Top Five Tuesday — Top Five Elements Of An Excellent Bible Study

We’ve all been there.

Sitting in a small group Bible Study — whether a Sunday School class, home-based fellowship group, or even a high-intensity accountability group — and it is falling flat.

The curriculum doesn’t connect, the people aren’t engaged, and you, as the leader, are uninspired.

So: how to avoid that scenario?  What are some elements of an excellent bible study?  How do we change from a bible study that falls flat to one that brims with life?

Here are elements of excellence:


  1.  A Topic That Motivates.  I can often gauge a group’s long-term interest in a subject by its short-term response to the study’s title.  When I suggested James MacDonald’s Lord, Change My Attitude to a group I was leading, the response was immediate and audible:  “We need that.”  And so attitudes got adjusted.

Lord Change My Attitude



2.   A Curricula That Excavates.  I love it when an author unearths subtle truths in Scripture that I had not known before.  One of my favorite along these lines is . . . wait for it . . . Beth    Moore’s study of James called Mercy Triumphs.  Yes!  A United Methodist pastor who celebrates a Beth Moore study (as long as it’s not on eschatology).


Beth Moore - Mercy Triumphs


3.  Daily Reading Assignments That Concentrate.  A good curriculum always involves daily reading assignments that are long enough to be challenging and short enough to be do-able.  I am currently studying Hebrews with a friend, and the daily assignments from Zondervan’s Bible Study for life are an essential part of my morning routine.


Zondervan Hebrews


4.  Questions That Penetrate.  There is an art to asking questions that spark conversation rather than beg for agreement.  At Good Shepherd, we include a For Further Conversation section of every Sunday bulletin.  And I’ve been delighted that Abingdon Press has adapted and augmented those conversations for each chapter of Head Scratchers, The Storm Before The Calm, and The Shadow Of A Doubt. 


5.  Leaders Who Can ArticulateSmall group leaders are treasures for local churches.  One of my growing edges as a leader is the improvement at identifying and then equipping potential group leaders.  We are always looking for folks with good social skills, deep bible knowledge, and the ability to articulate what a living relationship with Jesus Christ is all about.

Update September 2018:

Since this blog post published in early 2016, we tried a fresh strategy for developing groups in our congregation at GSUMC. The strategy is outlined in the book Grab, Gather, Grow, by Jim & Jennifer Cowart. We didn’t follow the formula verbatim and the results were still incredible. You can learn more about our experience in this podcast:


My other great desire is that the upcoming Solve Bible Study from Abingdon Press will facilitate group excellence.  I believe the topic of a solution-centered faith motivates, I know the material on Nehemiah will help leaders excavate, I’m sure there are questions that will penetrate (as in when have you discovered your solutions were actually your problems?), and digging into the Daily Reading assignments will require participants to concentrate.  All that remains is for leaders to articulate!


Solve Book 2


Update September 2018:

After Solve, Crash Test Dummies was released the following year. If you’re looking for material with mass appeal that almost everyone in a large group can relate to, I highly recommend Crash Test Dummies. 

Elements of Excellence