Five years have passed since my wife and I began a little project to help encourage daily Bible reading. Not all our projects come to fruition, so the fact this one made it into production makes me quite proud of it. We even managed to sell out, largely by cornering our friends, family, and acquaintances into buying our wares as Christmas presents.
For those who are unfamiliar with the project, I'm referring to Bible Reading Discussion Cards: a set of 60 diverse activities to accompany daily Bible reading, printed on a deck of custom playing cards. The purpose of the cards is to stimulate discussion and provide focus to the reading of Scripture in a group or family setting, whilst also being pretty good fun.
The small size of each card precluded a lengthy explanation of their design, so I thought I'd use the occasion of their anniversary as an opportunity to reflect on their development.
About the cards
There are six categories of card, each with its own unique colour and symbol. Within these categories are a range of card types. A card type may appear more than once in the deck, and may come in a number of variants. Card types are listed below.
These cards ask the reader to find lessons from the Bible that can be applied in daily life.
Exhortational point (3 cards) - Find a positive practical lesson that can be applied in daily life
Subject of prayer (3 cards) - Find a subject of praise, petition, or thanks that can be included in our own prayers.
Warning (2 cards) - Are there any words of rebuke or warning in the passage that we, like the original hearers, must also pay attention to? Note that the answer may be "No"! Not every card will be applicable to every passage!
In your life (2 cards) - Think of events, attitudes, or situations from the passage which have similarities with your own life.
These ten cards invite the reader to find links between the passage being read and events, characters, places, themes, and narratives elsewhere in the Bible. There are two cards each asking the reader to find links between: other passages in the same book, same testament, opposite testament, any Bible passage, or the life of Christ.
Cards in this category ask the reader a simple question to help focus on the text itself.
What were they thinking? (2 cards) - What were the thoughts and feelings of the writer, or an individual in the passage?
Where am I? (1 card) - Invites the reader to consult a reference book or map to investigate a setting or location in the passage.
When am I? (1 card) - Invites the reader to consult a reference book, harmony, or history to investigate the time period, its events, and contemporaries of the passage in question.
Why are we told this? (2 cards) - Probably one of the most useful cards in the deck, this card is designed to cut through the text to the motivating force that it should have on us.
Were you listening? (4 cards, in 4 variants) - For use in group settings, the person with this card must close their Bibles whilst others ask them 1, 2, 3, or 4 questions about events in the passage. If you have this card when you begin to read: pay attention!
These cards are intended to place the reader into preaching-type situations.
Explain to an interested friend (2 cards, 2 variants) - Give a short passage overview. In the first variant, the reader must assume a friend with no Bible knowledge. In the second, the reader can assume a general Bible knowledge.
Most difficult verse (3 cards) - The reader selects what they consider to be one of the most difficult verses, and suggests a simplification or explanation.
Reaction (2 cards) - The reader is invited to consider how the original audience responded to the passage, and how this should shape our own behaviour.
Choose a verse-of-the-day (1 card) - The reader chooses a verse. They are invited to internalise this, perhaps by sticking it to their fridge, or sharing it on social media, etc.
Summarise in a sentence (1 card) - Similar to other "explain this" cards, the reader has to compress the passage into a single sentence. This may or may not be useful, but often prompts wider discussion in a group setting.
The largest category - but only by one card!
Marginal reference (3 cards, 2 variants) - Readers are invited to look up a marginal reference in their Bibles, and consider whether it adds useful information or context to the passage. The first variant (2 cards) asks the reader to follow a single reference, whilst the other (1 card) asks the reader to follow two references.
Spot a theme (2 cards) - The reader is asked to identify a theme, and consider its import.
Bible echo, type, or symbol (2 cards) - If there are any Bible echoes or symbols, select one to explain.
God's character (2 cards) - If there is an aspect of God's character manifest in the passage, discuss how it is shown and what we can learn from it.
God's purpose (2 cards) - If there is a part of God's plan and purpose in the passage, explain it to others you are reading with.
As the category implies, these cards are rarer. There are only six, and they're basically added to mess things up a bit and be a little unpredictable.
Copy (1 card) - Pick a card that someone else in the group has completed and make a fresh point based on it.
Take two (2 cards) - If you get one of these cards, pick up two cards and answer them yourself.
Split (1 card) - As "Take two", but complete one yourself and hand the other to someone else to complete.
Repeat (2 cards, 2 variants) - Re-read 10, or 15 verses of the passage, and discuss what you noticed upon the second reading.
Finally, two blank cards and two instruction cards complete the deck. The instructions read:
They are a little cryptic, but we didn't want to be too prescriptive about how the cards are used. Every situation is different, and so the "rules" need to adapt too.
Making it happen
After the initial idea of printing Bible reading questions on cards we spent a few weeks building out questions in a spreadsheet. We soon moved away from highly specific cards to more general questions applicable to any passage. Eventually we started to group these into categories, tweaking the number of cards according to their perceived utility, and attempting an even spread across categories.
As with most publishing endeavours, the unit cost drops drastically at scale. We chose some high-quality card with clear presentation cases, costing about £4.80 per unit in a batch of 250. In the event we sold them for £5 each, the extra being used to pay for a few "demo" sets.
When the cards were delivered to my work I was thrilled with them: they were legible, colourful, and cleanly cut. They looked really professional. The only downside was the rear logo, which had a gradient effect that was quite pronounced on screen but barely perceptible in reality.
We sold out in about 2 months.
I can't quite remember who approached who, but shortly after we ran out the Christadelphian Office offered to fund a second batch of 500 decks. These received an improved set of gradients and a new "cover" card that looked better in the presentation case.
The cards are still available from their online store.
What I'd do differently
Since we developed the Bible Reading Discussion Cards we've had two children. Our eldest is 5, and although he's now starting to read, the majority of the cards are still way over his head. Sure, we can adapt the deck, but we really had an older family or reading group in mind when we came up with the questions.
I'm pretty sure we could come up with a deck aimed at under 8's with much more basic questions.
Five years has also been a long time in our personal discipleship. We're now much more aware of the importance of good hermeneutics, and I'd be tempted to frame some of the cards more explicitly in relation to stages of interpretation.
The only other idea I've had is to invent a game based on placing the 66 books of the Bible in order, specifically with the aim of teaching people the order of the books in a more entertaining way. I haven't figured out the mechanics; perhaps that will be an exercise for one of my blog readers.