I am a proponent of any small-group experience that lifts the name of Jesus above all other names, creates a safe place for everyone involved, and produces an environment where unbelievers feel they are equals on a spiritual journey.
Considering the Pros
A dear friend, and someone I respect greatly, asked me the following questions about sermon-based groups. His questions really challenged me. Here are his questions and my answers.
1. How can sermon-based groups be used for God's glory, for the good of the local church, and for the good of the community?
Anything that brings glory to God is used by God to glorify himself. Any time he is glorified, the local church is better for it. And any time the local church is known as being focused on bringing glory to God, the community is enhanced. Regardless whether a group is sermon-based, if it's "a city on a hill" (Matthew 5:14), a light shining brightly for Christ on the street or cul-de-sac where it functions as a mission of the church it represents, it glorifies God.
Doing sermon-based studies, curriculum-based studies, or Bible-based studies is not the factor that determines whether or not a group gathering brings glory to God. It's the missional activity of the group and group members that brings glory to God. That then affects the group, the church, and the community.
2. How can sermon-based groups "remember" their leader's words rather than forget what their leaders spoke (Hebrews 13:7)?
One of the most positive aspects of sermon-based Bible studies is that group members are reminded of the main points of the sermon. If this is the goal of your groups, then sermon-based groups are the right approach for your church. To optimize the sermon-based approach, allow time for group members to process what they heard in the sermon and prompt them to make commitments to live out what was preached.
3. How can I lift up the name of Jesus above all names and respect my pastor?
This has to be approached when training your small-group leaders. Humans will instinctively worship that which they can see and touch. Thus, the pastor becomes the focus of attention rather than Jesus. In order to overcome this, small-group leaders should be trained to elevate the words found in the Bible above the clichés and phrases spoken by the pastor in the sermon. Then consistently during the Bible study time, leaders should point people to Jesus and his Word rather than focusing on the teaching pastor and his or her words.
4. How can people move beyond surface-level chat after services like "great sermon" to significant conversations?
The answer is simple: great discussion questions placed in the right order. When this happens, you can experience a transformational conversation. Every church doing sermon-based studies must ask if they have leaders capable of creating these kinds of experiences. This is where most fall short.
5. What are some upsides of sermon-based small groups?
- The pastor is happy with the small-group pastor knowing he or she is working in tandem to establish the principles and practices that were unearthed during the sermon.
- Small-group members are reminded of the main points of the sermon which helps establish the truths that were taught.
- Sermon-based studies make more time to discuss application. Because the principles and practices that would normally be unveiled as group members discussed the passage are already established (the pastor took care of this when preaching), the group can climb immediately into discussing how these principles and practices are to be lived out.