Note: This article is excerpted from Find the Right Study for Your Group.
Do you remember the last time you tried to pick out a new type of snack at the grocery store? It's no easy task. First you have to figure out what kind of snack you're in the mood for—ice cream, cookies, chips, pastries, popsicles, candy, the whole range of Little Debbie's products, and more. Then you have to figure out what brand you'd like, what's on sale, how many calories are included per serving, and on and on. It's exhausting!
Sometimes there are too many choices. In fact, there's actually a state called "buyer's paralysis," which is when a consumer gets so overwhelmed by the number of available options that he or she gives up and doesn't buy anything at all (or maybe buys one of everything) instead of making a choice.
Of course, buyer's paralysis isn't limited to snack foods. It can happen with all kinds of potential choices—including when small-group leaders try to figure out which type of study to use in their groups.
The only defense against buyer's paralysis is to become educated on the options available, which allows you to make informed decisions. Therefore, let's spend time reviewing the basic types of small-group curricula—plus the different situations for which each type works best.
The most basic type of small-group curriculum is the general Bible study, which can take a few different forms. For example, many groups will gather and study a specific book of the Bible in a very loose and spontaneous way. They'll show up, read some verses, share what they think, and move on.
If you're purchasing a general Bible study that's been published, however, chances are good it will be an inductive Bible study. These studies focus on a specific portion of Scripture and are usually constructed around three components:
- Observation: What does the text say?
- Interpretation: What does the text mean?
- Application: How is the text relevant to my life, and how should I respond to it?
One of the strengths of inductive Bible studies is that they have a laser focus on the Bible. They rarely include a lot of fluff or filler, opting instead to connect the study participants directly with God's Word. Inductive studies are also easy to understand and have a clear direction for group members to follow, given the structure of observation, interpretation, and application.
A weakness of inductive Bible studies is that they can leave things too open when it comes to interpreting and applying the text. Because inductive studies have a laser focus on God's Word, they usually don't provide a lot of help in terms of commentary and context regarding Scripture passages. This can allow small-group participants to drift into the dangerous territory of mistaken (and sometimes heretical) interpretations.
Also, most inductive Bible studies include a little bit of reading combined with a lot of discussion. That's great for people with auditory or reading/writing learning styles. But inductive studies are often less than satisfying for visual and kinesthetic learners—which usually includes men and younger adults.
While inductive Bible studies have a concentrated focus on specific Bible passages, topical studies concentrate on a broader range of experiences. These include general Christian living, marriage, work, parenting, social justice, and so on. Topical studies can also help group members practice specific skills (such as prayer and evangelism) or interact with various elements of popular culture (such as movies and literature).