How Do I Lead a Community Bible Study?

All you need is a good heart and a good outline

online group bible study

I’ve written before on Faith+Lead about the thing that got me through pandemic lock-down: reading the Bible over Zoom with a group of seekers, skeptics, and spiritually curious folks. Today I want to share the nitty-gritty of how we gathered each week. 

The good news: it’s not hard. 

Consider this outline something like a liturgy: a pattern that, when repeated over and over among a community of care, becomes sacred and creates a space for hope and insight to emerge. You don’t need expertise—just a good heart and a good outline. 

The details of the formula can be adjusted according to your context—you know your community like no one else—but I recommend building a consistent pattern. Check mine out and adjust as you see fit. 

Grounding practice

I opened each session with a short meditation or grounding practice. In my community of skeptics I tried to keep these low on the religious content and more about mindfulness. In your community, an opening prayer might be appropriate—just something to help everyone let go of their days and show up here, now. 

Community norms

In my Bible study community, we took time at the beginning of each new season to write a list of community norms for how we would show up to each other and to the text. Especially for people who were nervous about engaging in a religious space and text, the chance to set the rules together democratically helped them feel more comfortable. Our norms stated that we were all equals before the text; that we chose together to embrace mystery rather than seeking certainty; and that we would be sensitive to differences in communication style among other things. 

We read the communication norms out loud at the beginning of every. Single. Session. Yes, this did sometimes feel like a rote repetition of rules, but I wanted to build a healthy culture in a group that had started out as strangers. I was affirmed in this choice when one of our saltier group members told us that the weekly reminder of these healthy communication practices was changing her little by little. We created a space to practice a different way of being than any other community in her life, and she was grateful. 

I recommend including some kind of reminder of community norms, shared values, or other practice that helps people show up on the same page. 

Story time

If we had started this group at any time other than lock down, I would have gathered us around a table. In the absence of that possibility, I wanted to simulate the sense of closeness we so often find when we break bread together, so I instituted what we called “story time.” 

Each week I took a look at the text we would be reading and came up with a question. If the text was the calling of the disciples, the question might be “tell us a story about an invitation.” If the text was Jesus teaching on money, the question might be “what does real wealth look like in your life?” 

Story time was “challenge by choice.” No one was required to share, and if they chose to, they could share something deeply personal or something quick and light. We used mutual invitation —each sharer invited the next person to share by name until each person had been invited. 

You might actually be able to include a meal—I recommend it. Maybe you draw discussion questions from a deck of cards, or have a once-a-month game night. However you do it, I recommend including some time to just build a depth of community. 

The actual Bible

About 30 minutes in, we got to the actual Bible.

I had each person grab whatever Bible translation they had around their house, and we read a whole chapter out loud, mutual invitation style. We appreciated the mix of translations—the differences sometimes opened up interesting conversation down the road. 

After reading our assigned chapter, each person shared what most stuck out to them from the reading. At first, people shared a simple word or phrase. As they got more comfortable with each other, this initial sharing opened up big curiosities and big reactions. Things that made people angry, curious, excited; things that triggered past religious trauma, things that challenged previous assumptions about Christianity. Each week we had a smorgasbord of conversational topics presented out of these initial reactions. 

Then we just went at it. We dove head first into whichever topic piqued the most interest. As the facilitator and the only seminary-trained person in the group, I worked hard to stay quiet. I only presented Bible facts when asked, and tried to save my own personal sharing for later in the session, after others had already had their say. 

And they had SO MUCH to say! Week after week, I was astounded by their excellent questions, their fascinating insights, their useful takeaways. For people who were iffy about God, they sure got a lot out of scripture when they were given the chance to explore it freely. 


We closed each session with a short time of prayer. I kept this low pressure, but I was surprised at how many people opted in. I set a pattern: “God, today I thank you for … ” and “God, please help with … ” We used mutual invitation, and some chose to use their time in long or short silence before inviting the next person. 

Other Logistics

Our Bible study took one and a half hours, and we met once a week in the evening over Zoom. I presented a few options and the group would vote on which book of the Bible to read next—I think Luke and Acts are great places to start. A few times, a group member led when I couldn’t—the format was simple enough that anyone could do it. 

If I were to do it again (and I hope I get the chance someday), I’d start training up leaders from the group right from the beginning. Then if the group got big enough, it could more easily multiply. In the beginning I put a lot of work into coming up with deep questions and reading background material on each week’s text. By the end, I discovered that the homework was unnecessary—it worked just as well if not better when I too showed up to the text fresh and curious. 

What do you think? 

What Bible study formats have worked in your community? Any flops? Let’s get a conversation going in the comments so we can learn together. 

Further reading: 

I owe the idea of group facilitation as liturgy and the practice of mutual invitation to Eric Law’s book “The Wolf Shall Lie Down with the Lamb”

  • Bethany Ringdal

    Bethany Ringdal is learning to live a Jesus-shaped life of hospitality and solidarity among global neighbors. She ministers with the International Association for Refugees’ Minneapolis/St. Paul team, shares community with asylum seeking refugees at Jonathan House and labors alongside the Minnesota Asylum Network. She lives with three generations in Crystal, MN, where her greatest aspiration is to grow fruit trees and make lots of pie.

5 1 vote
Article Rating
Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Upcoming Live Workshop


Coaching and Leading in the Digital Age with Ryan Panzer