It works in offices, on college campuses, and in local churches. What is it? The evangelistic Bible study. Can you really get non-Christians involved in such a study? It happens all the time, it changes lives, and it's easier than you may think.
How do you invite people so they say yes instead of slamming doors? Should you study a topic or a book of the Bible? And how do you guide such a study for maximum impact on lives? Marilyn Kunz, one of the leaders of Neighborhood Bible Studies, offers tips for effective evangelistic Bible studies.
Large numbers of people have become Christians through peer group discussions of the Bible. And when unchurched participants become serious about the Christian faith, they normally begin attending church—often the church of their group's initiator.
Whole churches have been built using this method, and the gospel has penetrated neighborhoods and workplaces that likely would not have opened up to other evangelistic strategies.
What are the keys that make these groups succeed, causing the local church to grow? Here are five:
A "Safe" Invitation
Instead of being asked to join a Bible study, people are invited to a home to hear about an idea: a discussion Bible study group for adults who aren't experts. After dessert and coffee, the host or hostess explains how the group will function, using the method of inductive (investigative) study. A 20-minute sampler—one incident from the Gospel of Mark—gives a taste of what's ahead. Those interested set a time and place to start studying.
The same thing can happen on the job. Meeting on neutral territory is less threatening for newcomers than meeting in a church. Lunch-hour groups currently meet every week among business people on Wall Street, research scientists at a pharmaceutical corporation, and executives and clerical workers at a chemical firm. There's also an after-work study among garage mechanics with their Christian employer, and breakfast studies (weekday or Saturday) among small-town tradesmen and professionals. Workers who know one another through their jobs but meet in homes range from lobstermen on an island off the Maine coast to astronauts and their spouses in Houston.
Protecting Those New to the Bible
An ideal ratio is six to eight people studying the Bible for the first time with only one or two firm Christians. Groups with too many "experts" do not appeal to raw beginners.
A group of six to ten is large enough to stimulate interaction and new ideas but small enough to let everyone speak and respond to the comments of others. If a group is 12 or larger, the discussion tends to split into two or three competing conversations. The moderator has to exert strong control and may be tempted to lecture. The quiet people and those who know the least sit back. Sometimes they stop coming.
But when everyone has a fair chance, each participant is greatly influenced by what he discovers and shares with the group. What he hears himself saying about Jesus' claims will be remembered long after he forgets what someone else tells him. We recall only 20 percent of what we hear but 70 percent of what we say. That's why discussion Bible studies are powerful agents of change.
Studying Whole Books of the Bible
Newcomers to the Bible need to lay a foundation before they can handle studies that skip around. Using selected verses here and there to present the gospel message confuses the person who cannot set them into a meaningful context. They also put the person at risk when approached by a cult using a thematic presentation. If methods are similar, the biblically untaught person has a hard time distinguishing between what is authentic and what is counterfeit.