10 strategies for using communal reading of Scripture in small groups

Kara Powell Image Kara Powell | Mar 8, 2024

Think about your last youth ministry small group.

For how much of the time were students hearing your words, or each other’s words?

Now compare that to the amount of time students heard God speaking through God’s Word.

If you’re like most small group leaders, young people are hearing others’ words at least five to ten times more than they are hearing God’s Word. Certainly the Holy Spirit can, and does, speak to your young people through you—as well as through each other. But we also know that “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

I’m guessing that, like me, deep down you want your small group to hear more from God’s Word, even if that means hearing less from you. The problem is, you’ve run out of fresh ideas to do that.

The good news? We want to introduce you to a practice that engages all generations—including your teenagers and young adults—directly in Scripture.

It’s called the communal reading of Scripture.

Communal (or public) reading of Scripture is basically what it sounds like: coming together with others to listen to the Scriptures being read aloud.

In our most recent research to help young people’s faith last not just 75-minutes in youth group but all seven days of the week, we’ve developed a Faith Beyond Youth Group compass. Every time you engage in communal reading of Scripture, you’re weaving together three compass points: you’re teaching for transformation, you’re practicing together, and you’re making meaning.

Furthermore, I can attest personally to the power of communal reading of Scripture. It’s a practice that’s important in my own life and that I’ve enjoyed with the teenagers and young adults in my family.

I believe communal reading of Scripture may be exactly what your small group needs to dive more deeply into Scripture, as well as into relationship with its Divine Author.

How can your small group dive into communal reading of Scripture?

As explained in this helpful Bible Project video, the good news is that reading Scripture aloud together is as old as Moses’ proclamation of God’s initial commandments and Jesus’ reading of the book of Isaiah. In fact, the New Testament epistles were circulated in the first century as letters that people gathered to hear read aloud.

If you want your small group, as well as other small groups in your ministry, to benefit from this transformative communal practice, how can you best move forward? Based on my own experience both leading and participating in communal reading of Scripture, I recommend these 10 steps:

1. Identify 3-5 consecutive meeting times when you can experiment with communal reading of Scripture. Like many new spiritual disciplines (and most everything!), it takes practice for a new ritual to feel normal. So it’s best to string together a handful of sessions so you and your young people can build the right Scripture-reading muscles.

2. Reflect on your small group members’ most pressing questions. What are the “losses and longings” that, as my friend and colleague, Scott Cormode, describes, “keep your people up at night”? From the perspective of FYI’s 3 Big Questions that Shape Every Teenager, are your young people most hungry for a stronger sense of identity (who they are), belonging (where they fit), or purpose (what difference they make in our world)?

3. Choose the section(s) of Scripture that best respond to those questions. The good news is that Scripture answers those deepest questions, so your next task is to identify the chapters (or entire books of the Bible) that are in your young people’s strike zone. If you aren’t able to do this on your own, ask another leader or church member who’s familiar with the Scriptures for help.

As you respond to your teenagers’ top needs, choose passages of Scripture to read aloud that take a minimum of 10 minutes so students can settle into a good listening mode. One good place to start is to work your way through a New Testament epistle by reading one or two chapters each session.

4. Research what aspects of the passage’s background and themes you should share before your reading. What few aspects about the passage’s big ideas, people, history, and context are most important to know in order to fully appreciate its meaning and implications?

5. Highlight your own passion for Scripture. Another one of the five points in our Faith Beyond Youth Group compass is the importance of modeling our own growth. One of the best ways to help students’ love for Scripture grow is to share about how Scripture has already, and continues to, change you. Spend one or two minutes in every session highlighting what Scripture means to you personally.

6. Serve food. Snacks make everything better with young people.

7. Determine whether you’ll read aloud the passage yourselves or use an audio version. There’s something powerful about one small group member reading the whole passage aloud (after being asked ahead of time to do so), or group members taking turns reading a few verses or paragraphs. Or you can use one of the Bible audio versions available; with young people, Streetlights is my favorite.

8. After the passage is read aloud, give a few moments for personal reflection. Ask group members to personally process what you’ve heard aloud in silence.

9. Share highlights and insights aloud. While your meeting is first and fundamentally about hearing God’s Word, we also believe that “expression deepens impression.” So give your young people a few moments to discuss which portions of the passage were especially meaningful, or potential implications for their own lives and faith journeys.

10. Evaluate and adapt. On your own, or with other adults or young people from your small group, reflect on what worked well, and what you want to keep improving. In future meetings, do you need more or less time? Should your passage next time be longer or shorter? What would make your time in Scripture even more transformational?

One last bonus: While communal reading of Scripture involves some work ahead of time in choosing and researching a passage, part of its beauty (and power) is that it lets Scripture do the heavy lifting. The Holy Spirit works through Scripture, not the creative illustration we’ve crafted or the dazzling discussion questions we’ve developed. That’s why many youth workers and small group leaders who practice communal reading of Scripture find that they can spend less time on small group preparation, and more time on other aspects of relational outreach and discipleship.

So in essence, communal reading of Scripture = elevating Scripture + less time preparing. That’s indeed a winning combination for any small group.

Tweet this: Communal reading of Scripture may be exactly what your small group needs to dive more deeply into Scripture, as well as into relationship with its Divine Author.

To find out more about how communal reading of Scripture can help you and the young people you care about, visit prsi.org.

If you're tired of youth ministry that fails to change lives, it's time to change youth ministry


Building on two decades of the Fuller Youth Institute's work and incorporating extensive new research and interviews, Faith Beyond Youth Group identifies the reasons it feels like you’re working so hard but having so little impact, and offers five ways adult youth leaders can cultivate character for a lifetime of growing closer to Jesus rather than drifting away. With practical insight and tips, you’ll find out how to cultivate trust, model growth, teach for transformation, practice together, and make meaning so that teenagers can become adults who hold fast to Jesus and boldly live out a robust faith in the world around them.

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Kara Powell Image
Kara Powell

Dr. Kara Powell is the Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI), a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary, and Fuller's Chief of Leadership Formation. Named by Christianity Today as one of “50 Women You Should Know,” Kara serves as a Youth and Family Strategist for Orange, and also speaks regularly at parenting and leadership conferences. Kara is the author or coauthor of a number of books, including Growing Young, Growing With, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, Sticky Faith Curriculum, Can I Ask That?, Deep Justice Journeys, Deep Justice in a Broken World, Deep Ministry in a Shallow World, and the Good Sex Youth Ministry Curriculum. Kara lives with her husband Dave and their three children, Nathan, Krista, and Jessica, in Southern California.

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