Online Bible Study: First Ask “Why?”

by The Rev. Ken Howard

This post is part of a blog series on
“Keeping Congregations Connected in the Face of COVID-19”
Click here for the previous post

Full-disclosure: There is a plethora of resources for online Bible study that you can find (where else) online. Go ahead: Search on those three words and you will find a virtually unlimited supply of suggestions, tips, DIY steps, even prepackaged programs you can buy. I’m not going to duplicate all those things that Google can get for you.

What I want to do is offer you a question to reflect upon before you start one. 

And that question is “WHY?”

Almost every online article I’ve read that outlines the steps to follow in preparing for and hosting an online Bible study starts in the wrong place. Step one is either “Choose a book” or “Choose a platform.” The former starts with “WHAT” and the latter starts with “HOW.” Yet, in any spiritual endeavor (or any endeavor, for that matter) the question we really need to start with is “WHY?”

Why ask “Why?” Because if you start without being clear about your motivation or with mistaken assumptions about what your audience, odds are your online Bible study will likely be a lot less fruitful. So consider these “WHY” questions:

Why do you want to host this Bible study? It’s a good idea to be clear about your motives so you don’t trip over them. What do you get out of it? Are you doing it because you like teaching? Because you enjoy the fellowship? Because it forces you to study the Scriptures? (That’s actually one of my motives). Those are all good answers? The only bad answer is because you “should.” 

Why do you think potential participants would want to attend? Which means you also need to ask “Who?” There are no right answers for them either. During the current COVID crisis you can be pretty sure it’s because they want connection, not perfection, and that’s fine. God always meets people where they are, so it wouldn’t be a bad idea for you to start there, too. And speaking of God…

Why do you think God wants you to host a Bible study? It’s always a good idea to approach something like this prayerfully. How do you know God is informing your desire to host a Bible study? You seldom can have absolute certainty about this. But if it is God, odds are there will be a sense of joy somewhere in the mix.

Once you’ve delved deeply enough in discernment to answer those questions, then you can move on to the questions of “HOW?” and “WHAT” that all those other articles explain in great detail. Seriously, I’ve already looked over the Google results and any one of those links on the first page is fine.

One last thought…

The “WHO” that is implicit in “WHY” may include people you would not have thought of if you started with “HOW?” or “WHAT?” Elderly or severely disabled people who might not be able to get themselves to a Bible study at the church or even in someone else’s home. People who are “spiritual but not religious” or who have hurtful experiences with churches, and would never think of going to a Church, but might want to learn more about Jesus or to explore how God’s hand is at work in the world around them.

Which means, just like every other church ministry we’ve discussed in this series, once your congregation starts doing Bible study online, it can’t be a gap filler that you can abandon as soon as it’s safe to go back in the building. Once you start, you will have people depending on you as perhaps their only source of spiritual nourishment, and you can’t just cut them off from it. And besides, why would God ever want us to go back to “normal?”

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FaithX is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization and Ken’s faith-based consulting practice at FaithX is carried out under an extension of ministry from the Episcopal Diocese of Washington.