained more questions than answers. I struggled to understand how all the parts fit together.
It wasn't until college when I learned how to do inductive Bible study that Scripture really came alive for me. As a small group, we dissected the Word, made sense of it, and worked on applying it to our lives. Finally, I was given the tools to read and understand the Bible in context and the community to help me interpret Scripture faithfully.
How You Can Help
As a small-group leader, one of my greatest joys is facilitating environments that help group members read Scripture and discover God's truth for themselves. Unfortunately, the Bible often takes a backseat in small groups. Between sitting back to watch a video where a skilled teacher tells us what a passage means, and using guides that barely ask us to crack open our Bibles, few small groups focus on the discovery that happens when we open up the Bible and read it for ourselves.
Now, more than ever, we need to help our group members know what's in the Bible. If statistics are true, they know very little. How can we expect our group members to follow God wholeheartedly when they know so little about Scripture? I believe small groups can change those statistics. And much of it starts with you—the leader.
A little over a year ago, I led a women's group through the Gospel of John. One meeting, we were discussing John 7, which briefly mentions the Festival of Tabernacles. One woman asked the purpose of the festival. Another talked briefly about being in the desert for 40 years. Together, the women pieced together the story. Forty minutes later we'd talked about the use of festivals in Jewish culture, the reason only the high priest could approach God once a year, and how Jesus had changed all of that.
It was a tangent to be sure. But our tangent led us somewhere important when one woman exclaimed, "Wow! God did all that so I can have a relationship with him!" The sentiment sobered the group, sending everyone into deep thought. Slowly they started to respond. And tear up. And explain that they weren't investing in that relationship enough. It led to real prayer requests and thankfulness and ideas about how to build an authentic relationship with Jesus. We experienced a shift in our hearts and minds, and it was obviously the work of the Spirit.
It all started with letting God's Word speak directly to us, being open to tangents, and allowing group members to wrestle with what they were reading. It's easier to watch a skilled teacher dissect a passage. It's simpler to answer four questions from a discussion guide. But wrestling with God's Word allows the Spirit to move our hearts and change us from the inside out.
And it's not just Bible studies that drive group members to the Word. In a missional small group I'm part of, for instance, I'm constantly turning to God's Word for wisdom. What does the Bible say about justice? What does it say about loving those on the margins? How does God want us to reach out to those far from him? Living on mission with my small group drives me to the Bible more than anything else.
Are you helping your group members wrestle with the Word? Are your group experiences encouraging group members to run to Scripture for God's wisdom? Though the statistics on biblical literacy are grim, small groups can make a difference. I know they've made a difference in my life. Together we can read God's Word, learn to understand it, and hold each other accountable to live it out.
—Amy Jackson is the former managing editor of SmallGroups.com.