"Scratching" Where Your Group is Itching

If you're wondering where to lead your group next, find out what they're hungry for.

You've got a small group that's ready to do something new and different. "We want something interesting, fun, life-changing!" (No pressure there, right?) Church leaders give you the green light to embark on a new study (pending their approval, of course). Do you:

  1. Instinctively reach for that hot new book or study guide that you've been dying to dig into?

  2. Go to the Christian bookstore and stare dumbfounded at the myriad of options available?

  3. Pray you can avoid an uncivil war between the Saddlebackians, Serendipity devotees, and the Willow Creek-ites in your group?

  4. Pull out the old "sermon notes" you scribbled as a college freshman while listening to Biff Buffington, that incredible conference speaker?

Before you panic (or do a bad impersonation of Biff), realize this: Picking a new study topic doesn't have to be a big deal or an unpleasant ordeal. And it can be another opportunity to build group unity.

One way to generate more enthusiasm for possible new small group curriculum is to simply poll your group and get a feel for where they are struggling or are hungry to grow.

We have often used general surveys like the following (NOTE: For churches just beginning small group ministries, or those beginning a new "cycle" of groups, such a survey can help you form groups by similar interest):

Areas in which I want to grow or gain understanding (check the five topics that interest you most)

handling finances (getting out of debt,
what the Bible says, etc.)
creation/evolution debate
understanding what makes me significant
how to pray
dealing with emotions (guilt, anger, shame, etc.)
building better friendships
Apologetics (tough questions about the faith)
Prophecy & end times
how to have a quiet time/devotional life
learning how to communicate my Christian beliefs
having a stronger marriage
child-rearing, child discipline, etc.
parenting adolescents
the basics beliefs of the Christian faith
how to be sure I am a Christian
how to know God's will
principles for better communication and/or conflict resolution
recovering from divorce
learning to set healthy boundaries in relationships
calling and career (being a Christian in my job)
the life of Christ
success in time management
setting and reaching goals
developing self-control
becoming a leader
developing Christlike character

Scripture memory
what it means to live for Christ
becoming a better wife/husband
the character of God
a crash course in church history
winning the war with depression
developing a life of integrity
learning to worship God
learning to walk with God
becoming a better dad/mom
dealing with grief/disappointment
facing death
the person of the Holy Spirit
having an impact on my world
basic theology
learning to love God
God's global plan
Old Testament survey
understanding (and using) my spiritual gift(s)
local mission involvement
ethical issues of current culture
the disciplines of the Christian life
learning to study the Bible for myself
the Christian and the arts
how to do basic Christian counseling
other: (specify)

Understand you will not get a consensus for just one topic. Instead you'll likely uncover a real hunger for several topics. Make a longer-term schedule. Take the top three or four sought-after subjects, one at a time.

Once you've determined your study focus, talk with someone knowledgeable about "in-print" study materials on the market (i.e. a bookstore owner, your church librarian, your pastor, Education Director, or Small Group Minister). Discuss your poll results with other small group leaders and pick their brains. Do internet searches online.

You will almost surely discover a number of study guides and/or Christian books dealing with each of the above issues. Borrow samples (if you can) and (ideally) take them to your next small group meeting so that members can skim them and look them over.

This is not a foolproof method (Is there such a thing?), but it is one of the best ways I know to "scratch where your group members are itching." Beware of giving answers to questions your group members aren't even asking!

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