“So, what are we going to study next?” It’s one of those questions that often makes small-group leaders break out in a cold sweat. Why? Because there are so many options available when it comes to Bible studies and curriculum. And having all of those options means group leaders have to make a lot of important decisions—and listen to a lot of different opinions—before the final choice is made.
In recent years, many churches have opted to navigate around the “What should we study?” question by implementing sermon-based small groups. In these programs, the study material for individual groups is automatically aligned with the pastor’s weekly sermon. Meaning, if the pastor preaches from Romans 1 on the weekend, each group will also explore Romans 1 during their discussions throughout the week.
Is a sermon-based approach right for your church? For your group? Are there ways to reduce some of the stress of selecting individual Bible studies? Are there other factors churches and groups should consider when making decisions about curriculum? These are the questions we’ll seek to answer below.
Churches and groups can uncover a number of benefits by using a sermon-based approach for their small-group ministry. For example:
- As mentioned earlier, a sermon-based approach means less hassle when it comes to choosing what each individual group will study. The study topics and texts are chosen by the pastor, which means individual group leaders are off the hook.
- More importantly, a sermon-based approach can go a long way to increasing unity between groups and congregation members within a church because the majority of members in the church are exploring the same material on the weekend and in their group gatherings. This common focus provides a strong foundation for unity and common ground within the congregation.
- Another benefit of sermon-based small groups from a curriculum standpoint is that pastors and church leaders have a greater element of control in terms of what their congregation is exposed to practically and theologically. Because the church staff chooses the direction for both sermons and group discussions, there is less chance of church members being exposed to theological viewpoints that are confusing, undeveloped, or even potentially harmful.
- Finally, choosing a sermon-based curriculum model can be a financially helpful option for individual church members—and sometimes for churches (more on that below). While some churches do purchase Bible studies for their members, it’s much more common for the financial burden of curriculum to fall on the shoulders of group leaders and group members. That’s typically not the case with sermon-based material.
From a curriculum standpoint, there are certainly a number of benefits to choosing a sermon-based approach for Bible studies. There are also a number of potentially negative consequences, however, that need to be added to the equation. For example:
- A sermon-based approach to group curriculum requires a lot of planning and detail work on behalf of the pastor. Because sermons are the foundation of the Bible study material, pastors need to plan out their sermon series many weeks in advance. They also have to keep the needs of groups in mind when producing these schedules, which can result in less flexibility to be spontaneous or respond to real-world events.
- Next, sermon-based curriculum will require a lot of additional work from church staff and key volunteers. Simply put, the burden of producing Bible studies and other promotional material falls squarely on churches that use a sermon-based approach. Someone needs to adapt the sermon into a Bible study format. Someone also needs to arrange and print the material—not to mention producing any promotional materials to help get the word out. Instead of traditional publishers, these responsibilities will fall on church staff and volunteers.