Note: This article has been excerpted from the SmallGroups.com training tool called Create Sermon-Based Studies.
At North Coast Church, where I serve as senior pastor, we’ve had a long and interesting journey with small groups. We had no groups when we first started out, but I soon realized that our congregation was more of a crowd than a living, breathing community. So we launched small groups, and things began to change quickly.
For a number of years we hunted down the best curriculum available and provided it to our groups. They grew, and people’s lives did change. But when I put together a sermon series called “The Company of the Committed”—in which I wanted to paint the picture of what a committed Christian lifestyle would look like on a day-to-day basis—we experimented with our first sermon-based groups. The response was so positive that we never looked back.
Over the years, I’ve noticed that tying the study guide to the sermon has several advantages over a curriculum-based model. Here are seven of the most powerful advantages.
They Increase the Educational Impact
A number of years ago, I heard about a study that Harvard conducted for one of the military branches. Apparently the military was sending people to different conferences and training sessions, and they wanted to maximize the educational impact of those sessions by figuring out what helps people learn—and most importantly, retain and apply—the information they receive.
Some of the best minds at Harvard tackled this study, and they uncovered three ways to maximize the benefit of any training experience. The first was maintaining a high sense of expectation. The study showed that if people went into a training experience with high expectations, they generally learned and retained a lot more. The Harvard researchers also discovered that if people took good notes during the training experience, the educational impact and the life-change upon returning home would accelerate measurably. The third key had to do with discussing the material with others. If they got together and discussed the notes—and the broader training experience as a whole—their education impact and subsequent life-change was significantly increased.
Strangely enough, using a sermon-based small group model forces people to adopt those last two keys.
They Pull in the Marginally Interested
All churches have marginally interested people—people who come in late on Sunday morning and slump onto a chair in the back, waiting to see if a funny story or a good joke can pull them into a higher level of interest.
But it’s a different story when a marginally interested person enters a sanctuary full of people who will be discussing the sermon later in the week with their small group. That’s because a much higher percentage of the people will be taking notes and paying close attention in order to be prepared for their small group. There’s a different feeling in the air. And so that marginally interested person—who doesn’t want to stand out—tends to sit up a bit straighter and pay more attention simply to fit in. I see it at North Coast all the time. And since everyone else seems to be taking notes, they start doing that, as well.
They Encourage Weekend Attendance
Everyone misses church at one point or another. But how often do those people listen to the sermon they missed after the fact? It may happen sometimes, but not often. But what if those people attend a small group later in the week and have to discuss that sermon they missed? There’s a good chance they’ll take a listen—and they’re likely to make weekend services more of a priority, too.