Opening Your Home and Heart to Women's Bible Study
“All that to say, I've decided to host a Bible study in my home this fall,” read an email I received the other day from a friend in a neighboring suburb.
She went on, “I have found myself struck a number of times by the epidemic of loneliness among moms, as well as the lack of Christian women pursuing deep spiritual growth in community.”
Her observation matches those of a whole gang of other women in my life who’ve recently written and texted to say something like my friend in Alaska, “I realized I’ve been waiting and hoping for the right community to fall in to my lap. But in two years it still hasn’t. So I decided to organize a ladies’ Bible study for my neighborhood to get to know other women and moms.”
It thrills my heart to hear about faithful ladies opening their homes and hearts. While small group discipleship and accountability are important, the Sunday gathering is nonnegotiable, and other means of growth are crucial—there remains something unique and powerful about women gathering together in a group to share life and become more acquainted (or for the first time!) with their Savior.
In the spirit of cheering these ladies on, I want to share the tips and tricks I’ve learned over the past 17 or so years of hosting weekly women’s Bible study in my home. I am by no means an expert and a lot of this is common sense. I want to clap from the sidelines and say to every gal out there—you can do this too! And when you do, I promise you will be blessed by your investment in the lives of others.
Group Leader Preparation
Depending on your stage of life, you may not have much time to prepare for a weekly study and that’s understandable. If you’re low on time, but desire quality, gospel-centered teaching, consider using a DVD and workbook combination for your group. Everyone will do the same homework during the week, followed by a group discussion, and DVD teaching. Currently, my group is finishing up Jen Wilkin’s study on the Sermon on the Mount and it has been challenging and insightful for ladies at all spiritual stages.
Hosting a Non-Threatening Gathering
- As the hostess, I try to do and say a bunch of different things that help make the environment warm and inviting to ladies from all walks. Other gals who attend sense this welcoming culture and do the same things.
- We always start out informally—gals walk right into my kitchen and get coffee and a snack and chat with other attendees.
- I try to greet each gal individually and be especially cozy with a newcomer—really just exhibiting empathetic hospitality—knowing she must feel funny being there for the first time.
- Then I gather everyone in the living room and take a minute to welcome them. Each week I have everyone re-say their names (depending on the size of the group). It may feel odd, but I know many people forget one another’s names and, for a first-timer, that really helps.
- Then I pray and we start the discussion from the book. Most times workbooks will include discussion questions, but if they don’t it’s important to create your own before this moment.
- Perhaps the most important thing I do each week for newbies or young/non Christians is say something like, “Please don’t stress if you weren’t able to do the homework. No one is checking! We want this to be a place where you can come and feel refreshed and encouraged—not bad about not getting everything accomplished this week. Please join in the discussion no matter what.” Then I always re-read the scripture that was covered, so at least everyone in the room knows what we’re talking about.
- Every group has one or a few ladies that want to talk more than the others. This can be tough especially if they have firm opinions that aren’t necessarily backed by scripture. When this happens, I try hard to tactfully lead the discussion back on track. When needed I try to say, “Maybe someone who hasn’t shared yet would like to answer?” Or I even call on people if they’re making a ton of eye contact with me and I think they want to say something but they’re too shy. For example, “Carrie, would you like to share your thoughts on that? You don’t have to, just if you want to add something?”
- If someone says crazy heresy, it’s pretty important to address it right then and there, if you can. If possible, simply say, “I’m not sure that’s exactly right,” or, “I’m not totally comfortable with that, but I’m not sure what the right answer is. I’ll look that up this week and we can talk about it next week.” If you freeze up in the moment, be sure to start off the next week’s discussion by correcting it. The nice thing about DVD teaching is that often the teacher will address and correct any errors that came up, if they’re related to the material in the first place.
- I think all of these communication techniques from the leader make a huge difference. Although after all these years I still find them challenging at times. Thankfully, our God is sovereign! And He has worked through situations that I thought were a disaster, but ended up being providential. Being an inclusive, but assertive, leader takes practice. God will honor your efforts and the Holy Spirit can be trusted to move through his Word and his people.
But what about the kids?
- For women to gather there has got to be a good place for their kids to gather too.
- Right now our group is such that we have the older kids babysit the younger kids and ask the moms to contribute a dollar or two for each of their supervised kids each week. A church budget may be able to cover this cost.
- The kids cold possibly watch a movie each week or gather in a room full of puzzles, books, and safe toys. Or maybe a local homeschooled teenager could be hired. Possibly a nearby grandma could help out.
- I personally haven’t had success in rotating moms. No mom wants to watch kids while all her pals are enjoying rich Bible study and fellowship!
- All leaders do need to be very aware of child safety concerns. For example, kids should be watched in a setting that is easily viewed by moms so they can peek in and make sure all is well. There should never be just two children alone. I personally do not allow teenage boys to participate in childcare (this may seem harsh, but statistically it’s wise). Check with your church and converse with other moms you trust to make wise choices. Do everything you can to prevent a dangerous situation for any child in your home.
Helping Women Want to Come Back
- It’s beneficial to start and stop the meeting each week right on time. The ladies know it’ll be two hours and not a minute longer. This predictability helps attendees feel like they can come each week without the risk of wasting their whole day because the discussion went awry.
- Praying together is a great way to facilitate ladies getting to know and care for one another. After the discussion and video, I ask everyone to turn to three or four ladies near them, share prayer needs, and pray together. I try to defuse discomfort in that situation by saying, “We want to make sure we are a safe place where we can share life with each other. Please don’t feel like you have to share anything, but if there’s something we can pray for, please tell the other ladies in your group. And when it comes time to pray, do not feel like you have to pray out loud. Just one or two ladies from your group who like to pray out loud can do it.”
- Depending on my schedule that day, I usually keep my house open for ladies and kids to stay and play for awhile—this is often a sweet time.
- Providing snacks is a nice way to foster relationships and keep kids happy. At the first meeting I always have a snack signup sheet. One lady brings snacks for the moms and one lady brings snacks for the kids every week. I keep my house stocked with paper plates and cups.
- If you’re finding that group attendance is spotty, it may help to create an email list or Facebook group and get in touch with everyone from time to time. It can help just to say, “We’re currently on week six and I’m looking forward to seeing you! Let me know if you’re not coming and how we can pray for you.” Oftentimes gals appreciate knowing they were missed, but not hounded for consecutive absences.
For some excellent advice from two professionals, this podcast in which Nancy Guthrie interviews Jen Wilkin on how to have a women’s Bible study is really helpful! It’s definitely worth a listen.
Women’s Bible study can be a terrific front door to the church and Christianity for any woman in your neighborhood or community. It’s also an excellent way for women who have a mature faith to grow themselves, while forging relationships in which they can offer encouragement and discipleship. I think all Christian women should take a leap of faith and invite others into their homes for this purpose. You can be sure that you, as the leader, will grow more and be more blessed than anyone!