A friend invites us to attend a Bible study group. We hear all about the relationships, spiritual depth gained, and ministry opportunities that await us. We decide to attend and soon discover that becoming a part of the group will be more difficult than we thought. We wear a handwritten name tag (everyone else has a printed tag), get asked to introduce ourselves to start the group time, and then find out we were the only ones that didn’t get the text about bringing your own cup if you wanted coffee.
Most of us who lead a Bible study groups ministry at least advertise that our groups welcome anyone. We would like to think that any person can find acceptance and a place in a Bible study group. Unfortunately, “anyone welcome” is an apparitional goal at best in many groups. What are some things we can do as a leader to move the groups towards being more welcoming of everyone?
To begin with, take an inventory of the stories used to illustrate points during the Bible study. Most of us use stories from our experiences and interests…and we should. Doing so helps the group get to know us and builds trust between the group and us as the leader. But shouldn’t we strike a balance? How many of the stories used relate to people exclusively from our background and interests? Nothing wrong with loving sports for example, but all our illustrations shouldn’t be from the sports world.
Secondly, look at who helps us manage the group. Is there diversity within the team, or are they all like us? Most of us gravitate toward people with the same interests and goals, so it makes sense. However, if we want our Bible study group to be inclusive, the leadership team ought to reflect who we are seeking to reach. Just look at the group Jesus assembled as His disciples and we find all kinds of people—fishermen, a tax collector, a political activist, and a thief. He assembled a diverse group on purpose.
Thirdly, observe who and how we engage people. Most of us tend to find it easier to talk to some people than we do with others, but as the leader we need to try to engage with everyone present. That begins with awareness and prayer. Asking God to help us see all people as people is a dangerous prayer since God tends to put people in our lives to find out if we are serious about that request. How we engage someone may be more important than who we engage. We must learn to treat others as people who have real needs, real reasons for why they believe what they believe, and real stories worth telling.
Fourth, we can become a student of cultures and subcultures. Read blogs and books by people with whom we know we will disagree and who come from a different background. Learn to be comfortable asking about a person’s background, memories, and values. We can all learn a great deal by talking to people if we simply take the time to do so.
Here’s the bottom line, creating an inclusive Bible study group starts with us as the leader. The rest of the group takes their cues from us. They know who we talk to the most and to whom we respond the best. They watch how we handle others who answer questions in a combative or reactionary way. We set the standard even when we don’t want to.
What are some things you have found that help you foster inclusive mindset in your group?
G. Dwayne McCrary is a project team leader for ongoing adult Bible study resources at LifeWay, including the adult Explore the Bible resources. He also teaches an adult group and preschool group every Sunday in the church he attends.