What’s the Difference Between Small Group and Bible Study?

Whether you a newcomer to the Church Community or you’ve been around it your entire life, you are sure to have run across some of the following terms: Sunday School, Small Group, Cell Group, Bible Study, Life Group, etc:

These are all terms that have fought for position in numerous churches throughout time and history. Many educated people have fought over and disagreed on the definition of them and where they fit in the process of disciple-making.

Today I want to take a look at the similarities and differences between two of the most common terms: Bible Studies and Small Groups.

Bible Study:

  • Teacher/Student
  • Digs deep into the Bible
  • Subject driven/topical
  • More lecture-oriented
  • Has a start date and finish date
  • No maximum number of participants
  • The end result: to gain a better understanding and knowledge of Scripture

Small Group:

  • Facilitator/Group member setting
  • Stories of Scripture and honest conversation
  • Relationship driven/based on the needs of the group
  • Discussion oriented
  • Has a start date but no finish date
  • A limited number of participants (3-15 is ideal)
  • The end result: mature disciples who make other disciples

Jim Putman, author of this blog, is one of the speakers at this year’s National Disciple Making Forum. Learn more and register here.


It is obvious that there are some similarities. Both use God’s Word intentionally, but for different purposes. The key is not to get hung up on terms, but to simply understand that the two work well together.

In my book Real Life Discipleship, I talk about the model Jesus left us for discipleship. In his time here on earth, we have examples of both his teaching to the crowds and his teaching to his disciples. The crowds learned some truth from and about him, but Jesus didn’t stop at teaching truth to his disciples, he actually walked it out with them. And with all the crowds he taught, he only raised up 12 disciples.

I use the analogy that discipleship is a journey. The destination is spiritual maturity or Christlikeness. This maturity grows best in relationships – which would be the vehicle. The Bible is the map that we follow to get to our destination. As you can see – both the relational aspect (which happens best in smaller, more relational environments – walking through life events together) and the Bible knowledge aspect which can happen in a study or classroom session – are necessary elements. If one of these elements is missing you won’t be making disciples of Jesus.

Bible Studies are intended to help us increase our Biblical knowledge. Small Groups give us a more personable environment to mature and live out our knowledge with each other. Both can work together in your growth towards becoming a mature disciple of Christ.

Written by Jim Putman

This was originally posted on Jim Putman’s blog here. Used with permission.

Photo by William White on Unsplash

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2018-08-03T04:32:35+00:00

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