BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP) -- From New Hampshire to Arkansas, several dozen women -- mostly women's ministry and small group leaders -- gathered to hear from and visit with Bible study authors and to gain skills for leading small groups into the Scriptures.

The weekend event -- Heart to Heart with Women in Bible Study, hosted by New Hope Publishers -- included the launch of a new online community, New Hope Women in Bible Study at NewHopeDigital.com/women.

The online community is geared to individuals, ministry leaders and others interested in resources and practical ways to engage women in Bible study, to grow small groups and to provide opportunities to get to know the authors behind the studies.

New Hope publisher Andrea Mullins said NewHopeDigital.com/women is "a space where women using New Hope Bible studies as individuals or in small groups can meet authors, interact with one another, have access to unique content and learn more about New Hope Bible study resources and authors."

Also launched at the event: NewHopeInteractive.com . New Hope, in a partnership with HelloMogo Digital Book Lab, is one of the first publishers to offer Bible studies in an interactive workbook format that allows readers to develop their own online or desktop library of interactive Bible study workbooks. Four Bible studies currently are available at NewHopeInteractive.com with this interactive workbook feature.

Opportunities for worship and to network and fellowship with other women teaching Bible studies also were a key facet of the weekend.

"Tranformative" is how Bonnie Gorman, a member at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Huntsville, Ala., described the Oct. 24-26 sessions in Birmingham, Ala.

"This experience is much like when I went through the Live a Praying Life Bible study," Gorman said. "It brought me a renewed sense of peace, strength and freedom to live a Christ-centered life with purpose."

Jennifer Kennedy Dean, author of "Live a Praying Life," was among the conference's featured speakers, while authors such as Debra Berry, Edna Ellison, Kathy Howard, Brenda Ladun and Kimberly Sowell led conferences on their Bible studies and topics such as trusting God, spiritual growth, suffering, restoration and the importance of being an encourager.

"Each workshop I attended was very informative, thought-provoking and applicable to all women no matter what stage in life they may be in," said Danetter Owens of Birmingham, Ala. The sessions offered a "powerful, relevant breakdown and application of God's Word."

On Saturday, a panel discussion provided insight and practical considerations for women's Bible studies. Joining Berry, Ellison and Howard on the panel was Dawn Stephens, who serves as minister to women and women's small groups at The Church of Brook Hills in Birmingham.

When choosing a Bible study, the panel agreed it is essential to know the theology of the writer and whether the content is from a reputable source known for being consistent with what the Bible teaches.

They also underscored the value in knowing one's audience. "It's important to consider the needs of the women in the group as well as the capabilities of the leaders," Howard said. "For example, if the leader is new, it might be helpful to use studies that have study guides, listening questions and supplemental resources."

If a Bible study is diminishing in size, Howard suggested simply asking those who left why they made that decision. "It's also good to survey the ladies in your church, especially the ones who don't come , to see if you can determine what the barriers might be," she said. "It could be as simple as moving to another day of the week."

Stephens noted practical tips for working with small groups in general. "Talking through things like how to handle prayer requests and working with different personalities in a group is helpful to a new leader," she said. "It's important to check on them, love them and pray for them."

New Hope Publishers, a member of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association, is the general trade publishing division for WMU (Woman's Missionary Union), a missions auxiliary to the Southern Baptist Convention.

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Julie Walters is the corporate communications team leader for WMU. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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