One of the most frequently asked questions about doing sermon-based small groups is “Who writes the questions?” For us at Crossroads, it’s the teaching pastors — Kris Vos and me. This fits in nicely as a part of our regular weekly conversation on the shape of the message: what direction we are headed, the biblical passage or passages to be explored, the application piece, and other elements that might be incorporated into the message or that might fit the series. Another set of eyes and ears helps the process. You know what you mean, but do they understand what you mean?
Having gotten a sense of the direction of the message, we will craft five to seven questions that get to the heart of what we want to communicate. We have followed loosely the suggestions given by Larry Osborne in his book, Sticky Church. (See Appendix 1: Writing Great Questions). We begin with an icebreaker type of question. These are fairly easy, and we like to have a little fun with them. Here are a couple from some recent messages:
From a message on Proverbs 11:25 entitled “Refresh Others and You Will Be Refreshed”:
On a hot summer day, what refreshes you the most? A glass of iced tea, lemonade, ice water? A swim at the pool? Sitting close to a fan? Eating ice cream? Think of a variety of word pictures or experiences when you hear the word “refresh.”
From a message entitled “Theology of Work” in our Dirty Jobs series:
If money, education, or experience were not an issue, what kind of work would you do? Why? As a child, how did you answer the question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
The majority of the questions deal with the passage covered in the message, digging deeper into the points or topics raised. Other passages of Scripture are explored that reinforce the teaching or help to illustrate it. Here are some samples from the “Refresh Others” message:
- Read Proverbs 11:24-25 out loud. Have each person paraphrase these verses. Though the message spoke of three areas in which we can refresh others (serving, giving, relationships), were there other ways that came to mind? Which of the three from the message is easiest for you? Hardest? Why?
- Have you found your “most meaningful place to serve”? What is it? What do you consider to be your spiritual gift (see Romans 12 or 1 Corinthians 12 for lists, or other?)? Where have you seen it used by God?
- Read John 3:25-36 and Luke 22:24-27. Where have you struggled with comparison or competition? How has it kept you from experiencing “refreshment”? Is it a problem in Christian circles (church, schools, organizations)? Explain.
- Read Malachi 3:10. What is God really asking us to do? Have you ever done this? With what results? If not, why not? What keeps us from fully trusting God when it comes to giving?
- Talk about the 1 to 6 ratio of encouragement to criticism. Does that sound about right to you? Where do you see this played out the most? Read Proverbs 11:25 again — how does this apply to our relationships?
We always wrap up with an application question. “How did this message impact you? What will you do in light of this message?” This often leads to praying for one another in the group or even doing some type of group project.
The second question asked is “How are sermon-based small group leaders recruited and trained?” We look for people who are good facilitators — they don’t have to be Bible scholars, but simply can facilitate a discussion — or people with gifts of shepherding or leadership. By choosing people of character, and with what Osborne calls “spiritual and relational warmth,” you’ve done the most important work.
Before launching our first sermon-based small groups, I called Chris Mavity, the director of North Coast’s Training Network. When I asked him about what type of training they did for group leaders, his advice was to “chill out.” In initially meeting with the leaders make them aware of the “landmines,” — potential problems — express confidence in them, and position group leaders as “insiders.” They want to feel like they are in the “inside loop” of leadership. They are, as they help shepherd the flock. Make sure they have a person they contact — for us a staff person — as it raises the value we place on them. We follow-up early to see how things are going.
We are still in the early stages of this small group experiment, but so far the results have been great. As pastors, we feel the congregation is more involved and interacting with the weekend messages. The format means that we don’t have to create something new — it flows out of what we are already doing. Relational connections are growing as well. Some of our older, existing groups have also begun to experiment with the sermon-based format. We also offer the questions online for family or personal use. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.” This is one experiment that seems to be producing the desired outcome.