What’s Best For Small Groups?

I have tried and participated in many things as a small group member, teacher, and now church pastor.  I started out years ago with a standard quarterly  curriculum in a Sunday School class that studied books of the bible.  This was good but after a time, we switched over to topical material (finances, marriage, etc.)  This led to a “singles” class for those not married who couldn’t benefit from the marriage curriculum.  Then we tried splitting off groups to discuss various topics each week with each person having the option to change groups each week.

I’ve read countless books on “free-market” groups that encourage more social gatherings along with the standard bible study offerings.  I’ve looked at “semester” based groups as opposed to “quarterly”.  Most recently, I’ve examined the “sermon-based” small group that is championed in the book “Sticky Church”

So what works for you?  Do you like quarterly or semester time schedules?  Sermon based, bible books, or topical?  Do you suspend your groups over the summer months or do you keep on going even if only a handful show up?

Many questions.  I’d love to discuss with some of you about this.  Please comment if you’re inclined and let’s have a dialog about this topic.

What’s Best For Small Groups?

5 thoughts on “What’s Best For Small Groups?

  1. I have been getting more and more involved with small groups at our church. I currently teach. We are discussion-based. So all i really do is study the text (or lesson), then create discussion questions based on that text and make it into a powerpoint presentation. When we get to the actual small group time, we go through the text, reading portions at a time, then discussing it as we go. When the discussion dies down from one section, we move on and read some more. Often times I’ll try to discern if something needs a follow-up question that I don’t have written out.

    Actually teaching a small group for young adults has been very pivotal in helping me develop a leader’s guide for quarterly curriculum for young adults. I just made it like I would use it. lol.

    But as far as quarterly vs other stuff. It depends on the purpose of the group I think. If the main purpose is community, outreach, and growth (our small groups), then a quarterly curriculum that is lecture-based probably wouldn’t be best unless you’ve got a teacher who is willing to put more time into it on the back end.

  2. DT says:

    Scott –

    I too have tried many things over the years. Since all groups have a different dynamic, I don’t know that one method is better than any other.

    For me, the most memorable groups I have been involved with have been book studies. Go through a insightful book a chapter at a time. Over the last couple of years we have done Ortberg’s “The Life You’ve Always Wanted” (Willard’s “Renovation of the Heart” for Dummies) and Bell’s “Velvet Elvis”. Both stirred a lot of conversation and spiritual development.

    We have also had some good conversations with going through books of the Bible. Typically, I write down two to three questions regarding the scripture to open things up and then just let the group happen. I call this a “Spirit-led” class, because I have no set agenda or direction. There is a level of openness to go where the group or the scriptures take us. The beauty is in group going places that you may have never imagined going. The danger is that sometimes it simply doesn’t go anywhere…ha!

    This next year I have vowed to take my group through the Bible in a year. It is something that we encourage people to do anyways & I thought this would give some accountability and discussion to the weekly readings. I am excited to see if this works for us.

    Real quick – here are a couple of resources. I have not used all of them, but have heard or seen good things from them.

    1) Lesson Maker Software from NavPress. We use this for most of our groups based on the current sermon series.

    2) Neue Resources. This is an offshoot of the boys at Relevant Magazine. You can find free curriculum for book related studies or sign up for quarterly resources.

    3) http://www.groupcurriculum.org – a ministry of NorthPoint.

    I am excited to see what others write. I am always looking for some good ideas. Thanks for the post!!!

  3. Scott Cheatham says:

    These are great guys. David, I’ve used Lesson Maker at your suggestion last year and really like it for it’s flexibility. We plan on integrating it into whatever curriculum we choose.

    Jacob, It sounds to me like what you are doing is quite similar to the sermon-based groups that simply use the sermon text for their study.

  4. Scott,

    Something that has recently worked for us is starting a daytime group. We have had a Wednesday evening study, probably since the church started 20 years ago. But we were missing an opportunity to minister to people who worked in the evenings.

    A couple of really cool things have come out of this:

    1. These people aren’t attending because they are supposed to. They are coming because they want to. That changes the whole dynamic.

    2. The time frame is much more flexible. It’s amazing to me that people will come and stay over 2 hours. And then on days when we don’t have a lot to discuss we’re done in under and hour.

    One other thing that has been special about this group is their ability to disagree agreeably. We have been able to talk about subjects where there is a huge difference of opinion and still talk reasonably about issues. I don’t know exactly how this happened. I think it’s something we try to cultivate, but it mainly depends upon the people in the group.

    Looking forward to others small group’s ideas. I think I’ll be checking out Lesson Maker.


  5. Dear Scott,

    I have much to share on this subject. I “ghost wrote” Dr. Carl George’s book, Preparing Your Church for the Future. Carl and I were college classmates a few moons ago! If you happen to have the book, you will find my name listed with many others in the front matter, but I did the original transcribing of his seminars into the book chapters, and editing spoken English into written English. Another editor or two polished what I completed.

    I incorporated Carl’s insights (he has been a leading, internationally known guru on church growth via small group ministry) in the cross references in both The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge and its very new sequel, Nelson’s Cross Reference Guide to the Bible.

    The cross reference material is initially keyed to the keywords “rulers of tens” at Exodus 18:21, a passage of Scripture Carl George emphasized in his seminars in reference to Jethro’s advice to Moses. There is much Biblical guidance to be found starting there!

    Dr. George was not inclined to have the small group ministry of the church to become just another “Sunday school lesson” in disguise. He was rather leery of my idea to incorporate Scripture directly into such groups. But I have found a method to incorporate Scripture in such groups that makes them most excited, and makes them grow. What is more, the spiritual depth the participants experience seems to be a permanent asset to their lives thereafter.

    I’ll have to tell you more about this by email, for it won’t all fit here, if you are interested.

    Jerome Smith

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