Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, people have tried to find ways to do everything they used to do in person online. As cases are increasing again, we might be in for another round of social distancing. I know, I know, it's getting old. But, the scripture remains: "Do not neglect the gathering together." (Hebrews 10:25)
I started a small online Bible study and invited friends on Facebook. Some of them, I had not even met in person before the study! It has been an awesome time of studying God's word, friendship, and prayer, in a time when people need connection and encouragement the most. This has been the format that has worked for us.
10 steps to start a successful online Bible study
1. Pick your technology.
In order to do an online study, you'll need to pick a technology everyone can use to get online. It helped that our study started on Facebook, and so we used a Facebook group where everyone could see updates about the group. But then, we needed a video technology so that everyone could participate.
At first, we tried Zoom, and that was great, but some people had connection issues. Then, we tried Facebook rooms, and that seemed to work the best, but you'll want to note that if a dog is barking at someone's house, you cannot mute individuals.
2. Pick a good time.
We could have picked a weekend, but those are difficult for me with work, so I picked a weeknight. We chose Tuesday nights at 8pm initially, but that was too late for some folks, so we moved it to 7pm.
2. Send out reminders.
If you don't remind people, they'll forget! It's part of human nature. It may not be that they don't want to attend the study; they simply forgot. I posted about the study every so often on my Facebook page and posted about it in the group. It was important for me to remind myself; sometimes Tuesdays would arrive and I would forget it was Bible study night!
3. Pick your study material.
I was a little picky in that I didn't want to do a study written by someone else. I wanted to study the word directly and let the verses speak to us. So, we started with Psalm 23, and went verse by verse. Any verses that could not go without another verse went together for that week. Then we'd take a break and start a new section.
Here are some sections of scripture that can be done as short studies:
You can go chapter by chapter, but it may too much to read or discuss at one sitting. You could try going verse by verse and then chapter by chapter to see what works best for your group.
4. Start with connection.
As people start to get online, ask how everyone has been and what is new. This time is important for people to be able to share what has been going on in their lives. Leave some room at the beginning to check in with everyone and see how they are. After all, a study isn't just about the word; it's about caring for people!
5. Next, open with prayer.
Ask someone in the group to open the study in prayer, or you can yourself. This is a lead in to study the word.
6. Read the verse or verses.
Read the verse or verses aloud, then ask what people got out of the verse. Listen and then summarize what someone has said. Point out similarities to other verses and what you feel that God has shared with you about the verse.
7. Ask if there is anything else God has been speaking to anyone.
This is can be interesting time of discussion that may lead to an "aha" moment. It allows some room for the Holy Spirit to move.
8. Bring it back and keep it positive.
Sometimes, the study might go off topic. Try to bring it back to the word and anything else people got out of the scriptures. Keep it positive, encouraging, and uplifting.
9. Ask for prayer requests.
Though we prayed at the beginning, now is the time to pray for specific prayer requests people might have. Make a note of each one so you don't forget.
10. Close in prayer.
You can ask someone to volunteer to start the prayer, and then you can close the prayer, waiting a few seconds to leave room for anyone else that might like to pray. This gives everyone an opportunity to participate in prayer. You might feel a nudge to pray for certain things, but try to follow the Holy Spirit's guidance. Never share anything that was shared in confidence. Also, it might be good to pray for any "unspoken" prayer requests that people may not feel comfortable to share. God will know what they are. :)
All in all, the study is successful based on who attends and if they get along well. It also depends on if people feel loved and encouraged by being in the group. In our group, some of our girls have said, "It's the highlight of my week!" I was so happy when I heard that -- that means that we did what we set out to do -- grow closer to God, connect with others, and be uplifted and encouraged.
You will likely find that some people come and some people go, and that's ok! If you feel like the study is what God wants you to do, He will nudge the people who are supposed to be a part. Keep inviting people and see what God might do!
"Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit." -Matthew 28:19