Surprise, surprise! It’s what your group wants from you

If variety is truly the spice of life, too many small group Bible studies are pretty bland.  Whether on a church campus or in a home, group leaders tend to revert back to their favorite teaching method or methods.  It’s time to spice things up a bit and become less predictable.  Did you know that when God communicated with people, He often did so in surprising ways?

Hebrews 1:1 tells us that God communicated with man “in different times and in different ways” (HCSB).  Some of those ways proved to be surprising to the person or audience. Think about Moses suddenly hearing God’s voice through a burning bush, or the surprise when Balaam’s donkey spoke!  Shepherds were surprised to hear angels singing and proclaiming the birth of the Savior, and who could have predicted that a hand would appear and write on the wall during a banquet?

God has a way of communicating with man that is often very surprising.  As a group leader, you can copy this aspect of God’s communication style.  Your group Bible study members won’t mind a bit if you change things up, do something delightfully different, and keep them wondering what you’ve got up your sleeve.

If you’re in the mood to surprise your Bible study group this week, try one of these ideas:

1.  Surprise them by changing the order of things.  Most groups have an identifiable pattern when they meet. Change the order in which you fellowship, pray, and study.  You can begin by jumping into the Bible study, and end with a time if fellowship.  Save announcements until the end of the session, or don’t make them at all…simply hand out a sheet of paper on which you’ve listed them.  As someone once said, “If your group members know what’s going to happen, it’s time to throw out your playbook.”

2.  Surprise them by teaching in a different way.  If you tend to be a discussion-oriented group, intentionally deliver a well-crafted lecture.  If you tend to speak a lot as the group leader, introduce some visual aids or object lessons to help your visual learners connect with the lesson.  Break the group into smaller groups, watch a video clip, or try using a musical element in the lesson (play a song from your phone, iPad, or other device and have group members read the lyrics while the song is being played) – make sure it relates to your Bible study.  The goal is to get out of your rut and appeal to the different learning styles of your group members.  When you hear a small, quiet voice that says, “Your group members won’t like it,” simply ignore that voice and do it anyway. You’ll be surprised how much people will appreciate a little variety in the way you lead them through a Bible study.

3.  Surprise them by changing your group’s location.  If you are an on-campus Sunday School group, meet off-campus or in a different classroom, or just go outside if the weather is nice.  If you are a home group, meet in a place where you’ve never held a Bible study, like a Panera Bread, an office, or the backyard of a friend’s house the group doesn’t know.  A change of venue can excite your group members and build anticipation for your Bible study session.

Don’t be afraid of trying something new to surprise your group this week.  A small surprise can help you capture your group members’ interest, redirect their focus, and help you teach God’s Word more effectively.  Don’t be predictable…be surprising!  God would.  It’s time to shake things up!


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Be positive and encouraging, even if it hurts

Today’s teaching tip will apply to teachers of any age group. As you lead your group members in Bible study, be sure to always remain positive and encouraging. There are enough negative influences in our lives today, and a Bible study isn’t a place for condescending attitudes, snarky remarks, or rolls of the eyes! As the group’s leader, set the pace and always look for the positive in the things your group members say and do. Here are a few phrases you can use to keep things positive:

  • “You’ve asked a great question that I haven’t thought about until now.”
  • “What a unique way of looking at this Bible story! Thank you for helping us to see it from your perspective.”
  • “That’s a great insight.”
  • “That’s a super sharp observation – I can’t believe I didn’t see that!”
  • “Thank you for sharing your thoughts with the group. You’ve given us something new and exciting to think about.”
  • “Thanks for sharing.”
  • “I really like what you just said.”
  • “That’s a great way to look at this Bible text.”
  • “I wish I’d thought of that.”
  • “I think you’d make a great group leader!”

And the list goes on! No matter who speaks up in the group, always find something you can affirm in the words they spoke. Be an encourager, not someone who inadvertently discourages group members from sharing their thoughts.


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Don’t let commentaries become a crutch

Tuesday’s teaching tip is about avoiding a big crutch that some teachers depend on a little too much – Bible commentaries. If you have Bible study materials from a Christian publisher, there will no doubt be commentary imbedded in the teaching plans. Publishers like LifeWay even have inexpensive advanced commentaries for Bible teachers that are designed to coordinate with Bible studies such as Explore the Bible and Bible Studies for Life. Many of you who write your own Bible studies will have commentary sets you’ve purchased over the years. Those books are probably a short reach from the place where you study and prepare your lessons. Don’t pick them up first. Instead, pick up your Bible and read.

While it may be tempting to start your preparation by reading what experts say about a Bible passage, resist the temptation to start there. Instead, read the Scripture passage several times. Jot down insights. Write out questions raised by the text. Identify unfamiliar terms, places, or people. Re-read the passage you’re going to teach in 2 or 3 other translations and note any words that are translated differently. Decide on what the passage meant to the original audience.

Once you’ve done your “homework,” then do some investigation in Bible dictionaries, commentaries, and atlases. Compare your conclusions with those of the experts. Just don’t start there! Commentaries make poor crutches.


How many PowerPoint slides should you use?

I recommend this book!

Tuesday’s teaching tip is for all of you who like to use PowerPoint or Keynote occasionally as a teaching aid. I realize that many of you may have “master teacher” classes in large rooms, and you may use PowerPoint each week. From one of the absolute best books on the market about using PowerPoint, Keynote, or another presentation software, are thoughts from the author of the book Slide:ology. It’s become my go-to resource when putting together presentations using PowerPoint or Keynote.

So how many slides are right for a presentation? In Sky’s short eight-minute presentation, she used 200 slides, delivered with an engaging cadence. This quickly paced style isn’t easy and requires practice. In fact, it’s more common for presenters to display one slide every two minutes. But even that rule only goes so far. Some presenters require as many as four slides per minute while others will linger on any given slide for up to four minutes. The point is to use as many slides as necessary to get your point across. And please, try to stick to one point per slide.

So there you have it – great advice about using slides. Again, use as many as you need to make your point, but not more than that. Also, another great rule of thumb is to make sure you have no more than six lines on any slide, and that each line on your slide has no more than six words on it. That goes for the title of your slide, too (called the 6X6 rule).


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Tuesday Teaching Tip: Giant Post-It Notes Help Your Group in 4 Big Ways

I’m a fan of active learning in the classroom, and as I teach my LIFE Group each week, I have a “secret weapon” ready to use at a moment’s notice. It’s relatively inexpensive, available at any office supply store, flat, portable, lightweight, and it appeals to visual, relational, physical, reflective, verbal, and logical learners.


If you lead a Bible study group, make a small financial investment in a pad of giant Post-It notes. There are many great benefits of using a wall-size Post-It pad in the place  you lead Bible study. These handy sheets are great in a classroom or a living room. There are several benefits of using them:

  1. Create community. Divide your group into smaller groups of 3-4 people and give each group apost it 2 sheet of Post-It paper. By asking them to record thoughts or respond to an assignment you give them using the wall-size Post-It, you help people build community as they talk, discuss, share, and complete the assignment.
  2. Generate discussion. Very close to #1 above are the conversations that will take place in smaller buzz-groups. People need a chance to talk, because many of us process our thoughts as we talk. Using a wall-size Post-It to generate discussion is smart teaching on your part.
  3. Create active learning. Using giant Post-It notes also helps appeal to several kinds of learners (visual, reflective, physical, relational, logical, and verbal). It’s hard to believe, but one Post-It can appeal to 6 different kinds of learners.
  4. Create an affordable “white board” where none exists. If you are in a home environment for Bible study, it’s great to create a disposable “white board” – and Post-Its help you do just that. The paper won’t bleed through, and a living room-based study group can have something that is visually interesting on which to record thoughts, outline a Bible passage, and more.


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Use tech to teach

Tuesday’s Teaching Tip is all about using some basic tech to teach your Bible study group. I recently invested in two dongles (one adapter for my Macbook Air and one for my iPhone 6 plus). Each dongle cost about $30 and I now have the ability to connect my phone or iPad to a flat screen television using an HDMI cable. My group members can see what’s on my screen, and it adds a dimension to the teaching experience they’ve never had before. I can show pictures, a PowerPoint or Keynote slideshow, or even videos.

The bonus? If I’m traveling and out of space to carry on my bags, I download my PowerPoint or Keynote slideshow to my iPad, and I use that device to deliver my presentation. It takes up a lot less room than my computer and computer bag, and it’s a lot lighter!

Become a Master of Multi-sensory Experiences

Tuesday’s teaching tip is sensational – literally. It’s about using the senses to unlock a group member’s mind in order to serve that person and communicate biblical truth. “Each sense organ is a gateway to the mind of the pupil. The mind attends to that which makes a powerful appeal to the senses” (The Seven Laws of Teaching, pp.32-34). Our five senses are a gateway to our minds. If you want to get truth into a person’s mind, you must do it using one or more of the five senses.

In the book Talk Like Ted, nine “secrets” of effective communicators are discussed. One of them is the skill of using multi-sensory experiences to communicate more effectively. It’s a skill that all good communicators possess. If you’re going to be an effective Bible teacher, it’s one you’re going to have to master this well.

“The brain does not pay attention to boring things. It’s nearly impossible to be bored if you are exposed to mesmerizing images, captivating videos, intriguing props, beautiful words, and more than one voice bringing the story to life…the brain craves multi-sensory experiences. Your audience might not be able to explain why they love your presentation; it will be your little secret.” (Talk Like Ted, pp.204-205).

As you craft your Bible study, think about ways you can use people’s senses to communicate biblical truth. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. What interesting objects can I use to illustrate a point?
  2. What smells might I introduce through the use of candles or other means?
  3. What visuals will I use?
  4. What sounds or music will I incorporate into the Bible study?
  5. Are there any foods or tastes that I can allow my group members to experience in order to help them understand a particular part of the study?

Do this regularly, and you’ll be on your way to becoming a master of multi-sensory experiences!


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