Before you start
Before getting started with your community Bible study, you’ll want to choose a facilitator. Our curriculum was designed by an ordained faith leader, but you do not need to have any official titles to lead your own class. You are welcome to facilitate the class yourself, or you can invite your pastor, an elder, or any other community leader who you trust to take on that role. Our goal for this guide was to provide the tools so that anyone could implement our curriculum and make it their own.
Each week, we sent out email and text reminders to all our participants with the Zoom call information and meeting agenda. Calling each other on the phone also worked well to check-in and share information. We highly recommend these practices as a way to maintain connections with your group and keep folks engaged.
Layout of the time
Our community Bible studies followed a consistent format with a rotating list of topics. We found the following sections helped our class flow organically on Zoom, but feel free to shift time allocations and class order given your particular context.
Welcome (10 minutes)
We usually started our class with a song. It gave everyone time to arrive, get settled, and shift their focus to our study. We would screen-share our meeting agenda for that week’s class–see the curriculum in the following section–so that everyone knew what we would be covering. After our song finished, we would welcome everyone to class, share any updates, and invite our group to offer their own announcements.
Prayer (10 minutes)
Every class included a prayer. You can find these listed beside the “Prayer” section of each class agenda. The facilitator may read the prayer, or you may invite a group member to read it aloud. We also take time for our group to offer any prayer requests or intentions either silently or aloud.
Lesson (15 minutes)
Each lesson includes a selection of scripture that relates to the topic or theme for each class. You can find the Word for each class next to the “Scripture” heading in each class agenda. This piece offers perhaps the most room for creativity and flexibility within the study. Your class facilitator may invite group members to read the scripture aloud from their own Bibles, or they may choose to take several minutes to read and reflect on the scripture quietly. Then the facilitator may wish to share some thoughts and reflections, historical context, or even modern examples relating to the Word.
Links (15 minutes)
“Links” are opportunities to directly connect God’s Word to real world issues and common situations. Often they are news clips or videos, and sometimes they are links to organization websites or historical articles. During our community Bible study we shared our screen and read or watched this content together as a group. The links for each class are located next to the “Links” heading on each class agenda. Just copy and paste the links in your browser, or download the PDF of this document and click on the links directly.
Group Shareback (15 minutes)
During this section we invite group members to share back their reflections, responses, and answers from the breakout groups. The facilitator may choose to ask the questions one-byone, or just invite group members to speak as they feel called. We sought to hear from every group at every class, and so we would occasionally call on each group one-by-one to share back. These reflections offered some of our most powerful moments of recognition, vulnerability, affirmation, and connection, so try to manage your class time wisely so this section is not cut short.
Closing (5 minutes)
Of course, all good things must come to an end. Try to respect your group members’ time and close out as close to your agreed-upon end time as possible. You may wish to offer any reminders or a quick preview of the following class, but your closing need not be anything too elaborate. If you choose to include a satisfaction survey, this is a good time to share it with your group. We sent the link to the survey to the group on Zoom via the chat feature.
Satisfaction surveys served as opportunities for us to track class attendance and group member experiences. We kept them short and sweet, usually collecting basic information such as name and email address as well as asking one or two questions. For example, “What was your main takeaway from today?” and “Do you have any feedback for our class today?” We highly recommend this practice, as many of our most successful innovations and important insights came from satisfaction survey responses. We utilized Google Forms as a helpful and accessible tool for building these surveys and storing survey data.
We also recommend sending a short follow-up email to help your group quickly find the agenda, resources, and satisfaction survey for that week’s class.
Depending on your group size, you may wish to designate group representatives to assist with breakout group conversations. Group representatives can ensure that everyone understands the discussion questions, has an opportunity to speak, and adheres to community agreements. They may also take attendance and notes on breakout group conversations to offer during the shareback period, taking pressure off other group members who may fear speaking in large groups. Designating group representatives is as simple as reaching out to dedicated group members and inviting them to take this role. Don’t forget to check in with them each class to make sure you have enough in attendance to meet your group’s needs!
Tips for challenging discussion scenarios
Our facilitator and creator of our community Bible study curriculum, Rev. Dr. Tommie Watkins, regularly reminded our community Bible study group that our goal was “dialogue, not debate.” In other words, our mission was listening to understand one another, not just to respond. Even though we regularly discussed controversial social issues, we were inspired by the level of respect and empathy our group maintained. Even still, we want to make sure you are prepared for any situation that may arise.
While almost all of our community Bible studies follow the format described in this guide, you may want to include in your first class an exercise that could help defuse challenging scenarios in the future. We call this “community agreements.” This activity takes the form of a brainstorming session in which every participant offers up a practiceor principle that they hope the group will follow. Some examples may include “take lessons, not stories” or “use ‘I’ statements.” After each suggestion, ask the group to vote on the agreement by giving a thumbs up or down sign. If anyone shows a thumbs down, invite them to explain why and then vote again. You can set the threshold with your group for adopting a recommendation. After you have a list of approved agreements, be sure to send it out to the group for future reference. We also invite you to revisit this list during future classes for any additions or changes.
If there arises a moment of conflict in your group, you can point to your agreements to call someone back into the community. For instance, we had some name-calling during one of our breakout groups. In response, we reminded the full group of our community agreement to “stay kind.” Following the class, we also called all those directly involved to talk about how we could better adhere to our community agreements in the future. You may wish to invite several participants in your group to form a “conflict resolution team” that develops action plans to handle different scenarios.
Whatever conflict resolution methods you adopt, we encourage you to take violations of community agreements seriously. Our mission for the community Bible study is to facilitate healing and trust, and there is no better way to undercut that mission than ignoring harm. It may feel difficult to address conflict in the moment, but often these are the moments in which the greatest transformation can occur.