Why it matters what churches call their classes.
In the South, our beverage vocabulary can be confusing to those from other regions. When we offer you a Coke, we are asking if you’d like a soda of any kind. And when we offer you tea, we do not mean Earl Gray in a mug. We will assume that you understand this implicitly. As a Southerner with Northern relatives, I can affirm that many a family gathering could have been saved from such confusion by a simple clarification of terms.
Using a term too generally can cause greater misunderstanding than simply serving someone the wrong drink. Take, for example, the term “Bible study” as it is often used in the local church. On the typical church website, it’s not uncommon to find classes on marriage, finances, parenting, prayer, and books of the Bible all listed as “Bible studies.”
In these gatherings, good things happen. People connect to one another in community. They share needs, confess sins, and explore topics through the lens of Scripture. But not all of these classes are Bible studies.
Over time, “Bible study” has become a catchall to describe all kinds of gatherings. In the words of the esteemed linguist Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
As we have expanded our use of the term, we have decreased the number of actual Bible studies we offer. Churches have gradually shifted away from offering basic Bible study in favor of studies that are topical or devotional, adopting formats that more closely resemble a book club discussion than a class that teaches Scripture.
The evidence of this trend is everywhere, from church websites to the bestseller section in the Christian bookstore. Not many Christians …