If your teaching ministry is on your church’s campus, your Bible study groups meet in rooms. One of the truisms of a ministry like Sunday School is that “the room speaks.”
The arrangement of chairs and the placement of the group leader’s teaching position all communicate something about the way the group will be guided through a Bible study. It also communicates a lot about what’s expected from group members during the study.
Let’s consider several ways to arrange rooms, plus the pros and cons of each. I have a favorite, but that will come later. Remember, one of the goals of groups is to engage people in Bible study. You will want to find a room arrangement that does that.
When participation is maximized, the Bible comes alive. If your current Bible study room arrangement doesn’t provide an engaging, and ultimately transforming environment, then it may be time to rearrange it. Which of the scenarios below best describes your room?
- The classroom model
This room arrangement is the most common one I see in churches. The room is arranged like a public-school classroom. It has an “academic” feel. When you enter a room arranged like this, it says something (remember, the room speaks). A room arranged like this says to the group member or guest, “The teacher is in charge. He is the expert. You are here to listen. The teacher has many important things to tell you.”
A room arrangement like this doesn’t boost discussion. If I am a member of a group whose room is arranged like this, I spend most of the time looking at the back of someone’s head. Because the teaching is centered at the front of the room, group members must listen carefully and keep their minds from wandering. They are not given much opportunity to interact with the group leader or the members of the group. It is a great room arrangement for auditory learners but not for everyone else.
This model also indicates the major goal of the group is biblical exposition. This is not necessarily bad. We are supposed to learn the Scripture. Paul reminded Timothy, “From infancy you have known the sacred Scriptures, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15, CSB).
The challenge with this room model, however, is that teaching tends to become the pinnacle of group life. A room arrangement like this sometimes discourages the group from looking outward for new members and for people who are far from God, because the goal of the group has become “to go deeper.”
- The banquet model
When a group meets around tables, good things happen. Meeting around circular tables ensures that people see one another’s faces.
Seeing faces jump-starts conversations and discussion. When you attend a banquet, a workplace meeting, a wedding, or other types of event, round tables are often used because food, fellowship and conversation are important elements in those venues.
During a Bible study, round tables give people a place to rest their Bibles, coffee cups and other items. Tables also naturally put people into smaller groups. These are all good things. Personally, I like the convenience and benefits of round tables.
A caution should be made, however, about using round tables. While they have advantages, they do come with a cost. Tables are an added expense, and they quickly take up significant floor space in a room, limiting the number of people who can attend the group’s Bible study.
Most buildings with classrooms have been built at a cost of about $150 to $200 per square foot. One six-foot round table takes up just over 28 square feet of space. When the cost of construction per foot is multiplied by $175 (the average of the two previous construction costs), a single table rests on top of $4,900 of classroom space. If a room has four tables, a group has used nearly $20,000 of space for coffee cups and Bibles. In addition, the room will hold more people if they sit in chairs without tables.
Once Bible study groups begin using tables, it is hard to go back, so be cautious. Make sure you understand the benefits and the costs of this model.
- The conference model
This is a room arrangement I see from time to time. Tables are used to create a U shape, and group members can see one another’s faces.
This helps boost discussion in ways the classroom model does not. It also allows the group leader to walk among his or her group members because of the open-ended arrangement of the tables. I have seen some Bible study leaders use a laptop and PowerPoint slideshow to present an engaging study using this kind of room arrangement.
The same challenges from the banquet model are in play with this scenario. Tables take up valuable floor space that costs thousands of dollars to build. You will have to weigh the pros and cons before adopting this as your group’s model.
- The living room model
Spoiler alert: This is my favorite room arrangement. I have used this in every group my wife and I have led. This model puts everyone in a circle, looking at one another but without the costs and limitations of round tables. This is what would happen if my group met in my home. We would sit on couches and chairs in the main part of my house. I can duplicate that feeling in an on-campus room by arranging my room like this.
This room arrangement speaks volumes. Because I sit among my group members, it communicates that I am a fellow learner, not necessarily the “expert” in the group who stands over them to teach. The room arrangement boosts discussion and jump-starts relationships in ways that do not happen when people’s chairs are arranged in rows. Because there are no tables, I can maximize the number of people who can be members of the group, and I am not placing tables on top of thousands of dollars of expensive education space.
Each of the above ways to arrange your classroom in an on-campus setting has pros and cons. It’s important for pastors and staff leaders who are responsible for teaching ministry to talk to group leaders to determine which arrangements are best for their context.