Have you been to a Bible study where non-Christians were consistent members? This may seem like an unlikely scenario, but it’s more common than you think. With some intentionality and prayer, you may be able to see this happen in your small group.
The weekly fireside meeting that Cru staff member Dan Litchfield led at the University of Vermont is a great example of this.
Sitting outdoors in oversized camp chairs beside a blazing bonfire in freezing temperatures certainly isn’t typical, but nontraditional groups can be more attractive to people who aren’t used to Bible studies. In addition to the unique setting, Dan curated a welcoming, nonjudgmental atmosphere that appealed to non-Christians.
“Students arrive eager and willing to engage in spiritual discussion and to open up about life,” said Dan.
Dan came to the meetings with a plan and prepared discussion questions but emphasized freedom in discussion. By being flexible and attentive to the group members’ needs, he showed them that he valued them regardless of their beliefs.
Non-Christians in a Bible study may say something theologically incorrect, Dan notes, but the key is to bring it back to the text of the Bible, saying, “Let’s see what Jesus says.”
“It’s not my job to defend the Bible. If I do that every time they say something incorrect, they’re never going to want to share what they think,” says Dan.
It’s especially important to learn how to ask good questions and listen well when you are leading a study with non-believers. When people feel free to share their views and opinions without being shut down or judged, they are more likely to listen to your views as well.
When Christians and non-Christians are in the same group, the leader must maintain a delicate balance to ensure everyone is learning and being challenged.
Though it adds another level of complexity to leading a small group, creating a space that is open and welcoming to people who are in very different places on their spiritual journeys can be beneficial for everyone. Not only does it provide an opportunity for non-Christians to hear about Jesus, but those who are already Christians will gain the valuable experience of learning to relate to non-Christians, which, as Dan points out, is an experience that produces fruit for years to come.
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Several questions may come to mind as you plan your small group. Here are four components that are key to most small groups or Bible studies that will answer your questions.
Life-changing small group environments are less about how-tos and more about experiencing Jesus. They are not focused on building head knowledge but on changing hearts and minds. These communities not only equip their members for service but also expose sin and call people to adore Christ. Christ-centered communities transform lives from the inside out.
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