Note: This article has been excerpted from Leading Life-Changing Small Groups.
Choosing a curriculum can be an overwhelming task considering the number of options now found in bookstores and online. Here are some tips on choosing one right for your group.
Key Reminders While You're Looking
Curriculum Is a Tool
Curriculum can never lead the group. Don't forfeit opportunities for extended prayer or service, or cut short a necessary community-building activity, because "we have to get through the curriculum." Jesus did not say, "Go therefore into all the world and complete the curriculum!" Your goal is ultimately to make disciples—Christ-followers—who are obedient to Jesus, yielded to the Spirit, and loving toward others.
Curriculum Is Not a Substitute for the Bible
Curriculum and study guides should be used to enhance the group's purpose and move people toward biblical truth. They should point to God's Word, not serve as a substitute.
Don't Feel Obligated to Finish All the Questions
Competent leaders know what questions to use and how many of them to use. If a curriculum has too many questions, choose a few good ones (five to seven questions at most). Many times, two to three good questions followed by the right kind of group discussion are more than enough. Better to have a great discussion while grappling with a few good questions than to answer all the questions at a superficial level. The goal is to engage people with the truth of God's Word as it relates to their own heart and growth.
Make Sure the Curriculum Is Group Friendly
Many small-group studies are designed for understanding the Bible, not building relationships or generating a deep sense of community and caring. Look closely at not only the questions but also the process. Does the curriculum allow for lots of interaction? Does it ask personal disclosure questions that challenge people to open up and share their lives? Or is it filled with content-based "what" questions, often ignoring personal "why" questions?
Look for Engaging Application Questions
An application section that simply asks, "How would this apply to your life?" is weak. Instead, look for an application section that says something like, "It's clear from this passage that we need to share our faith with others. And it is clear that we all know how and that it would please God. But let's talk about why it's so hard for you and me to start spiritual conversations with seekers. Are there fears or other barriers you face in communicating the gospel? How does it feel when you picture yourself talking to an unsaved person about Christ?" These questions will probe people's motives, thoughts, feelings, and needs. Only then can we truly pray for and encourage one another.
Key Questions When Choosing a Curriculum
What Is Our Purpose?
The curriculum should support the purpose of the group. This purpose may change as the group moves through seasons of growth, maturity, and experience. If a group starts as a grief support group for those who have lost loved ones, the curriculum should reflect that purpose. As people move through the stages of grief, a leader may see that the group members need to understand more about God. As a result, a curriculum on the attributes of God may be appropriate.
Where Is the Group Spiritually?
It's wise to take the spiritual pulse of your group to determine the level of curriculum appropriate. If the group is dominated by people investigating the claims of Christ, make sure the questions are appropriate for them. Listen without making rash judgments, don't appear to have all the answers, and deal with the issues facing them as explorers of the faith. Allow them to process information, ask hard questions, and raise objections. Use a Bible version that is easy for them to read and use. The Journey by Zondervan, designed with questions and insights for spiritual seekers, is a great Bible for this kind of group.