You, as a leader, have an opportunity to spread the Gospel -- without ever leaving your home or church building. This comprehensive guide will show you everything you need to know on how to start an online Bible study. Avoid common mistakes and reach more people today!
Who Can Benefit?
Bring Bible study group members together without them having to worry about schedules, drive time or babysitters. They can gather whenever it's convenient for them. Internet-based groups are always open and can even benefit active missionaries who need discipleship resources.
People who have stopped attending church because of an illness or another struggle, such as old age, may be able to attend once again in the virtual space. This lifts spirits and gives people a new light in their lives just when they thought they wouldn't be able to pray or study with others ever again.
Consider the story of Lillian Penner, who found an old letter in her family archives. It was addressed to her mother from her grandfather in Poland. He lovingly wrote that he prays for her, her children and for her future generations.
Lillian realized that her grandfather had been praying for her before she was even born, from halfway around the world. This brought her comfort. She wondered how she could do the same for her grandchildren.
Grandparents make a difference. Set them free of non-mobility or other constraints, and allow them to spread their love and prayer using the power of a group. As you know, prayer can change the world.
Let's explore some ways to do this. Harness the power of the internet to spread new hope throughout your congregation.
Pick an Online Platform
There are several online platforms to choose from. Here are four easy options that are perfect for online Bible studies:
Create a Google Hangout
Anyone with a Google account can utilize Google Hangout. It's a video-conferencing tool that is completely free. Everyone in the group will be there on the screen together, and whoever is speaking is automatically enlarged so they are the center of attention.
You've probably heard people talk about Zoom a lot these days because it's popular for any type of online group or meeting. This is different from Google Hangout in that it works for many types of devices -- not just those with a Google Account.
Your virtual Bible Study will be displayed in a virtual meeting type of setup and interface. Zoom is user-friendly. Attendees will have to set up a Zoom account to use it, but doing this is a less time-consuming process than setting up a Google account.
Do you live-stream your sermons? If so, you're already set to begin live-streaming Bible studies as well, allowing you to host them on your own site and to keep all archives under your control and always available. Consider organizing them by topic, as did the Rock Springs Church in Milner, Georgia during the Speak of the Devil series.
Existing Bible Studies
If you're interested in finding and participating in an already existing online Bible study, first make a list of characteristics you'd like in a Bible study venue. What is the most accessible venue for the majority of your potential participants?
If you do find the perfect one, either use that as a model for yours or decide that it be the official Bible study of your church group. As a leader, you know what's best. And, if need be, you can always switch to a different format later depending on the feedback you receive from attendees.
If you do decide to start your own, you don't need to feel intimidated. You will have the Bible study resources and tools to proceed. You'll find out what a simple process it is and how greatly rewarding it will be for everyone involved.
How to Start an Online Bible Study
Whatever denomination your church may follow, the world is at your fingertips. Starting an online Bible study is more than just a meeting of like minds. It's a place for freedom to converse without judgment and a place to find support, but how does one find and create a venue?
Consider these tips when creating a new study venue:
You'll want to aim for 10 participants or fewer to allow everyone to equally share their thoughts and prayers. Your experience with in-person groups can be applied to virtual groups as well. If you have more than 10 interested, you can simply split them up into smaller groups.
There are many free instant-messaging programs if you're looking for something other than Google Hangout or Zoom. These include Vonage and Vanco Mobile. The Vanco Mobile church app allows private and group chats, as well as a host of other tools for your virtual ministry. The app is also free!
Using Moodle, an open-source management system, you can keep a virtual small group open to attendees so they can join and chat anytime that fits their schedule. You can monitor and teach this way if you enjoy giving them a choice to come and go as they please using threads of conversation.
Computer speakers can cause an echo, so consider suggesting everyone uses headphones or earphones with built-in microphones to avoid this issue. It will make it more pleasant and effective for everyone involved. Fewer distractions mean more deep concentration on content.
You may experience the occasional bad connection, poor quality sound, power outage or other technical difficulties. You don't have to panic if this happens because you'll expect them, and you'll be ready for anything. Just acquire a free conference call number so they have the option to call into the meeting as an alternative to joining on camera. You can get free conference calls here. The provider has an interesting pricing model that allows you to pay what you can.
If you need some fresh ideas to create more energy within the group, you can look online for a plethora of contributions from experts around the world. There are also many free (and downloadable) small-group Bible study guides. Don't hesitate to adapt general small-group ideas or activities to your specific subject.
To maintain the best online Bible study group you can, add some interesting topics of discussion to your church's main page ahead of time. Keep it fresh and timely. You can offer videos, references, and other themed material so they are primed and interested when they arrive in the meeting.
You can even host a topic-centered forum before and/or after a group meeting as a supplement. Audio clips and pictures can also be interspersed to add excitement and interest.
If attendees are there for the first time, you could introduce each meeting with an ice-breaker, or add one in the middle for variety. There are many online games where you can collaborate and play together while you wait for everyone to arrive.
Ask your group what they'd enjoy receiving as a thank-you for taking part. Giveaways are always appreciated and can include headphones and/or webcams, for example.
Consider including this information in your newsletter and on your website to attract more attendees. Publicize it on social media platforms, or send personal letters.
Keep the Conversation Going
You most likely know, by being a leader in your church, that great discussion is best when it flows like a gentle stream (or even turbulent, yet constructive, rapids). Either way, these suggestions can help reinforce what you already practice or give you some new ideas.
Read Bible verses or inspirational quotes.
Offer private chat for even smaller groups or a one-on-one conversation.
Talk about the recent sermon or a pre-arranged group curriculum.
Let everyone share their prayer requests and offer your own.
Allow for the posting of selfies if you're not in a video chat.
Group Bible readings to promote unity.
Model the sort of engagement you'd like to see and be the kind, loving and understanding leader that you are. Post prayer requests or pictures to encourage it from others. Be the one who tries something new, and you'll inspire the rest of the group to do the same.
As we discussed earlier, posting prayer requests during these uncertain times. Post them or talk about them to support your attendees, as you would in the sermon. Friends and loved ones of the ill or dying also need prayer to lift them up.
Just because you can't visit in person, doesn't mean you can't have some fun. In fact, the online version of your Bible study group could mean opportunities for attendees to get creative and proactive with how they show their love and support for one another.
Here's where the group can extend those talents into giving and service opportunities. Brainstorm together and make a list of talents and skills each person has to offer. Have a fun chat about who does what, what sort of free time they would have, how those skills could be of service to the community in the most effective way.
Let's take a look at some ideas:
Sewing and Knitting
Does anyone in the group sew or knit? What level of skill do they currently have? What are some ways they could be of service?
Perhaps you could raise funds within the study group for that member's supplies if they agree to make a certain amount of scarves for the needy. They could handmake hats, quilts, sweaters or washable face masks.
Remember: Ask them if they'd like to use their own supplies or if funds are needed from the group.
They then package the items with a simple note saying it's from everyone in the Bible group. This simple act of giving will not only help the group feel they are of value within the community, but assist people in need.
Music has been shown to improve mood and memory. And singing or making music together carries even more power. Ask who has musical abilities and if they'd be willing to lead the group in singing a hymn or sacred song.
Solo performances can be encouraged as well. Reassure them that they won't be judged negatively and that the fact that they're contributing in their own way is the best gift they can give the group. They may find others singing along anyway, bringing out the beauty of spontaneity.
Many people miss the community of a choir or church band, or simply singing to praise God with the congregation. Perhaps the choir or church band could have a group of their own, so they're able to perform just as they would before the pandemic. Hosting an online Bible study group from home has never been easier, so go ahead and add some music to the mix.
If someone's special way of showing love is through cooking, perhaps you could have a recipe exchange. Share pictures of what it looks like and then share pictures of how another person's turned out, what they added, what they changed, how it tasted and with whom they shared it.
This will bond the attendees, and they will soon find themselves actively becoming a community outside of the church setting. Try having a dessert-themed recipe exchange as well. There's nothing like a new chocolate dessert to cheer someone up.
Talk with the group about who in the community needs monetary help, whether it be a friend, relative, a family in town or one halfway around the world. Every little bit helps when someone can't make it on their own. Charity is something your church is familiar with already, and you'll want to keep giving, even if you're meeting virtually.
You can start a group wallet or designate someone to open one for the group. Make sure it's secure and accessible only to those with permissions. Funds can be transferred directly to the person who needs them, even without telling them.
Although we are all teachers in a sense, whether it's opening someone's eyes to new hope or giving a bit of advice. However, if someone in the group is a teacher by trade, ask them to put together a mini-class.
Have them try to come up with 3 topics they'd enjoy teaching, and then have the group vote on one of those 3 topics. This class can be a one-off experience or a series. Let the teacher take control, and they'll shine.
Offer, to the class attendees, the option to come as go as they please if the group can't agree on a timeframe.
Does anyone know of an individual who would make an exciting or moving guest speaker? A guest speaker can enliven and enrich members, as well as provide an opportunity for deeper discussion. Who do you know?
The guest doesn't have to be a college professor or a professional motivational speaker. Maybe a friend from down the street has a moving, poignant and/or funny story to share. Your nephew might want to talk about his newest project. Everyone has something to offer.
It's not just about the content either. To see a new smiling face will bring joy and happiness to the group energy. And, the experience could spark new friendships.
Who needs extra attention right now? Who has just experienced a loss? Rather than waiting for that person to ask, offer a bi-weekly vigil or memorial moment for them.
You may want to light candles to build on the knowledge that God is with that person, and that we pray for them together in that light. Try to use the digital space in a creative way.
Perhaps take a moment of silence during that time. Open it up for that member experiencing grief to say a few words about the one they've lost or for whom they're praying.
Others in the group will rest assured that when they need it the most, you'll all be there for them as well.
Everything Your Church Needs to Know About Virtual Ministry
Now that you know how to start an online Bible study, you'll want to continue to expand your church's capabilities.
Vanco has created a detailed resource that covers every aspect of setting up a virtual ministry. Click on the resource below to get your own copy!