April 24, 2012

Small Group Bible Study Ideas: What's in a Name?


Some people give far too much weight to their name and feel as if they have to live up to certain familial expectations. Some people have no history of their name and may feel adrift when others talk about family. No matter where you or your small group members may be on that spectrum, the following small group Bible study ideas will help you learn interesting details about your group members while also leading them to think about the names God uses for his people, as well as how we as Christians should identify with that identity moreso than the one we may have been born with. This study can take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour-and-a-half to finish.

The Icebreaker

I'm a fan of games at the beginning of any small group meeting. Activities allow for an easy transition from a likely busy day to discussing more heartfelt topics. Additionally, games are sure to make new members feel part of the group. As much as possible, I try to make the activity relevant to the topic at hand, as you'll soon see.

To start your group members thinking about names and identity, give them a test—an anagram test. An anagram is a word or phrase created by rearranging all the letters from a different word or phrase. For instance, dog is an anagram of God.

Go to the Internet Anagram Server and type in each of your group members' names. Use first and last names. If a person goes by initials or has an abbreviated first name, try to use their full name. You'll receive more anagrams to choose from for your test.

After typing in a group member's name, scroll through the list of words and try to find the funniest, strangest, or most descriptive anagram. For example, I listed my own anagram on the test, which, sadly, turned out to be "Awoke to Bald." Another group member was "Giant Calves."

Create a document listing all of the anagrams under the header of "What's in a Name?" with space to the right of each anagram for their respective answers. Make enough copies for each person in your group to have their own test. Allow 10 minutes for group members to complete the test. At the beginning, only tell them that these are anagrams (and explain what an anagram is if need be). After two minutes have passed, relate that they are all names of people. After another two minutes have passed, tell them they're all names of people in your group.

You may also include a few bonus anagrams, such as the full names of pets owned by group members.

Our test had 20 anagrams and 5 bonus anagrams. Even once people knew what type of answer to look for, the test was still challenging enough to be engaging. Our winner got 17 right, plus one bonus question. (Sadly, she missed the name of her own dog).

Beware. This game may unintentionally create new nicknames for people in the group.

The Questions

After you've provided the answers to your group members (and hopefully haven't offended anyone), ask this question:

"What's the origin of your first and last name?"

I find this to be a fascinating question. It leads to discussions about family and history and ancestry and anecdotes you've likely never heard. You'll learn all sorts of interesting facts about your small group members, such as the one burly guy who was supposed to be Catherine, or the other guy whose parents almost gave him initials that would have amounted to another term for donkey. Sometimes spouses in the room even learn something new.

While the answers regarding first names can be comical at times, a certain turn occurs when people talk about their last names. Some may have shunned their surname. Some may be struggling to live up to that name's heavy expectations. This is where the next question comes:

"Do you feel like you've lived up to your last name?"

This question provides a wide gamut of answers, all of which well tell you more about the people in your group, especially about their family dynamics or the way they grew up. You may learn of past injustices, broken homes, or well-known families whose sterling Christian example seems unobtainable to the person sitting across from you.

The Bible

It's not really a Bible study unless you get in the Word. After talking about the weight of your name, ask this question:

"Who in the Bible had their name changed by God?"

Some of the more well-known answers are Jacob, Abraham, Sarah, Peter, and Paul.

"Why did God do that?"

The change of a name signified a stark transition from old to new. It readied these men and women to be used by God.

"What are the 'names' God calls us?"

Now to the interactive portion of the study. Ask your group to find verses that answer that question. Have them share the verse and the specific name that God uses for his people. Write all of these down. Some group members may automatically have 2-3 verses already in mind. Others who may not know the Bible as well may need help. You can encourage them to flip to nearly any page in the Bible, as the names God uses for his people can be found on nearly any page.

In roughly 5 minutes, my small group found these references: 

  • Sons and daughters, 2 Corinthians 6:18
  • A new creation, 2 Corinthians 5:17
  • Beloved, 1 John 4:7-8
  • Salt of the earth, Matthew 5:13
  • Heirs, Romans 8:16-17
  • Children of God, Philippians 2:14
  • No slave, but son, Galatians 4:7
  • Branches, John 15:5
  • Friends, John 15:15
  • Royal Priesthood, 1 Peter 2:9
  • Sheep, Matthew 18:12
  • My treasured possession, Exodus 19:5

Once you've amassed the list, read these 'names' back to your group and ask:

"Do you feel like you've lived up to these names?"

This is the place you want to camp out. Allow your group members to share how they've either lived up to these names or may have fallen short. 

For instance, one of our group members related that she lived up to the name "sinner." While that's true of everyone in the group, there are many instances in the Bible where those called sinners are reminded of their new naure, such as the beginning of Ephesians 2.

Let the discussion breathe. Elongated moments of silence may be necessary in order for someone to share a very personal story.

Lastly, remind everyone that "A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold." - Proverbs 22:1 (ESV).

Consider emailing or texting one name per day (heir, child, sheep, etc.) to your group so that they might be able to think on their true identity throughout that particular day and how they can live as to who they actually are.

If you conduct this small group Bible study with your group, consider sharing some of the highlights of your conversations in the comments below. Or, add your own suggestions or enhancements to these ideas.

Originally Published: April 24, 2012
Category: Small Groups
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