Meetup.com provides an opportunity for people with hundreds of varied interests to gather and pursue the things they have in common. However, not so common is a Meetup in which participants share their interests in the scriptures. Meetups can work well in large metropolitan areas, and especially near colleges. I travel 30 minutes into downtown Nashville because the Meetup has been more successful near Vanderbilt University than in the suburbs.
We have been doing this Meetup for about 9 months and as time has gone by we are getting more and more interest. At first, our attendance was three or four Christians from a couple local churches and an occasional visitor. However, we now have visitors every week and new people showing up regularly. We started in a small Panera but have needed to move to a larger Panera with more room. In fact, even one of the employees takes his lunch break so he can listen to the study. Very exciting!
For those who might have an interest in starting a Meetup Bible study, here are some guidelines for Christians who participate:
- The teacher must be comfortable teaching a textual study, personable, and have done his homework. It is important to give depth to the text without making the study difficult. Some depth and good insights will differentiate the class from other Bible studies visitors have attended.
- Participate. Be excited in the study and always display a positive, interested attitude. Silence is not golden. Keep in mind that the Bible study is not just for guests. It is for you as well. Participate and learn eagerly.
- Ask questions. When Christians in the class ask questions, it encourages visitors to ask questions and convinces them that they are not “dummies.” Especially ask questions if you believe the teacher is not making something clear. Example: “Could you explain your last point again? I’m not sure I’m understanding completely.”
- Avoid “insider language.” Christians tend to use language only other Christians understand. We can be too brief in our explanations and assume an outsider knows what we are talking about. Or, we can use terms (even biblical terms) that are foreign to our visitors. It is better to explain than to assume. Example: “There is only one church!” This totally confuses an outsider and leaves the wrong impression. Which church is the “one church?” A visitor won’t understand that we are not talking about a particular denomination or local church. Colossians 4:5-6 commands us to learn “how to answer,” not just “what” to answer. Just because we tell the truth, doesn’t mean the visitor is hearing the truth.
- Don’t speak of the Lord’s church in terms that would imply a denomination. In other words, avoid the use of titles of the church in ways that make it sound like you are a member of a denomination or that this is a Meetup of the local church where you attend. We are teaching “right doctrine” and a “right relationship” with Christ. We are not trying to convert a person to our local church. Obviously, we are going to be honest and unashamed of where we attend, but where we attend is not the focus.
- Stick around after the class and connect with visitors. This is critical. Christians tend to talk to one another. Forget that. Learn all you can about your guest. Show interest. Even go someplace for lunch or invite them to your house for dinner. Deeper connections are what give the opportunities a greater chance for success. One of the typical weaknesses of public Bible studies is that visitors can tend to treat the study as “their weekly church.” This can be overcome by Christians in the class moving visitors from an “outer circle” relationship to an “inner circle” friendship.
- Look for opportunities to transition a visitor to a personal study. This usually happens when they show an interest to learn more than what is being taught in the class or desire to discuss questions they have in more depth.
- Teach the text in context. In other words, studying “topics” are generally not the best approach because of the need to jump around to different passages. Visitors can easily get lost and become suspicious because they cannot be assured that all that is taught is in context. They can also believe you are trying to manipulate them into accepting “your doctrine.” Instead, go through a book of the Bible and just let the message of the Holy Spirit do the work on their heart. The Spirit does a much better job than we would do. He has artistically put the scriptures together in such a way as to draw people to Jesus. There is no need to mess up his work.
- After the class, go to the website and comment on how you enjoyed the study and even offer some specifics of what you learned. This encourages others to try it out.
- Finally pray. The Lord Jesus is the King who is guiding this work. He told us to pray and promised to answer (Ezek. 36:37-38; John 14:12-14). So pray!
A rule of thumb for a successful Meetup is that once you have 75 people sign up, you will start getting more visitors. It’s funny how that works. We have 130 signed up but rarely have more than 5-6 visitors each week. People seem to want to sign up and then watch what others say about the Meetup before committing. I hope you will give it a try and let me know how it worked for your group.