When starting discovery bible studies, there are some key factors to keep in mind. Here are a few:
First, it is inductive. We are drawing people into a journey of reading & learning God's word for themselves. No matter how inspirational our preaching & teaching or no matter how well-organized our programs or even how much we might love someone, we cannot force a single soul to truly receive God's Kingdom. The decision must be theirs. By taking an inductive or discovery approach, we are inviting them to examine the scripture, and we're guiding a process that encourages & creates space for that discovery.
Second, it focuses on putting the word into action. For example, during each discussion we are asking, What will we do this week because of what we've discussed together? Spiritual formation is not merely information. It is learning to walk differently. From the start, we want to begin practicing the kinds of things Jesus teaches and discover the difference it makes in our life. This experience often gives birth to or deepens faith, or at the very least demonstrates the relevance of Jesus' teachings. However, we're not telling people what to do or even what they should do. Rather we are setting the expectation that the word of God calls for response.
Also, it is a group process. Discovery bible study is actually intended to take place in groups. Sure, it can be modified for one-on-one, but its purpose is to form discipleship within the context of a community. One of the first steps for starting a discovery bible study is to find a Person of Peace or gateway person. This is someone who is not only receptive to discussing spiritual things but they will also invite their friends, family, and/or neighbors to form a new gathering. There are a number of reasons for anchoring this in a group setting that we'll save for another article; however, one key factor is the importance to recognize that discipleship is never pursued in a vacuum. Learning to follow Christ is learning to live out Kingdom life with others.
And it is also reproductive. When we start a discovery group, we want to try to get another one of the group members to facilitate the discussion as early as possible -- usually after just a few meetings. Once we've modeled it, we want to encourage others to do it. And they can do it because all they really need to learn to take that first step is asking the same open ended questions focused on scripture for the group to discuss together. It's okay if they don't yet know the answers.
Because this kind of gathering is simple in form and structure, these kind of groups can reproduce additional groups. It becomes conceivable through the experience that they too could gather some friends & family, open the bible, and ask these questions. Our plan is to move from modeling to mentoring as quickly as possible because we want to empower people to reach their own cultures & communities, and we want to call them into a discovery of discipleship. Ultimately, we labor, hope, & pray for these groups to multiply and fill urban communities across a metro region & beyond.
In on-the-ground ministry, there is always nuance, so don't expect a "textbook" experience if you try doing this bible study approach. However, we have found this to be a helpful approach for exploring discipleship in evangelistic settings and for planting churches in homes. To get a better feel for facilitating a discovery bible study, listen to this 20 minutes podcast episode here.