How to Start an Off-Campus Bible Study
By Robert B. Cavin

Courtesy Baptist General Convention of Texas

What it it?

An off-campus Bible study is an organized ministry of evangelistic Bible study that meets weekly and provides for all age groups available. The group may be large or small and may be located quite near to or several miles away from the sponsoring church. The off-campus Bible study may eventually become a church, or it might stand alone as a Bible study for a specific target neighborhood or community. Whatever the situation, the Bible study group provides Bible study opportunities for persons who do not have it through the church’s traditional Bible study/Sunday School.

Who does it?

The pastor of the sponsoring church has perhaps the most important role in starting the off-campus Bible study. He must place priority on the beginning of such Bible studies to reach persons not currently being reached for Christ. While the off-campus Bible study will be lay-led, it must have the support of the pastor. Leadership enlistment and training is conducted by the church staff, nominating committee, and/or other Bible study leaders normally responsible for this task. Positions of responsibility include an overall off-campus Bible study director (see How is it done, Step 2) one or more leaders for each age-group (preschool, children, youth, and adult) for each Bible study group.

How is it done?
Ten Steps for Starting an Off-Campus Bible Study:

Step 1. Commit to start an off-campus Bible study group - Pray for discernment of God's will. There must be a God-let commitment to begin an off-campus Bible study. With such a commitment, the resources can then be prioritized to begin the new work. Share the decision with church members in as many ways as possible. The decision needs to become a vision of the whole congregation. Special prayer opportunities can be arranged so that much prayer will go into beginning the new work.

Step 2. Elect an off-campus Bible study director - The director needs vision for the new work, good communicative skills, ability to lead people, and deep concern for reaching lost and unchurched people. He or she will be responsible for working with the pastor and appropriate committees to obtain the meeting place, enlist and train new workers, and communicate the progress to the sponsoring church.

Step 3. Determine the general area and target groups - Demographic studies of the area are extremely helpful at this point. The Home Mission Board's Church Extension Section has several methods available to help a church select a location for new work. Demographic information is also available from the Baptist Sunday School Board and from our state convention office through your association. While the general site is being chose, other activities may be progressing, such as enlistment of leader, budgeting, and prospect discover.

Step 4. Provide financial support - An off-campus Bible study may need finances for rent, supplies, teaching materials, equipment, and furniture. Definite policies and procedures should be worked out between the sponsoring church and the new work regarding budget and finances.

Step 5. Conduct prospect discovery - Once that area for beginning off-campus Bible study has been established, a prospect file for the new work needs to be established and maintained. The people listed in the file should receive information about the first meeting time for the new Bible study. Several sources and approaches for obtaining new names and prospects are available:

  1. A people Search conducted in the area of the Bible study.
  2. Prospect names and addresses obtained from people who attend the Bible study.
  3. A telephone survey used to discover unchurched persons.

Step 6. Select and train leaders - The director of the off-campus Bible study, working with the pastor and others, will need to enlist the appropriate age-group workers as needed. A new outreach Bible study needs at least one worker for each age group: preschool, children, youth and adult. Because of the possibility of having several generations in one adult class, careful consideration should be given to providing more than one class for adults.

Step 7. Cultivate selected area - Cultivation of prospects in the area selected for the new start can be done by several methods:

  1. Continue using a new telephone survey.
  2. Conduct Backyard Bible Clubs.
  3. Conduct Mission Vacation Bible School.
  4. Use Get Acquainted Activities to establish contact and to give an opportunity to share Christ.
  5. Conduct Community Interest Groups organized around meeting needs.

Step 8. Secure teaching materials and location. The Family Bible Series (Convention Uniform Series) for Sunday School provides curriculum design for use in a small church or off-campus Bible study. Many churches are utilizing Discipleship Training materials that involve unique studies with adults and youth as they begin new Bible studies. Studies that meet a particular perceived need can be effective in getting the prospects involved. Then the group may progress to standard curriculum as addressed previously. Secure a meeting place for the new work. When the organization was planned, the space hopefully had not been chosen so that now space can be found to match the needed organization.

Step 9. Launch the off-campus Bible study - Prepare the sponsoring church and the Bible study for the launch day. Adequate time should be planned in the timetable for the previous eight steps. Use various methods to communicate to the community they date, time and location. While this is the first day, it is the most important day in the life of the new work. Ensure a calm atmosphere by being ready in spirit. Pray that guests' spiritual needs will be met through the Bible study opportunities. If prayer and preparation have been adequate, give it to God and He will do the rest. Follow up on guest by calling and writing personal letters to express how grateful you re for their coming to the off-campus Bible study. Schedule and plan an special social event soon after the launch so that everyone feels accepted and welcomed. Churches are built on love and relationships, not just organization. If joy, love and acceptance on the part of the teachers and workers is evident and if adequate teaching and learning has occurred, the Bible study will begin reaching new people immediately. Be sure evangelistic follow-ups are made to assure that the gospel has been shared with all attendees.

Step 10. Encourage and support the new work – The sponsoring church must not let down after launch day. Keep up the good work. Tell the church what happened with slides or videotape presentations to adult Sunday School departments. Do not be shy about sharing your needs as well as your victories. Share personal testimonies about people who have been saved. Our primary objective is to establish off-campus Bible studies in order to reach the lost and then develop the saved.

Where to go for help?

  1. Sunday School/Discipleship Division , BGCT
  2. Other churches that have started an off-campus Bible study.
  3. "Going Where the People Are" Kit (Manual and videotape; Sunday School/ Discipleship Division, BGCT).
  4. Reaching People Through New Sunday Schools/Bible Studies by Robert B. Cavin, available from the Sunday School/Discipleship Division, BGCT.