If your teaching ministry is on your church campus, your Bible study groups meet in halls. One of the truisms of a ministry like Sunday School is that “the room speaks.”
The arrangement of the chairs and the placement of the group leader’s teaching position all communicate something about how the group will be guided through a Bible study. It also communicates a lot about what is expected of group members during the study.
Let’s consider several ways of arranging rooms, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of each. I have a favorite, but that will come later. Remember that one of the purposes of groups is to engage people in Bible study. You will want to find a room arrangement that does this.
When participation is maximized, the Bible comes alive. If your current Bible study room layout isn’t providing an engaging and ultimately transformative environment, it may be time to revamp it. Which of the scenarios below best describes your bedroom?
- The class model
This room arrangement is the most common I see in churches. The room is set up like a public school classroom. There is an “academic” side. When you walk into a room laid out like this, it says something (remember, the room speaks). A room arranged like this says to the group member or guest: “The teacher is responsible. He is the expert. You are here to listen. The professor has many important things to tell you.
A room layout like this does not stimulate discussion. If I’m in a group whose room is set up this way, I spend most of the time staring at the back of someone’s head. Because the teaching is centered in the front of the room, group members must listen carefully and keep their minds from wandering. They don’t get much opportunity to interact with the group leader or group members. It’s a great room layout for auditory learners, but not for everyone.
This pattern also indicates that the primary focus of the group is Bible exposition. It’s not necessarily bad. We are supposed to learn the scriptures. Paul reminded Timothy: “From childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which can give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.(2 Tim. 3:15, CSB).
The challenge with this room model, however, is that teaching tends to become the pinnacle of group living. Such a room layout sometimes discourages the group from looking outside for new members and estranged people, because the focus of the group has become “to go deeper.”
- The banquet model
When a group gathers around tables, good things happen. Gathering around circular tables allows you to see each other’s faces.
Seeing faces sparks conversations and discussions. When attending a banquet, business meeting, wedding, or other type of event, round tables are often used because food, camaraderie, and conversation are important elements in these venues.
During a Bible study, round tables give people a place to rest their Bibles, coffee mugs, and other items. Tables also naturally divide people into small groups. These are all good things. Personally, I like the convenience and benefits of round tables.
However, caution should be exercised in the use of round tables. Although they have benefits, they come at a cost. Tables are an added expense and quickly take up significant floor space in a room, limiting the number of people who can attend group Bible study.
Most buildings with classrooms were constructed at a cost of around $150 to $200 per square foot. A six-foot round table takes up just over 28 square feet of space. When the construction cost per foot is multiplied by $175 (the average of the previous two construction costs), a single table sits on $4,900 of classroom space. If a room has four tables, one group used nearly $20,000 of space for coffee mugs and Bibles. Also, the room will hold more people if they are seated on chairs without a table.
Once Bible study groups start using tables, it’s hard to go back, so be careful. Make sure you fully understand the benefits and costs of this model.
- The conference model
It’s a room arrangement that I see from time to time. The boards are used to create a U-shape, and party members can see each other’s faces.
This helps stimulate discussion in a way that the class model does not. It also allows the party leader to wander among their party members due to the open layout of the tables. I have seen some Bible study leaders use a laptop computer and PowerPoint slide show to present an engaging study using this type of room arrangement.
The same banquet model challenges are in play with this scenario. Tables take up valuable floor space that cost thousands of dollars to build. You will need to weigh the pros and cons before adopting it as a role model for your group.
- The living room model
Spoiler alert: this is my favorite bedroom arrangement. I have used it in every group my wife and I have led. This model puts everyone in a circle, looking at each other but without the costs and limitations of round tables. This is what would happen if my group met at my house. We sat on sofas and chairs in the main part of my house. I can replicate that feeling in a room on campus by arranging my room like this.
This layout of the room says it all. Because I sit among my group members, it indicates that I am a fellow learner, not necessarily the group “expert” who stands above them to teach. The room layout stimulates discussion and rekindles relationships in a way that doesn’t happen when people’s chairs are arranged in rows. Because there are no tables, I can maximize the number of people who can be group members, and I don’t place tables on thousands of dollars of expensive educational space.
Each of the above ways to organize your classroom in an on-campus setting has advantages and disadvantages. It is important that pastors and team leaders who are responsible for teaching the ministry speak with group leaders to determine what arrangements are best suited to their context.
Photo by Nastuh Abootalebi on Unsplash