Information overload—that's the world we are living in, and that's the reality of most our churches, as well. Our children have their own curriculum, our teens are studying something else, the weekly sermon is on another topic, our personal devotions often cover yet another, and then our small group focuses on something entirely different! There is too much information and no time or opportunity to meditate on it, discuss it with others, or apply all the topics at hand.
These are some of the reasons why our church recently adopted a sermon-based approach to small groups. We do this by offering a weekly Discussion Guide based on our pastor's sermons, and we have been able to see the benefits very quickly, including:
- People listen more closely to the Sunday message, since they know they will be talking about it during the week. They take more notes, too.
- The Sunday message has more impact because people work on unpacking it in their small groups—it stays in front of them throughout the week.
- There is increased motivation for people to be in a small group so they can get in on the discussion.
- The system reduces information overload for individuals.
- There are less hassles and decisions for small-group leaders when it comes to choosing and purchasing curriculum.
- It has become easier to invite people into a group on any given week, as well as to church.
- There is less study time for group leaders.
- Every group member is more likely to take a turn leading since the questions and agenda are all mapped out for them. It's less intimidating than a printed book.
- Church events and special sessions can be tied into group life via the Discussion Guide, which is seen by many people each week.
Tips to Remember
There are a few practical things your church will need to be aware of and anticipate in order to successfully transition to a sermon-based system of small groups. Here are a few of them:
- The pastor will have to finish the sermon by no later than Friday morning to provide enough time for someone to write the Discussion Guide. It would be ideal if the pastor could plan out a whole series ahead of time.
- Church administrators will need time to make hard copies and get the Discussion Guide on your church's website.
- The speaker will need to clearly know what he wants people to "take away" from his message and what he hopes groups will discuss further so you are going in the same direction.
- Guest speakers will have to understand the correlation between their message and your group Discussion Guide, as well as the timing factors.
- Be sure your Discussion Guide is relational in nature.
- Ask the right questions. They must be friendly and discussion-provoking, not too academic or debate oriented. Use more open-ended questions than closed.
- Roughly 3-4 questions are needed for an hour of discussion. Offer 6 or more so that group leaders can skip the ones that may not fit the group.
- The goal of the discussion is application and transformation, not more information. For example: if the subject is "adonai," do not ask, "What does adonai mean?" The point is not content review. Rather ask, "What do you need to do to give God more control in your life?" or "What are you going to do with the information from the message?" not "What was the information?"
- Use "how" questions and "in what way" questions, and not so many "why" questions, which are too general and removed.
- It can be a good idea to make your first question the same for each week. For example, "What did you hear on Sunday?" "What jumped out at you from the message?"
—Sheila Ely, copyright 2010 by the author and Christianity Today.