Leader Quick Start Guide
Before Getting Started
Do I have to be an expert about the Catholic Faith in order to lead a group?
Absolutely not! No one knows all of the answers, not even Jeff Cavins! You are simply on an adventure of knowing Jesus better, along with your participants.
Can I run a study remotely online?
What do I need to run a study remotely online?
You’ll need (1) a Study Set for each person (his or her workbook or other materials), (2) your free account that you set up, after purchase, with Thinkific, our free online video streaming platform, and (3) a video chat program to communicate with your group, such as Zoom or Google Meet. There are many different communication methods that you can use for your small group—anything from a phone call to a video conference will work!
I am outside the US. Can I still run a study?
While Ascension’s website can only deliver physical items within the United States, you can still purchase an “online only” version of our study programs. This option allows your participants to view the videos on Thinkific as well as access an online version of the workbook. Additionally, if you wish to have the physical materials, we do have a network of international distributors who sell our Study Sets and DVDs throughout the world.
Choosing a Study
Which study should my group start with?
This depends on your group and your comfort level. If you are new to doing a Bible study, we recommend that you start with Unlocking the Mystery of the Bible. This 8-session study gives a big-picture overview of salvation history, showing how the biblical narrative forms the foundation of our Catholic faith. If you’re looking to start a study that’s a little shorter, we recommend A Biblical Walk Through the Mass, a 5-session study that explains the riches of the Liturgy and the Eucharist.
We’ve already done Unlocking the Mystery of the Bible. Which study should we do next?
You can choose! Where you go next depends on what your group is interested in doing. Some groups want to dive deeper into the Bible itself. Other groups may prefer to explore our Catholic beliefs and practices.
For those who wish to dive deeper into the Bible itself, we recommend continuing with The Bible Timeline: The Story of Salvation. This 24-session study is an in-depth journey through salvation history, taking you into the fourteen narrative books of the Bible. You will then be able to understand every book in the Bible in light of the overall story that ties it all together.
If you would prefer to explore our Catholic beliefs and practices, we recommend that you continue with Jesus: The Way, the Truth, and the Life. This 10-session study, filmed in the Holy Land, takes you on a journey through the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. The marvelous treasures of the Catholic Faith—the Eucharist, Mary, the saints, and the Creed— are all centered on and rooted in the person of Jesus Christ. Having an intimate knowledge of and relationship with Christ is essential for understanding and living out your Catholic faith.
How many weeks will it take to complete a study?
Each study has between 5 and 24 “sessions,” or weeks of content. You can see how many sessions your study contains on the website where you purchased it. We recommend doing one session per week, but your group can space out sessions or speed them up to meet your needs.
If you are scheduling a 24-session study, such as The Bible Timeline or Matthew, consider splitting it into spring and fall segments with a break around Christmas.
Please keep in mind that the video access on Thinkific runs for one year from the date of purchase—keep this in mind when scheduling.
What study materials will my group and I need?
In some of our studies, the leader will need a “Leader Set,” and the participants will need a “Study Set.” In other studies, the leader and participants together will all purchase the Study Set. Look at your study’s purchase page for details, and call our friendly customer service team at 1-800-376-0520 if you have any questions.
In addition, we recommend everyone should have the Catechism of the Catholic Church, as well as a Catholic Bible. For Bibles, we recommend purchasing The Great Adventure Catholic Bible, which incorporates the same color-coded learning system that is the foundation of all of our Bible studies.
Will we need workbooks?
The workbook is an integral part of the study, containing reflection and discussion questions. To get the most out of the study, we recommend each participant have his or her own workbook, which is included in the Study Set.
How much homework is involved?
This varies based on the study but also on the individual participant. Let the participants know that if they have more time to dedicate to home preparation, they will get more out of the study. We recommend allowing up to 90 minutes per week for reading and home preparation. We also recommend spreading homework over the whole week so it doesn’t become a chore but rather a habit. However, don’t let a busy schedule discourage participants; any time spent studying the Bible is beneficial!
Forming Your Group
I want to start a study with my friends. How do I begin?
All you have to do is pick a study, invite your friends, and have everyone order his or her own “Study Set,” which includes the study workbook, online access, and other relevant materials. Name your time and place to meet (virtual or in person), and enjoy!
I want to start a study with my parish community. How do I begin?
Congratulations on deciding to run a study! You are helping to spread the Good News of God’s love in your local area! First, you will want to discuss your study with your pastor and the other parish leaders who are responsible for your parish’s faith formation programs. This will keep them in the loop and give them the chance to support you with parish resources.
Before speaking to your pastor, familiarize yourself with the program you plan to use. It is helpful to the pastor/leaders if you are able to explain
- the topic of this study
- how it will be run
- how this study will help participants grow in their faith
what logistical support you may need from your parish leadership (bulletin ads, space in the parish hall, etc.)
You can familiarize yourself with the study you intend to offer by viewing it on our website or by requesting a 45-day risk-free review pack.
How do I find group members?
First, pray and ask God who might be a good fit for your group! Invite friends, parish acquaintances, coworkers, and neighbors. Advertise the study widely in your parish and local area. (see "How should I promote my study?") The options are endless! God will provide people who need to come to the group.
What kind of help will I need to organize the study?
This depends on (1) your group size and (2) the sort of “environment” you’d like to create for your study. For example, if you are leading a small group of friends in your own living room, you could easily handle everything yourself! But if you’re running an event for a large group of parishioners in the church hall, you may want help with some details.
If you are organizing a large study for an in-person setting, we suggest that you break down the leadership roles in the following way and recruit others to help you. If you have a smaller team, leadership team members can take on more than one role.
Study Leader: (This is probably you!) Organizes the study and trains and leads the Core Team. See the study leader checklist.
Core Team Members:
Small-Group Facilitators: Oversee small-group discussions of 8–12 people, keeping them on time and on track. See the facilitator coordinator checklist.
Prayer Leader: Prays for the success of the study and leads the group in prayer at the beginning and end of each session. See the prayer coordinator checklist.
Promotional Coordinator: Gets the word out about the study at your parish and, if possible, at neighboring parishes. This person should consider requesting space for bulletin ads, requesting pulpit announcements, hanging flyers, setting up an info table in the parish lobby, sending a parish-wide email, and promoting the event on social media. Ascension’s free promotional resources will help with this!
Hospitality Coordinator: Makes participants feel at home by personally welcoming them, perhaps providing refreshments, and ensuring that the meeting space is a pleasant place to be. See the hospitality coordinator checklist.
Registration and Communications Coordinator: Handles registration and communications with participants, ensuring that they know when and where the study meets and that they have the materials they need for the study. See the registration and communications coordinator checklist.
Logistics Coordinator: Handles room setup, including the operation of audio/visual equipment. See the logistics coordinator checklist.
- Child Care Coordinator: Organizes child care for participants. This ensures young parents are able to make the time to join your study. See the child care coordinator checklist.
- Small-Group Facilitators: Oversee small-group discussions of 8–12 people, keeping them on time and on track. See the facilitator coordinator checklist.
Where can I find my core team members?
Ask the Holy Spirit to help you identify and ask the right people. Consider those who you see are passionate about the Faith and are willing to serve others. Keep an eye out for good candidates at Mass, Adoration, and other areas of parish life.
For more help: see "What kind of help will I need to organize the study?" for more tips on building a Bible study Core Team.
How many small-group facilitators will I need?
It depends on the size of your group. We suggest two facilitators for each group of 8–12 participants so you will always have a substitute facilitator if needed. If possible, we recommend pairing the more experienced facilitators with the newer facilitators.
What should I look for in my volunteers?
You should look for people who are humble and are willing to serve. Having a humble spirit is important because the study is not about the Core Team; it is about giving others the opportunity to encounter Jesus.
How should I promote my study?
Below are just some of the ways that you can advertise your study with Ascension’s free promotional resources:
- Announce your study in your parish bulletin using Ascension’s provided advertisement or your own.
- Put your study’s promotional video on social media.
- Print the flyer Ascension created for your study and post it around your parish and other local areas.
- Announce the study after Mass by using Ascension’s provided announcement or your own.
The best way to grow your group is to invite people individually, whether in person or through another form of communication. It shows them that you specifically want them to be included and that they are welcomed.
Running Your Study in Person
How does an in-person Bible study work? What do we do each week?
During the first meeting, you and your group will get to know each other and become acquainted with the study materials. The Core Team should focus on hospitality and organizing participants into small groups of 8–12 people for discussion segments. The first video for each study is an introduction to that topic and should be played at this time. Name tags help set a friendly tone at the first meeting, especially for new attendees and in the event that social distance restrictions have everyone feeling a bit uncomfortable.
After that, there are four main parts to each Bible study that you and your group will complete each week:
Home Preparation: Your participants should complete their at-home readings from Scripture and work on the study questions found in the workbook. Encourage everyone to complete as much as possible, but assure participants that they will still get a lot out of their study experience even if they can’t finish their homework each week. (This is particularly helpful for busy parents or working adults.)
- Group Meeting: (The following elements can vary based on your group’s needs.)
- Hospitality: Welcome everyone and open with a prayer. Some groups start with fellowship and refreshments.
- Small-Group Discussions: Meet in small groups to discuss the study questions and to share your insights into the Scripture readings.
- Video Presentation: Enjoy the video presentation, which offers unique insights and profound connections to help you gain a deeper understanding of the topics that you explored that week in your reading and discussion.
A customized suggestion for the timing off each of these elements will be found in your workbook.
How much time is needed for each week’s meeting?
You will need one or two hours, depending on your group’s needs. Ninety minutes works well in most situations. You should consider (1) how long the videos are for your chosen study, (2) how long your group wants to spend in small-group discussion (we recommend 30–45 minutes), and (3) if you want any additional time for fellowship at the beginning or end of your meetings.
If you want to keep your meeting as short as possible, have your participants stream and watch the video portion for each session independently on Thinkific and then gather together for just the group discussion and fellowship. This works especially well for busy parents and working adults.
How can I encourage conversation among my participants?
Set a friendly tone with intentional hospitality choices like name tags, light refreshments, and a smiling “greeter” at the door. All Core Team members should be circulating among the attendees, chatting in a friendly manner and helping people feel welcome.
Do I need DVDs to run a study in person?
There are three ways your group could view the study videos:
- You could watch the videos on DVD, gathered as a group.
- You could watch the videos streaming from our Thinkific website, gathered as a group.
- Each person could watch the videos independently at home on the Thinkific website.
We strongly recommend purchasing the DVDs for in-person group viewing because this is usually the easiest method for volunteer leaders to manage and because the DVD sets can be reused later by other Bible study groups in your parish.
If your meeting place has a stable internet connection and connecting and viewing the videos is not a problem for your team, it is possible to stream the video content from the Thinkific website for an in-person group viewing experience. This option will save you money, but remember that you must have an excellent internet connection and a dependable computer/projector setup to display the streaming video. Furthermore, keep in mind that the Thinkific video streaming access expires one year after your workbook purchase. If you’d like to have the videos to come back to in the future, the DVDs are the best option.
Running Your Study Virtually
How does a virtual Bible study work? What do we do each week?
Before your first virtual session, make sure that you are comfortable with Ascension’s Thinkific online video platform as well as the video conferencing program you choose to use (Zoom, Google Meet, etc.). Practice “meeting” virtually with a friend ahead of time to learn how to use the controls, especially how to “mute” participants and how to put notes or a link in the “chat” feature.
During the first virtual group session, focus on helping your members feel welcome and comfortable with the virtual environment. Start with introductions or a simple icebreaker to get the conversation going. You will want everyone to be on “mute” unless they are speaking to the group—background noises are very distracting in a virtual group setting! You as the leader can mute those who can’t figure out the controls for themselves.
Set up your group protocol for speaking—is your group small enough that people can speak freely whenever they like? Or is it so big that you’d like them to raise their hand or use some other method of keeping order?
During that first session, consider “sharing your screen” and showing your group step-by-step how to log onto their Thinkific video account and view the study videos. Explain clearly what you’d like them to prepare for next week (usually, Video 1 on Thinkific).
After that, your weekly routine should include these elements:
Home Preparation: Your participants should complete their at-home readings from Scripture and work on the study questions found in their workbook. Encourage everyone to complete as much as possible, but assure participants that they will still get a lot out of their study experience even if they can’t finish their homework each week. (This is particularly helpful for busy parents or working adults.)
- Virtual Group Meeting:
- Watch the Thinkific videos individually: First, your group members should log onto their own individual Thinkific accounts (this is free with their Study Set purchase) and watch the videos. This is better than streaming the video together on a platform like Zoom because there will be no lag time for viewers.
- Host a group discussion on your video conferencing platform (Zoom, Google Meet, etc.): Use your group “meeting” to do a little bit of fellowship (an icebreaker, or maybe highs and lows, or prayer intentions), and then dig into the discussion questions provided in your workbook.
To help with accountability, many virtual groups choose to say, “At 7:00 p.m. we are all logging onto our individual Thinkific accounts to view the videos, and at 7:30 p.m. we are jumping onto Zoom to do our group discussion.” In this way, you help your participants schedule time for the videos into their weekly preparation.
How much time is needed for each week’s meeting?
In the virtual setting, each of your participants is viewing the videos on his or her own Thinkific account before you meet, so your group sessions will be shorter than an in-person Bible study session. A typical small-group virtual discussion will last 45–60 minutes, depending on how much your group likes to chat.
As the group leader, be confident in your decision about when to move from “fellowship” chatting into focused “small-group discussion.” In the virtual setting, the conversation needs a firm moderator to keep everyone on relevant topics.
My Bible study group is too big to all be in one conversation. Can I form “small groups” in the virtual setting?
Absolutely! You can do this in one of two ways.
- Some virtual conferencing platforms like Zoom have a “breakout session” feature. In this case, you could “sort” your participants into smaller breakout groups after you all begin in the large-group session. This would be best for you if your small-group facilitators would be nervous about hosting the meeting themselves. (Some leader controls are reduced in the breakout session mode—test this with friends before your group meeting.)
- Alternatively, each small-group facilitator could host a unique meeting for just his or her group of 8–12 participants. If your small-group facilitators are comfortable hosting their own meetings, this might be the best option for you.
Which online platforms do you recommend for virtual meetings?
Whichever platform is easiest for you to use! You might consider Skype, Google Meet, Zoom, FaceTime (only if everyone has an iPhone), or a similar platform. You’ll want to make sure that you can “host” the number of participants you want, that the controls are easy for you to use, and that there’s no time limit on your meeting. (Tip: the free version of Zoom “times out” at 40 minutes, so consider paying for their basic membership so you can have unlimited time on your sessions, or train your participants to “re-join” the meeting when it cuts out at the 40-minute mark.)
How can I encourage conversation among my virtual participants?
As the virtual meeting host, welcome everyone by name as each person logs on. Expect that the first five minutes will be friendly chit-chat moderated by you as everyone gets his or her technology set up. It helps to have an icebreaker question or two that everyone takes turns to answer, such as “What did you do over the weekend?” or “What is your favorite pizza topping?” Structured conversation openers will help everyone relax and share more openly when it comes time to share about the discussion questions.
Can my group use Thinkific for our virtual meeting?
No, you’re going to need a video conferencing platform in addition to Thinkific. Thinkific hosts the study videos for you. You can’t video chat with others on Thinkific, but you can easily set up a small-group discussion on a video conferencing platform like the ones we suggest under "Which online platforms do you recommend for virtual meetings?"
Do I need DVDs to run an online study?
A DVD purchase is not required to stream the study on Thinkific. If each person has purchased a Study Set, everyone has one year of access to the online videos. If you’d like to watch the videos after your one-year time is complete, you are welcome to purchase the DVDs for unlimited time watching!
Do you recommend that my group watch the videos together online?
We recommend that people watch the videos on their own on Thinkific and then afterwards gather virtually to discuss what they watched. For example, all participants could watch the videos on their own from 7:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and then meet at 7:30 p.m. with the group to discuss.
We do not recommend attempting to stream the videos while screen-sharing through such apps as Zoom or Google Meet. Attempting to do so often causes lag and distortion of the sound, which causes the participants to be unable to see or hear the presentation.