The Difference Between Discovery Groups and Bible Studies

Most of us have been in numerous Bible studies, but what about a Discovery Study? Is there a difference? And does the distinction matter when it comes to discipling people who don't yet know Jesus?

The Discovery Bible Study, or Discovery Group, is one of the primary tools we use to see Disciple Making Movement happen. You‘ve probably heard us talk about it a lot here at CDM, and we're gonna be talking about it again today. In this episode of the CDM Podcast, Paul and Rebecca address the DNA of a DBS and how it differs from a traditional Bible study. While traditional studies often focus on attaining knowledge for believers, Discovery Studies are all about facilitating obedience among non-believers.


Will the Real DBS Please Stand Up?


A lot of things are masquerading as Discovery Bible Studies or Discovery Groups these days, so the goal of this blog is to identify some key qualities that not only make a DBS what it is, but also distinguish it from more traditional studies.


So, how do you know if a DBS is the real thing? Multiplication. The thing is, if we don't have the DNA of movement within our groups then we won't see multiplication, and if we aren't seeing multiplication, then something has gone wrong.


Over time, we have seen how people will take the DBS — or how CDM trains people to do it — and tweak some things slightly, while still flying under the flag of a Discovery Bible Study, only to be surprised that it doesn't bear the fruit it normally would.


We want you to know the essential DNA that makes up a DBS so you can see your time and efforts not be wasted, but produce much fruit that lasts and see God’s Kingdom come to the people in your life who do not yet know Christ.


With that focus in mind, let’s talk about some of these differences between Discovery Groups and traditional Bible Studies.


Facilitating, Not Teaching


The first difference is that the Discovery Group is student focused, not teacher focused.

“We want to make sure that people are obeying God and His word, not us.”

What this means is that a Discovery Group isn't about having a teacher tell the students what they need to know, the insights they need to learn and how to be able to obey them. Rather, we act as facilitators who point people’s attention to specific Bible stories, give them opportunities to read those stories for themselves and ask questions to help them discover what God is speaking to them from His Word.


Instead of answering people’s questions, we equip them to know where to look. Instead of teaching, we facilitate their personal discovery.


Nonbelievers and Groups


While traditional Bible studies are usually conducted among a group of believers, the Discovery Group is specifically designed to be done with nonbelievers.


Of course the Discovery Bible process can be used by groups of believers too. Sometimes in my Disciple Making Community group, we’ll practice doing a DBS to hone the skill of facilitating as well as the discipline of obedience.


Here at Contagious Disciple Making though, when we say we’re doing a Discovery Bible Study, the assumption is that we’re doing it with people who don’t know Jesus who are wanting to discover who He is.


We also prioritize getting groups of nonbelievers together to discover God for themselves instead of just trying to disciple them one on one.


In some contexts it may feel more comfortable or natural to have deep, meaningful and spiritual conversations with people one on one, and sometimes that’s where we have to start, but we know from personal experience that one on one conversations won’t multiply the way that groups multiply.


Therefore, we try to gently nudge the people we’re discipling towards a group setting with their friends and family if possible because that familiarity will lead to a lot more discussion, accountability, multiplication and richer changes that last.


This is different from some other Bible studies because it’s not an attractional method in which we’re trying to graft spiritually seeking nonbelievers into a pre-existing church group filled with people they don’t know. That can present a major barrier for someone, so we don’t expect people who are just beginning their journey of discovering God to join a bunch of strangers.


Instead, we bring the study to people where they’re at alongside the people they know and feel comfortable with.


Not Just Another Curriculum


Another key difference between a Discovery Group and a more traditional Bible study is the fact that the Discovery Group is not curriculum focused.


In some studies, you may be attracting people to read a particular curriculum, such as Dave Ramsey’s financial plan or the latest book by Francis Chan, David Platt or Mark Batterson.


None of those things are wrong; however they do not foster movement because they are difficult to multiply from person to person. And, as we mentioned before, multiplication is key. Not everyone will connect with what Francis Chan or David Platt have to say, but the Word of God has something to say to all of us — every human being who has ever lived and will ever live.


Even if another study is based around reading the Bible, if at any point we, a teacher or a curriculum are telling people what to believe about those passages and what they need to do based on that, instead of letting God’s Word speak for itself, we are violating the principle of discovery.


We recognize that we don’t know how God will speak to a person from a particular passage, which is why the Discovery Bible Study is question driven. Each of the questions in the DBS is designed specifically to embed the DNA of disciple making into the group.


“It's not our goal to just have a group of people gathered together getting information about the Bible. Our goal is to instill these skills — this DNA of a disciple maker — into them.”

If we are not careful, we can short circuit this process and never actually make disciples worth multiplying who make disciples worth multiplying.


To Know and Obey


One of the most important DNA elements we aim to instill in people through the Discovery Bible process is that of being obedient to all of God’s commands.


Our Christian culture, particularly in the West, places a lot of stock in information. Oftentimes we're reading Scripture with the intent to gain insights instead of the intent to obey, and once we’ve gotten that new idea or nugget of wisdom, we’re happy to move right along with our lives.


However, Jesus tells us that we are His friends if we keep His commands (John 15:14), and that keeping His commands is how we abide in His love (John 15:10).


That's why one of the questions that we ask as part of the Discovery Bible Study is this: “If we were to believe this story we just read is from God, how should we change?” Then, while we don’t tell people what to do to obey, we ask them questions to narrow down their answers into things that are specific and doable within the next 24 hours or before we meet again.


By helping people learn how to regularly obey God’s Word in small, tangible ways, we embed the habit of obedience in their lives. We want to make disciples who don’t merely know God’s Word, but obey it also.


If we allow our disciples to read and not obey then we run the risk of them developing, not only a habit of disobedience, but also a habit of feeling good spiritually in their disobedience because they think that all they need is to be excited about learning cool new things from the Bible.


This is why we have churches that are not transformative. People are filling their heads with knowledge without allowing that knowledge to translate into action that could lead to God’s Kingdom changing and transforming their communities.


“We must instill the quality of being a disciple into ourselves and those that we're discipling or we will never produce true disciples. We will produce converts that may attend a church, but we'll never ever produce a true disciple — someone that demonstrates their love for Christ by learning and obeying his commands.”

Our metric for success has to be this — that we are making disciples worth multiplying who make disciples worth multiplying. As we’re doing this, it will become apparent very quickly that simply knowing information is never going to be enough. We must also obey.


Learn More


These are just some of they key elements that set a DBS apart from other studies. If you would like to learn more about the Discovery Bible Study, Paul and Rebecca tackle much more about the specific disciple making DNA we strive to instill through the Discovery process, so be sure to listen to “The Difference Between Discovery Groups and Bible Studies”. You can access the episode here or find it on the CDM App under podcasts! Thanks for reading!

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