A note from Kelly King: I’ve always said there is a big difference between teaching a Bible study and facilitating a Bible study. If you’re facilitating a new study or starting a new small group, consider some of these important questions. To hear Cindy live at a Lifeway You Lead event, she will be teaching in Oklahoma City on Friday, October 11. For more information on You Lead and to discover a city near you, click here.
Recently, we began multigenerational Bible study/fellowship small groups in our women’s ministry. As we thought about training the facilitators of these groups, the topic of this article surfaced.
Women’s ministry small groups give women an intimate place to grow in the Lord. The goal is that “…all of them may call on the name of the LORD and serve him shoulder to shoulder” (Zephaniah 3:8-10, NIV).
Many discover new truths about themselves and find their needs met on many levels in a small group setting. A good small group will encourage women to ask questions about life and the Bible. Before women will open up and ask these questions, the group facilitator must lead the group to answer the questions they may never verbalize.
These nonverbal questions may appear self-centered and obvious. However, if these questions are not answered adequately, most women will choose another way to invest their time. More often than not, these questions must be answered before women will ask deeper spiritual questions.
Let’s look at a few unspoken questions women may have and consider the following possible answers.
Question: Do you care about me as a person and want to know my story?
Each woman must know she is valued and appreciated to really feel connected to the group. Answering this question and celebrating each woman’s uniqueness in Christ can give her confidence to contribute more during discussions. As she experiences a sense of security in the group, she may begin to share more openly. A major part of the facilitator’s role is to listen to understand and speak to encourage the heart of each woman.
Question: Are you going to waste my time?
In this busy world of options, women want their time to be spent wisely. The facilitator must keep the overall purpose of the small group in focus, give the group members important logistical details, and keep the discussions on point. Women will relax more when they know the leader is guiding the discussions to start and end on time. Women come to a small group with different expectations. Some come to develop friendships, share life experiences, and fellowship together. Others want to grow as Christ followers and find encouragement for their souls. All women want their small group experience to be time well spent.
Question: Is this small group a “come as you are, grace place” where I can be honest and transparent?
Often honest sharing and appropriate transparency needs to begin with the facilitator. By the leader modeling appropriate transparency, group members, in a sense, are given permission and grace to do the same. Listening intently as each woman begins to tell her story creates an atmosphere of grace and respect for one another. Hebrews 10:24-25 says it best: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another…” (NIV).
Discussions about real life issues help women realize they are not alone in their struggles. Their prayer requests become more personal and their connectivity to the group is strengthened. Also, greeting each woman with welcoming, down-to-earth hospitality sets the tone for a “come as you are” kind of fellowship.
Question: Will the friendships I have developed exist outside this small group, particularly if I have a crisis in my life or have something special to celebrate?
Women need friends to journey with them through life’s joys and challenging days. The spirit of a good small group is to exemplify the love of Christ, which is not limited to a time or place but deeply rooted in Him. God’s Word reminds us in Galatians 6:2 to “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” And in Proverbs 17:17 that “a friend loves at all times” (NIV).
Some friendships will naturally grow outside the small group circle for various reasons. Others may require more intentional communication by something as simple as texting a word of encouragement, sending a birthday card, sharing blogs and resources, talking over a good cup of coffee, or sharing prayer requests with one another. The bond developed in the small group is unique and can be God-breathed for purposes far beyond the actual group time. Our Lord has a way of connecting women to give them His vision both individually and collectively. I have seen women listen to God as they study and pray together in small group and then, outside of the small group time, come together to accomplish a God-sized mission!
These are just some of the questions women in your small groups may need answered. What are the questions on your mind when you join a new group? As a facilitator or leader, are you seeking to love your group authentically and looking beyond the surface to meet their heartfelt needs? By God’s grace, our small groups will bless the lives of women and become an extension of His love in countless ways!
Dr. Cindy Townsend is currently serving on Senior staff at First Baptist Church in Jackson, Mississippi as Minister to Women’s Enrichment Ministries and Woman’s Missionary Union. Her passion is to equip women and students to discover their full potential in Christ Jesus. She has served both the Louisiana and Mississippi Baptist conventions as Director for women’s missions and ministries. Cindy is a child of God, wife, mother, freelance writer, minister, and speaker for student and women’s events. She and her husband, Bill live in Flowood, MS. Bill and Cindy are the parents of two adult children.