I really appreciate getting questions from the readers of this blog. One of my students, Matt Parker, asked me to answer a question he is struggling with. The question is, “How do I get my group to study in preparation for the meeting?”
I have asked experts this same question. I have tried a number of ideas myself. I am not sure I have always been successful. Here are some ideas for you to consider and try:
- Train your group on how to prepare. That sounds like a “duh” idea, but we cannot assume someone knows how to prepare for a group meeting or a Sunday School class. Take your group through your material and show how to study for the coming session.
- Some curriculum plans are not designed to require any advance study. If learners know preparing for the next session is important to you, then find a curriculum that encourages preparation. Make sure every learner has the curriculum resources they need to prepare. For groups with lots of guests, you must plan on a lack of preparation and teach accordingly.
- Expect your group to study. Communicate your expectations clearly.
- Call on students to share their preparation study. As a teacher I cannot make an assignment of a class and then not call for it. If I make assignments and do not call for them, I train my students to risk not preparing. Accountability is important.
- Ask a learner to lead some part of the next session. This helps at least some learners to prepare for the session.
- Use social media to remind learners to prepare. Tweet out a verse reference and a question about that verse. If you do six such tweets in a week, a group who responds would likely cover all of the coming lesson. Or you can text group members on their phones with messages that contain questions and Bible references.
- Use a covenant. Some groups use a covenant to define the responsibilities of being a group member. In that covenant the group can spell out how to prepare. A group I lead has a covenant that specifies one and a half hour each week for personal study in preparation for the meeting. We do it and hold each other accountable to do effective preparation for the meetings. Covenants work well in discipleship, accountability, and special short-term studies.
- Create some competition in children and youth/student small groups. Play a game of round robin text tag. When one learner completes a brief text assignment, he or she forwards it to the next learner. How fast can the group complete the assignment? Plan a reward for the group for studying ahead of the deadlines or by the number of group members who got it done.
- Affirm, affirm, affirm for correct behavior. Thank group members for their study. Complement them for completing preparation.
- Model the sort of study you want to see in your learners. Let them see the benefit of study.
- Check up on learners during the week. A call or a text can re-enforce your expectation to prepare for the session.
- Let a member talk about the benefit he or she experiences because of study. If a member relates a story to you about how studying during the week has helped him or her, ask that person to relate their story to the whole group.
- Share and emphasize the truth of 2 Timothy 2:15.
Techniques like this vary with age groups. Children and younger youth will likely respond to rewards. Younger and older youth may find competition and challenge motivating. Whenever possible, you should guide younger learners with fun activities that provide gains in learning.
Adults tend to learn to solve problems. Adult learning is very here-and-now. Posing learning as a way to face and overcome problems may provide adults with motivation to prepare for the next session. Provide adults with meaningful emotional experiences and with stories about success in Bible study applied to real life.
As important as Bible study is, never beat up your class if they fail to prepare. I can get hard-nosed with my college students but in small groups I try to help preparing for the next session practical and rewarding. You may have a group or an individual who will not prepare. Jesus started with learners right were they were and called them up in their learning. Do the same. If that means you must teach in a way to overcome a lack of prior preparation, do it. Then pray that the Holy Spirit will teach your learners in a way you can never accomplish.
Scripture: As parents in ancient Israel began their children’s first scripture instruct, they would celebrate the event with honey cakes. They would rehearse the words of Psalm 119:103 with the child and talk about how sweet God’s word is. Read Psalm 119:103. How does this verse help you as you encourage learners to prepare for the next session?
Now It’s Your Turn: How does having learners well-prepared in Bible study help you teach? What do you do to help members in your class or small group to prepare before the session? Please share your ideas so we can all grow together.