I’m so glad you asked! DBS stands for Discovery Bible Study which is a method of Bible study often used in modern church planting movements. By using this tool church planters have seen rapid multiplication of disciples and churches even in places that are described as “hostile” or “impossible.” For a method like this to be so effective, it must be a deep and complex system of Bible study that requires a seminary degree and years of practice, right? Nope! In fact, it’s so forehead-smacking simple that even a kid can do it and nearly anyone can facilitate a group DBS. Yet despite it’s simple nature, after doing a few DBS studies you find yourself thinking, “Now this is what studying the Bible should be all about!”
There are several variations of the DBS method depending on who you talk to, but they are all pretty similar to what I’ll present here. It’s also important to keep in mind that a DBS is best done in a group setting, though it can certainly be done individually with some small modifications. Done in a group, however, it can be a very powerful tool in the church planting process. Because of its simplicity, the church planter can very quickly train a facilitator and allow a group of non-believers or new disciples of Jesus to learn, grow, and multiply on their own.
3 initial questions
The DBS starts with the facilitator asking a few simple questions which everyone answers in turn:
#1 – What are you thankful for?
#2 – What problems or struggles are you having?
#3 – What could this group do to help with that problem or struggle?
Now you might be thinking at this point, “Wait a minute, I thought this was a Discovery BIBLE study. So far, this sounds more like an A.A. meeting!” True, the first three questions have nothing to do with actually studying the Bible, but try to imagine this DBS being done in a church planting context where everyone in the group is either an unbeliever or a very new believer. As people come to faith in Christ and begin following him, these questions will evolve into: 1. praise to God for what he is doing in people’s lives, 2. requests for God to work in areas of need, and 3. authentic Christian community where needs are met by brothers and sisters in Christ! These questions begin planting the seeds of a church gathering from day one.
Read or recite the passage
Once the three questions have been answered by everyone, one person reads (or recites by memory in an oral culture) the passage to be studied. Typically the passages should be fairly short, from a few verses to a full chapter at most.
Restate the passage
After it has been read, another person should then retell it in their own words while being careful not to change any important details. When he/she is finished, the rest of the group should fill in any details that were missed in the retelling. This step helps people to internalize and personalize the Scripture that has just been read/recited.
Answer questions about the passage
Now the group is ready to answer a couple questions that will help them interpret the passage.
#4 – What does this passage teach us about God (or Jesus)?
#5 – What does this passage teach us about people?
To get even more specific and personal, a followup question could be asked: “what does this passage teach me about me?”
Application and obedience
#6 – Based on this passage, how do I need to change the way I view God?
#7 – Based on this passage, how do I need to change the way I treat others?
#8 – Based on this passage, how do I need to change the way I live?
It can be very helpful at this point to have people put the answers to these last three questions into an “I will…” format. As an example, after studying Matthew 28:16-20 one could say, “I will acknowledge Jesus’ authority over all things,” and “I will make disciples,” and “I will remember that Jesus is always with me.” When specific actions are stated, like “I will make disciples,” there can be further discussion about when, where, and with whom these actions will be done. In a group setting, this creates a level of accountability and encouragement that aids in the growth of the group.
You may be noticing that a DBS is not a typical information-only Bible study. After all, shouldn’t the whole point of studying the Bible be that we live it out in our lives every day? If so, then maybe we need to change the way we study it so we don’t fall into the trap of simply increasing our knowledge of the Bible without actually obeying it.*
Now that everyone has applied the passage to their lives and committed to obey it, it’s time to think outside the group. Without this important step a group/church can quickly become introverted and self-focused.
#9 – Who do you know that you can share this passage with?
#10 – Do you know anyone who could use help from our group?
With these last two questions, the DBS process is teaching people to be not only DBS participators but also DBS facilitators themselves. This is one of the key reasons why many places around the world (like parts of India, China, and East Africa) have seen a multiplication of disciples and churches so rapid that the numbers almost seem unbelievable.
Doing it on your own
Like I said before, a DBS is best in a group, but it is also a great method to use for personal study. Most of the time this is what I do for part of my “quiet time” (or not so quiet, depending on where I am!) in the morning.
Turn a piece of paper sideways and draw three vertical lines like this:
In the first column write the passage word for word. In the second column write the passage again but in your own words, as if you were telling a friend about the passage. In the third column, write simple “I will” statements about how you will obey this passage.
The DBS method is intricate in what we do in Togo, so we use it in every step of the church planting process: evangelism, discipleship, church formation, and leadership training.
Any questions or comments? Feel free to share them below!
*I’ll probably write a whole blog post on this later, but I want to quickly contrast legalistic obedience with biblical obedience. Legalism says, “You must obey in order for God to love you, to gain favor with God, to be more righteous, or to be a good Christian.” This obedience is often not obedience to the simple commands of Scripture, but to man-made rules or denominational interpretations of Scripture such as “Thou shalt not go to movie theaters” or “Thou shalt not consume alcohol.” Of course it’s always more subtle than this, but ask anyone who’s come out of a legalistic environment and they’ll tell you about all the “unwritten rules.” We must be careful not to confuse obedience to Scripture with legalism. Just because a DBS focuses on obedience does not automatically make it legalistic. I think that as a reaction to years of legalism in many churches, people are scared now of the word obedience. Yet Jesus clearly told us that he wants us to teach people to obey all that he commanded. (Matt. 28:20) So, as we seek to obey and teach others to obey, we must always check our motives to make sure that a legalistic mindset is not creeping in and causing us to obey merely out of a sense of duty or to earn some extra measure of righteousness.