Inductive Bible Study
Use this guide to help you lead your small group to encounter Jesus through the three main parts of an inductive Bible study: Observation, Interpretation, Application.
For Inductive Bible study, we don’t begin with a topic and then try to find specific verses that make a teaching point. Rather, an inductive study focuses on one passage of the Bible and seeks to discover what a biblical author intended to communicate to their original audience and to encounter Jesus and be transformed by his Word.
1. Observe: What's there?
It's tempting to skip this step and jump straight to interpretation, but slow your group down and take the time for observation to seek to understand the biblical author's intention.
- What comes immediately before and after the passage?
- What is the cultural context of the original readers?
- Note characters, relationships, locations, time, actions, and reactions.
- Imagine yourself in the story. What do you see, hear, and smell?
- Look for repeated words, comparisons, contrasts, cause and effect
2. Interpret: What does it mean?
The interpretation step is centered on asking questions of the text.
- Develop some questions based on your observations. What stirs your curiosity?
- Imagine the perspective of the people in the scene.
- Answer your questions from the text and context.
- Why is this passage or story here? Try to summarize it in one sentence.
TIGHT Questions: These kinds of questions help you get to the heart of the text:
- Text dependent: Make sure the text and context can be used to answer the question (Remember, good interpretations build off of key observations). You want people to have to keep glancing down at their manuscripts throughout the discussion.
- Interesting: To paraphrase Jim Rayburn, it’s a sin to bore a Bible study with an uninteresting question (not really, but you know what we’re getting at).
- Generate discussion: This stage is where you really experience the fruit diverse experiences and perspectives in your group.
- Highlight tension: This could be tension in the text or different perspectives in your group.
- Tie sections together: This helps you dig deeper into the passage as one section builds on another.
3. Apply: So what?
Every Bible study should offer some form of active response.
- How does this passage challenge how I see God, myself, or the world?
- Is there a command to obey or a promise to hold on to?
- How can I live this out with my community?
- How does this change what I’ll do tomorrow?
SHARP Questions: Use these principles to write questions that apply the core message of the text to your life and the lives of those in your group.
- Specific: Helps you and your group know exactly what to do.
- Honors the Scripture: Reflects the true implications of the passage and remains faithful to the core message.
- Accountability: Gives you something to share with someone that you want to do or work on.
- Risky: Stretches you and calls you to do something that you won't necessarily know for sure how it'll turn out and requires you to rely on God.
- Prayerful: Asks God for conviction and the help we need to act on his Word.
Take the Ministry Playbook Course on Building Your Own Bible Study!
This resource has been tested and approved by InterVarsity’s National Strategy & Innovation team for campus ministry. Explore more resources by visiting the Accelerated Small Group Leadership Collection.