Facilitated learning in the local church

Updated: Jul 28

An interview with Pastor Craig Bailey, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, Charleston, S.C.


Pastor Craig Bailey discovered facilitated learning about 12 years ago. Since then, he says, he’s “never looked back.” We chatted with him recently to find out why.


What is your family situation?

I’ve been married to Kathy for 32 years. We have five children and one grandchild. 


What kind of church do you pastor?

It’s a PCA church. My wife and I came to Charleston in 1997 to plant this church; we really got kicked off in 1999. In 2006 we were blessed to get a historic building in the heart of the historic district. I guess you’d say we have an urban setting. We’re a building of about 300, mostly younger. Lots of millennials.  I used to be the same age as the congregation. I keep getting older, but they keep staying the same age. We’ve had lots of members through the years … a lot of students and medical school students, they come and go in and out of Charleston. Every two or three years we have basically a new church. Many of these people are taking Entrust with them where they go.

I often get phone calls from former members who say, “Can you come to my church and teach them how to do Entrust?” 


The people of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in downtown Charleston

How were you introduced to Entrust-style facilitated learning?

I’ve been connected from when it was called BEE, before it became Entrust. In 1986, I had the opportunity to visit friends in Vienna who worked for Entrust. While I was there, I got to visit the Entrust office and meet a lot of the staff. I kept my Entrust connections. In 2008, I asked some Entrust staff if they would come and do training for our church. We had 12 or 15 participants and we’ve never really looked back since. All of our Bible studies and community groups use Entrust-style facilitation.

When you say Entrust-style, what do you mean?

Facilitating Relational Learning, which is the training we had in 2008. 

What drew you to this? And, what did you find questionable about it?

I was an education major before I was a pastor. I was an English teacher. So, it always resonated with me. I didn’t find anything objectionable, actually. In my experience, lots of people … they just want to sit and be lectured to or talked at. They are more familiar and comfortable with that kind of learning, so that is what they advocate for. I’m not really fighting that anymore at our church. 

But the thing that drew me, and it draws everyone, is the idea that every believer is made in the image of God and indwelled by the Spirit of God. Entrust gives so many opportunities for the Spirit of God to work in a group.


Let me give you an example. We had a Ugandan family at our church. [In a Bible study] the topic of the passage was persecution. Both this woman and her husband grew up under Idi Amin and both had fathers arrested by some of his henchmen. Christine watched as her father was taken from their home in the middle of the night. He asked if he could get his shoes and they said, “Well, you’ll never live to see the sunrise again. You don’t need your shoes.” But the Lord delivered him. A remarkable story. He’s alive now, 89 years old.


Anyway, the example I use is, you might have a “lesson” on persecution and here sits in your group a Jimmy and a Christine who actually experienced persecution. The Bible study leader might have a wonderful lesson prepared, but what do we all lose if the teacher does all the talking and this couple is not given the opportunity to share what they experienced? And that really happened. I’ve used that as an example for many years of how we have to create that verbal space for people to be able to share, not only personal experience, but insights into scripture.


Sometimes when we learn new ways of doing things we jump in with both feet. Sometimes we gradually ease into things. What was your response? How did you use your training and how was it received at your church?

I was already both feet in, which is why I invited them to come in 2008 to train more people at the church. And everyone, without exception, loved it.


I always hear this comment, “Where has this been all of my life?” Especially with older people. We had a couple, mid to late 60s, they’ve since moved away. She’s in education, not only in public schools but teaching women’s groups, Bible studies. And it’s kind of funny because she got a little angry when she was first introduced to Entrust-style facilitation. She was like, “Why haven’t we been taught this before?” So, she’s a huge Entrust fan. Her husband was able to come to a training that we had at our church a couple of years ago. Now they are both big Entrust ambassadors. 

[Facilitated learning] is difficult. I’m not saying people find it easy. A lot of people find it challenging to be able to craft the different types of questions.  It’s a lot of work. But once they get the hang of it, they love it. They love it. You know why they love it? Because it’s so effective. They see the difference when they’re facilitating in a group and they see the impact it makes, how it draws people out and everybody benefits. And it’s not a free-for-all, it’s not “what I think” or “what you feel,” it’s “what does the text say.” And it really is just win-win.


Since 2008, how have you been implementing this in your church? 

Our church structure is very simple. We gather for worship on Sunday mornings … then all of our emphasis goes on our community groups. We have a series of community groups all around the city. Week by week, the groups meet for dinner, every group has dinner and fellowship, then any sort of housekeeping things church-wise, and then they have a facilitated Bible study.

FRL training underway at Redeemer Presbyterian

A new thing we’ve been doing since January is that we have changed the time of our worship service. Now we worship first and have what we call our Equip Hour, what most people would call maybe Sunday School or Christian Ed, following the service. People go to our education building where we have squares of 12 chairs set up and people are free to choose whatever square they want to sit in. The sermon has been sort of like what the observation questions that you learn in facilitation training would be. Then I write Entrust-style questions every week, based on my sermon, and the facilitator in each square uses those questions with their group. And participation … we didn’t see this coming. It’s quintupled. I mean, so many people participate in that Equip Hour now! And they love it! They love it. 


What does that increased participation in the Equip Hour look like?

We have so many more people actually showing up. Whereas they weren’t coming in big numbers to the Equip Hour before, now five times as many people are staying. What they experience is just that square of 12 chairs — they’re usually always full — and then there’s a facilitator that goes through the questions I’ve written. So that’s not exactly Entrust, but you know, it’s that style. And it’s having really great impact. Because sermons are a one-way street, sort of a lecture. Instead of leaving and going out to lunch or going home for lunch, they have another hour of really interacting with that scripture.


How has this facilitated learning idea been embraced by your church leaders and the people? If there has been pushback, how was it expressed?

Worship service at Redeemer Presbyterian

No pushback. Completely embraced by the leadership. Ask anyone at our church and they know what Entrust means. It is often a struggle for some [new] people who have come from a different style of church where they are accustomed to sitting for 45 minutes and listening to a lecture. 


My wife was leading a women’s Bible study a few years ago and asking Entrust questions. One participant got so frustrated. She said, “Can’t you just tell us the answer?” Because that’s what she was used to. “Just let me sit and you do the work and you provide the answers.” We’ve laughed about that, and the woman who said that, she laughs about it now as well.


How are you training more leaders in some way, that is multiplying leaders?

I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that it will incriminate me. [laughs] We work so hard to try to get that done. Almost every session meeting we say: “We’ve gotta have an Entrust training.” The training is extensive. You’ve got to be creative in how you do it or which parts of it you do. 


We rarely get a full training done because people just can’t take time off work. We’ve done a series of weekends to try to get it done but that’s a big commitment, too. I think the biggest challenge with Entrust is getting people trained because you can’t do it in three hours on a Saturday morning or a Friday night.


What challenges have you faced in providing solid facilitator trainings?

There’s just so much good material in Entrust. It requires so much practice. You know, writing those questions, facilitating a group yourself two or three times. You have to do it before you get it. Like I said, I was an English major, not a math person. The algebra problems made perfect sense to me when I was sitting in class, when the teacher was doing them on the board. And then I would try to do my homework a few hours later and I would stare blankly at the problem and think, “I don’t even remember how to do this.” Because I didn’t have any interaction personally, I was watching the teacher do it on the board. I think Entrust is similar. You can’t just [show people], “Well, here’s what it is and here’s an observation question.” It sounds easy enough until you start doing it. So that makes it difficult, finding enough hours to really do that.

Facilitated learning really brings about change in people when they are interacting and when they are being made to do the hard work. Like that woman I referred to being frustrated, “Just tell me the answer.” Why did she want that? Because she was having difficulty wrestling with the word and the Spirit. She wanted to bypass that and that’s what people do. But when you bypass it, you don’t get the benefit for yourself and you don’t get the change. It would be much easier to chuck it and just sort of do it the traditional way [traditional Bible studies]. But life is too short. I want to invest my time in things that are really meaningful and transformational and that’s what I’ve found facilitated learning to be.


Whose story could you share, about someone who grabbed a biblical concept and was changed through this kind of learning?

I can think of two men in particular. When they came to the FRL training they sat at the table with their arms crossed. They were there because we required it. They were so skeptical. A lot of pushback in the first day or so of the training. But then you could see change beginning to take place. You could see them going from the cross-armed resistance, “this is not the way to do it,” to the wide-eyed “this has changed my life.” Literally, one of the men wrote that on his evaluation of the training.


Who typically goes through facilitated learning training at your church? 

All the officers at the church go through it. If you want to facilitate a group at Redeemer, you have to go through the training.


Churches need to be about evangelism and discipleship, the Great Commission. How do you see facilitated learning fitting those calls upon the local church?

I think the changes that come in people’s lives when they go through this facilitated learning move them far along the road of discipleship. And when people are really growing as disciples, the evangelism piece falls into place. Because the more you grow, the more you walk with the Lord, the more you really experience that in a deep way, the more you want it for others. You get people discipled at a deeper level, and then their heart for evangelism and for justice and mercy and all of those things, it’s really impacted by that. They want to do those things: they want to do evangelism, they want to be involved in acts of justice and mercy. And all of that is so important. I think Entrust goes a long way toward making that happen.


Anything else you’d like to mention?

Pastor Craig Bailey

As a pastor I’ve gone to a lot of conferences promoting a lot of different things, a lot of different ways to disciple. I went to one once where they had geometric figures to represent all the different sorts of groups you have to have in your church in order to effectively make disciples. I mean a circle, square, triangle, those weren’t sufficient. They had parallelograms and rhomboids and diamonds and stars and shapes I couldn’t identify all representing different types of discipleship groups. I’m sure I am exaggerating a little but not much. It was overwhelming and exhausting. The notebook for the conference was like six inches thick. And I left thinking, “There’s no way. The Lord cannot intend this to be the way that we have to do it if we’re going to make disciples.” I’m ashamed to say it, but after I got home from the conference, I just tossed the notebook. I thought, “I can’t do that.”  Entrust is so different from that. To me it resonates with my spirit and my desire to make disciples as right and good.


I know how it is, people get excited about something and they think everybody should do it. I realize I could be viewed in the same way, and that’s OK, because we’ve been doing facilitated learning for a little more than 12 years, and I just know what it’s done. So, it’s OK with me if people are skeptical or even don’t want to do it. I’m just saying, I don’t think anyone will regret it if they make the investment to go to an FRL training and experience it for themselves. It really is life changing and I am confident that they will not toss the notebook away after the conference.  They will use it. They will want their church to experience it. Over and over and over again. They might have struggles just like we’ve had struggles in how to implement it or how to get the training done. But, the Lord can work those things out.


Discussion questions:


  • What role does small group ministry play in the broader vision of your church?

  • What has been your understanding of the roles and responsibilities of a small group leader?

  • How might the idea that every believer is made in God’s image and indwelled by the Holy Spirit, impact a leader’s approach to leading a small group?

  • What practices might aid in creating “verbal space” in a small group?

  • What might be some ways to improve the use of a group’s verbal space, for the benefit of each member?

  • What do you find encouraging in this article?

  • What would you like to ask Pastor Craig?


Editor’s note: Pastor Craig Bailey welcomes your questions. Feel free to dialogue with him at craig@redeemer-charleston.org

Discover more about Entrust's Facilitating Relational Learning here.

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