Depending on the material and group an hour is a good starting point. If it is much shorter than it can limit the sharing and discussion, equally if it is longer then people can begin to switch off (no matter how interesting it is). There is something important about working through a book of the Bible together, discussing what it was saying to the people at the time of writing, but also what it says now to us and how we apply that.
This does require the leader to spend some time reading the passage and material around the passage to help add context and understanding and also to come up with some questions to help build on the discussion.
There are also plenty of resources that can be bought. Some have a video for the beginning and then discussion notes, some have a leader’s book and notes, others require everyone to have a book to read and then discuss the questions together. All have their own merits but practicalities might make some of them less worthwhile. If everyone needs to read before the session, check people can and will commit to that. If using video, is there a room with a screen, sound and space.
You can follow a book of the Bible, a theme throughout the Bible or have a focus on an aspect of faith. Variety amongst these can help to ensure that conversations stay fresh and help us to think in different ways.
Who leads is an important question. In some groups there is one leader who leads each session. This is great if there is someone with a clear gift and offers consistency. But it relies on that person’s presence and may prevent others with similar gifts being noticed.
Where are your group in terms of knowledge and spiritual maturity?
What areas does your group want/need to be challenged in?
Others have a few people who alternate, this is good because there is more flexibility and it allows different styles and voices to be heard in how it’s led. Others alternate between the members so that everyone has a turn. This is a great way of identifying and exploring teaching gifts in a safe space, but there may be people who are not comfortable leading.
This is a chance to give to God and receive from God. Some will have a time of praise before the study and then a chance to personally reflect during or after the study. Others will blend the two together.
When you do reflection/praise will affect how it is used, e.g. it may work as a reflection of the impact of the last study or if at the end more of a reflection on the study that evening. You may occasionally have a session just for prayer and praise.
Praise might be sung worship, interactive prayers, sharing where God is at work/answers to prayers. The reflection might be a time of silence, an active way of responding, writing down or sharing what you will change or do.
How do people in the group connect with God?
How can we incorporate and expand on these connections?
Each have a huge scope to include creative ways of worship and prayer through activities, music, art, movement etc. Sometimes a regular pattern works well to build on week after week, other times having variety encourages people to connect and respond to God in different ways.
Where this is placed within the session is quite important to the purpose it has. If it is before the study then the focus will be on personal prayers which people are coming with. If it is after the study it can still focus on personal prayers but also draw out application and about the study and what we have learnt/will apply because of it.
Some groups break into smaller groups of 3 or 4 to pray, some into genders, some stay as one. None of these are right or wrong, but they may lead to different prayer offerings. The ideal is that everyone feels comfortable to share deeply regardless of the group size. However, there are certain people and/or issues which are more likely to be shared if there are fewer people and/or the same gender.
What is the make up of your group? (Age, gender, circumstance etc.)
What size/mix would most encourage honesty and depth?
If you are breaking into smaller groups it is important to think about whether they will be the same people each time (great for closeness and ongoing prayer, not so good if 2 of 3 are absent) or different (flexible each time and maintains whole group identity, but not so good for ongoing issues).