Practical Steps To Doing Bible Studies With Non-Christians

On a regular basis now we run Bible studies that meet in Starbucks with young people who aren’t Christians. It’s a fairly simple format, in that you meet up with the young people in Starbucks, get some venti-mocha whatevers, and then open the Bible up with them and talk about it. Ridiculously simple, but it’s probably helpful to write down some thoughts about it. Here are however-many-bullet-points-I-get-around-to-writing practical ideas to doing this.

  • Make it clear why you’re doing what you’re doing. By which I mean say “hey, let’s all go to Starbucks to read the Bible together” not “Hey let’s all sit round in Starbucks for a bit while I sneakily think of a way to get you to read the Bible”.
  • “But I don’t know anyone young people who will be interested in reading the Bible!” Have you thought about asking? You’d be surprised. You could just say “hey, we’re going to be reading some of the Bible in Starbucks on Monday to find out about Jesus, do you want to come?” It’s amazing how many people go “go on then”.
  • Limit how many people you read the Bible with. We do two leaders to four others, though clearly different situations will involve different ratios. Once it goes over a certain number it’s hard to stay with the Bible reading and speak to everyone and all that.
  • Corollary to the above points. If people don’t have an interest in reading the Bible or finding out about Jesus don’t read the Bible with them. You’re probably going to have to manage keeping the group size small and this is the way to do it. Make sure the people you’re reading the Bible with are the ones who want to read the Bible. That’s not to say don’t push any people, but you know which people would be interested and need some pushing and which people would do anything because they’re bored but don’t really want to read the Bible. We’ve just moved from semi-open Bible studies to invite only ones due to this.
  • All that child protection stuff. You know this, or at least you should. Get the parents’ consent first. Risk assess. Have another leader. Do it safely and properly.
  • Start with a gospel. You obviously can start anywhere in the Bible and show people Jesus, but narratives are the easiest to read through as people are used to narratives, even people who don’t like reading, and the gospels are the simplest way to point people to Jesus. The Good Book Company print these great little gospels that you can buy individually for not very much money.
  • Consider not giving everyone the entire Bible when you meet up. By this I mean, consider giving everyone little Gospels like above, or print-outs from Bible Gateway. That way people don’t get distracted and off topic. It does limit you slightly if you print out because you can only discuss what you have in front of you and people don’t get used to a full BIble, but then people can write and draw on it and you can up the font size to a more readable one. I generally leave verse numbers and chapter headings in when I print out because it makes it easier for people to find stuff, but again whatever is appropriate with you. Make sure you at least have a full Bible, because you can’t really explain the Bible without citing other parts of the Bible. It’s also good to show people that what you are reading is in the Bible, it’s not in some print out.
  • Prepare well, but remember you’re not writing a talk. You want to get to the Bible reading time knowing what’s going on in the passages and what questions might come up and excited about what God is doing in the passage. You’ve got to feed on what’s in the Word and be excited about it, then let it overflow into everything else. Sometimes it’s worth having some activity to do with pens and paper or whatever if it’s going to get people engaged with what’s going on, but I wouldn’t do it unless something jumps out.
  • Trust that God reveals himself through His Word. You’ve got to hold onto a Holy Spirit who reveals Jesus to people when they read the Bible. Which means you’ve got to pray lots. And roll with things. Don’t be worried about going off topic as long as you’re staying with helpful conversation. Bring things back to the passage as you need to. Trust that the Holy Spirit does His work.
  • Don’t get pressed into rushing through sections of scripture, but don’t feel compelled to massively labour over it too. Let’s say you manage to read all of Mark’s Gospel in six sittings. Great! Let’s say it takes a year. Great! You can feel bothered that there is more in this passage and you haven’t got it out of people and if they all just thought harder then they would. Don’t worry! If there’s a point in the passage they’ve missed that’s essential, make it, ask about it and move on.
  • “But my young people don’t like reading! Some of them can’t!” Alright, so read it to them. Still give them the text, but print it out fairly largely, and don’t labour the fact they can’t read. You can read out sections again and again. A few of the kids we do it with are considered poor readers, but all seem to cope without too much problems. If people have an interest in doing something they’ll generally find a way of doing it, even if it’s badly.
  • Persist at it. It took about two months to get a first group off the ground and reading regularly. We’ve got another group that isn’t really a group at all yet, just an occasional happening. It takes time to establish. Turn up the same time every week and remind people, and see how it goes.
  • Work out what works for you. We read the Bible in Starbucks because we live in Central London and space is limited and Starbucks is open late. But McDonalds, your house, your church, the street corner, the pub, the local teashop, these are all places that could work. There are probably more.