Tuesday Teaching Tip: Place People in Circles Instead of Rows

Today’s teaching tip could revolutionize your Bible study group – really. If your group meets on a church campus, chances are your classroom is arranged in rows. A room arranged in rows can discourage people from making comments and fully participating in discussion. People are more apt to engage in vigorous dialog when they can see one another’s faces. That’s why a room arranged in a circle actually boosts conversation and discussion.

Empty folding chairs in circle

Here’s a hybrid solution in case your group is just too accustomed to meeting and learning in rows: keep the room arranged in rows, but at one point during your Bible study, ask group members to form circles of 5 to 6 people and assign them a question to discuss. People will speak up in ways they never would if they were in rows. Being face-to-face will boost discussion.

Instead of looking at the back of someone’s head, try helping people see one another’s faces. Use circles to boost discussion – and revolutionize your Bible study. Here are two short excepts from books whose authors know the importance of creating conversations in Bible study groups:

“…depth in learning is often directly related to how much people interact on a heart deep teachingpersonal level as they discover, wrestle, and apply principles from the text to their lives” (Heart Deep Teaching, p.127)

“A small group or class Bible study should be a ‘groupalogue’…Your effectiveness goes up incredibly as does learning when everyone is talking…” (Transformational Groups, p.24)

Tuesday Teaching Tip: Encourage Learning Outside the Group Experience

Your Bible study doesn’t have to be the culmination of the learning experience – it can become the 15279947961_40217eb213_zstarting point of a journey. Most Bible studies are designed to provide a complete and satisfying experience in the time allotted. However, savvy group leaders will encourage group members to learn beyond the group’s study experience. Learning outside the group experience can be meaningful, challenging, and stimulating to adult learners.

To encourage your adult group members to stretch themselves and continue learning, choose one of these options:

  1. Before you lead the Bible study, come prepared to hand out an assignment that has simple step-by-step instructions. This assignment is to be accomplished by group members after the study is over, but before the next time the group officially meets.
  2. Ask for a volunteer to provide a mini-lecture on a subject that is related to the Bible study you’ve just completed. Give the person until the next time the group meets to research the subject, pen their thoughts, and provide an interesting presentation about the assigned topic.
  3. Challenge group members to select an application step (found either throughout or at the end of most Bible studies). The next time your group meets, follow up before pressing forward with the new Bible study. Call for volunteers to share what they learned as they applied portions of the last Bible study to real-life situations.
  4. After your Bible study, email participants with an additional question or a challenging assignment you want them to complete prior to your group’s next gathering.

The possibilities for learning outside the classroom are limited only by your own creativity!


Mondays on the blog are excerpts taken from books on Christian education, learning theory, discipleship,7-kinds-of-smart and others that relate to you and your ministry as a group leader. I’ve chosen the book 7 Kinds of Smart for today’s excerpt. It’s become one of my go-to resources when I lead conferences and try to help group leaders understand how people prefer to learn.

The book is based on the work of Harvard University which suggests there are at least seven primary intelligences in the human mind. People are smart – just in different ways. We prefer to learn one way, while the person next to us prefers to learn in a different way.

Developed over the past fifteen years by psychologist Howard Gardner, the theory of multiple intelligences challenges old beliefs about what it means to be smart. Gardner believes that our culture has focused too much attention on verbal and logical thinking – the abilities typically associated on an intelligence test – and neglected other ways of knowing. He suggests there are at least seven intelligences worthy of being taken seriously as important modes of thought (p.9).

To summarize the seven intelligences, they are:

  1. Linguistic intelligence – the intelligence of words. This is the intelligence of the storyteller, journalist, poet, and lawyer. People who are particularly smart in this area can argue, persuade, entertain, or instruct effectively through the spoken word.
  2. Logical-mathematical intelligence – the intelligence of numbers and logic. This is the intelligence of scientists, accountants, and computer programmers. These people are able to reason, sequence, see cause-and-effect, find numerical patterns, and create hypotheses.
  3. Spatial intelligence – this intelligence involves thinking in pictures and images. It is the ability to perceive, transform, and recreated different aspects of the visual-spatial world. It’s the playground of architects, photographers, artists, pilots, and mechanical engineers.
  4. Musical intelligence – people with this intelligence appreciate and understand rhythms and melodies. It’s the intelligence of a Bach, Beethoven, or Brahms. Yet musical intelligence resides in the mind of any individual who has a good ear, can sing a tune, or keep time to music.
  5. Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence – persons with this intelligence are talented at controlling their body movements and can handle objects skillfully. Athletes, craftsmen, mechanics, and surgeons possess a great measure of this kind of thinking.
  6. Interpersonal intelligence – this is the ability to understand and work with people. People with this intelligence are responsive to people’s temperaments, intentions, and desires. These people are able to get inside the skin of someone else and see their point of view. They make wonderful networkers, teachers, and negotiators.
  7. Intrapersonal intelligence – this is the intelligence of the inner self. Persons with this intelligence are able to access their own feelings, and they can discriminate between many different kinds of inner emotional states. They can enjoy meditation and contemplation, deep soul-searching, and can be very self-disciplined. Counselors, theologians, and self-employed business people often have this intelligence.

What is the implication for groups and group leaders? Plenty! Each of the groups we lead have people in them with a variety of intelligences. They prefer to learn in ways we may not. So as a teacher-leader, I cannot simply teach in a way or two that I prefer. I must use a variety of learning approaches to make sure I am communicating effectively with people in my group who learn differently than I do. They’re smart – just in a different way than I am.



Friday’s Hot Links – January 20, 2017

I hope you and your Bible study group are doing well. I had the privilege of speaking to the group Hot links 3leaders at Temple Baptist Church in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, last Friday evening. Brad Hodges, the church’s Discipleship Pastor, held a 7PM – midnight training event for his group leaders that began with a catered barbecue meal at 5:30PM. It was so well done that I’ve asked him to share his training philosophy with you in a future blog post.

Today’s hot links, like the ones I post each Friday, will give you some reading material over the weekend. All of the posts or podcasts pertain to group ministry in some way or another, or they are general leadership principles that will help you in your current role.

Thanks to all of you who are new to the blog this week – we continue to grow in size and influence!

Shoulder to shoulder,


Posts you might like:

Podcasts you might like:

Is your Bible Study Group Stuck in the “Terrible Twos”?

If you’ve ever been around a preschoolers, you know that “the terrible twos” are just that – terrible! Two p_istock_000006840535year-olds tend to want to exert their independence, they can be temperamental, and they often demand their way – or else. For many parents, they can’t wait for their child to grow out of “the terrible twos.” That period of life is characterized by the child’s strong desire for independence and generally unruly behavior.

Bible study groups go through a different kind of “terrible twos” – but they do go through it. The two-year mark in a group’s life is crucial to its future. Several important things happen during the second year of a group’s existence:

  1. Groups calcify at the two year mark – It’s a sad but true fact of group life – groups turn inward at that time. The people have been together for 24 months, experienced a lot of life together, served together in some meaningful ways, and they’ve tightened relationships. New people find these two year old groups hard to join and connect with people.
  2. Groups reach their maximum size at the two-year mark – I’ve experienced this in the Bible study group I teach. We’ve been together three years now, and we quit growing over a year ago when we were a two-year old class. We averaged 14-16 adults back then, and we are still averaging that today. And we will likely average that next year. And perhaps the year beyond that. It’s just a fact of group life.
  3. Groups have to start covering their “churn” at the two-year mark – Churn is a term that refers to the number of people that churches lose over the course of a year. At the two year mark, some of the people in your Bible study group will drift away. Some leave because of a change in their job. Others leave they feel disconnected from the group. Still others leave because they may believe the group missed an opportunity to minister to them during a time of crisis, and their feelings got hurt. If my group of 16 adults has a churn of 20 percent, I can expect to have to replace 3 adults just to stay even with previous attendance levels. If I want to grow my group, I have to cover my churn, then begin adding new people.

HCSB Gets a New Name in the New Year

Dr. Trevin Wax
Dr. Trevin Wax

Today’s blog post is an interview with Trevin Wax, Ph.D. who was the chief architect of LifeWay’s curriculum line The Gospel Project. He has recently transitioned into a new role at LifeWay of great importance to the company and to the church at large. He and his team are about to release a translation of Scripture that will be highly accurate in respect to the original languages, yet highly readable and accessible for people of all ages. You can read much more about this version of Scripture by clicking here – you’ll jump to the CSB landing page.

You can follow Trevin on his blog (trevinwax.com) and on Twitter (@trevinwax).


Q: Trevin, what is your new role at LifeWay?

A: The official title is Bible and Reference Publisher. I assumed this role just a few months ago with the main goal of shepherding the introduction of a new Bible translation.


Q: What is the name of the Bible translation your team has been creating?csb_logo-300x143

A: The new name will be the Christian Standard Bible (CSB). It is a revision of the HCSB (Holman Christian Standard Bible).


Q: Why will the name change from HCSB to CSB?

A: It is unusual for the name of the Bible publisher (in this case, “Holman”) to be the first initial for a Bible translation. The acronym ‘HCSB’ often confused Bible readers. With the most recent revision of the HCSB, the translation committee believed it best to drop the ‘H’ and simplify the name of this version of the Bible.


Q: What was the process for creating the CSB?

A:  A transdenominational team incorporated feedback from pastors, seminaries, and conservative, evangelical denominations. The result is a Bible that faithfully and accurately captures the Bible’s original meaning without compromising clarity, helping you experience God’s truth as never before.


Q: What denominations helped in the creation of the CSB translation?

A:  One hundred scholars from 17 denominations translated the HCSB from the original Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic manuscripts. Keeping that trans-denominational focus, the revision and oversight committee of the CSB is comprised of top biblical scholars from a variety of conservative, evangelical denominations, including Southern Baptist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, conservative Anglican and non-denominational Bible churches.


Q: When will the CSB become available to the public?

A: It will be available in Spring 2017.


Q: What are the similarities between the HCSB and CSB?

A: The CSB maintains the same translation philosophy (optimal equivalence – the “sweet spot” between a word-for-word and a thought-for-thought rendering). The CSB also maintains the HCSB’s commitment to accuracy and readability.


Q: What are the differences between the HCSB and CSB?

The translation committee of the CSB chose to move away from some of the distinctives of the HCSB and bring the revision in line with the majority of English Bible translations. For example, English Bible translations have generally chosen not to supply vowels in order make the name of God (YHWH) pronounceable; they simply render this name as a title (Lord). The CSB Translation Oversight Committee chose to come into alignment with other English translations, departing from the HCSB practice of utilizing Yahweh in the text.



Q: Why should I choose the CSB over other translations?

A: There are three main reasons. First, The CSB is an original translation: more than 100 scholars from 17 denominations translated directly from the best available Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic source texts into English. Its Greek source text is the standard used by scholars and seminaries today. Second, the CSB is trustworthy: the conservative, evangelical scholars of the CSB affirm the authority of Scripture as the inerrant Word of God and seek the highest level of faithfulness to the original and accuracy in their translation. These scholars and LifeWay, the non-profit ministry that stewards the CSB, also champion the Bible against cultural trends that would compromise its truths. Third, the CSB is clear: it is as literal a translation of the ancient source texts as possible, but, in the many places throughout Scripture where a word-for-word rendering might obscure the meaning for a modern audience, it uses a more dynamic translation. In all cases, the intent is to convey the original meaning of God’s Word as faithfully and as clearly as possible.


Q: Because so many churches choose LifeWay curriculum for their Bible study groups, what is the precedent for updating the Bible text in LifeWay curriculum?

A: LifeWay will incorporate the Christian Standard Bible into curriculum in Spring 2017. That means beginning March 2017, any curriculum that previously used HCSB text will have CSB text placed in it.


Q: Does my church need to do anything in order to make the transition to the CSB in our curriculum?
A:  No. If your church’s curriculum order has opted in the past for the HCSB as its text of choice, you will not need to do anything. If your church’s curriculum order has opted in the past for other translations (ESV, NIV, KJV, etc.), then your translation in Spring 2017 will remain unchanged.


Tuesday Teaching Tip: Silence Your Inner Critic

So you want to be more creative in the classroom, huh? Your Bible study curriculum recommends a inner-critic1particular learning activity, and for a moment your heart races and your blood pressure rises as you picture yourself leading your Bible study group through a recommended learning exercise. For you and your group, it’s a little outside the box. But almost as quickly as you got excited about trying something creative, an inner voice tells you, “What a dumb idea! I can’t believe you think the people in the group will enjoy this!”  You decide not to try the activity and stick to what works – the same things you’ve done for weeks on end. You reason that your group members would never like the newer, more creative activity you almost chose. Your inner voice wins out, and you go with what you know.

The next time your inner voice tells you that a different, out-of-the-box, creative teaching procedure won’t work, silence that inner critic. Ignore that negative inner voice and give “different” a try. I believe you’ll be glad you did.