Why I Like Sermon-based Small Groups

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I am a big fan of sermon-based small groups.  I am a pastor in a small rural church (I never thought I would be here) in an isolated community in south central Colorado.  It's a wonderful community and people don't get too hung up about stuff.  Along with their community-minded missional heart we feel quite at home here.

 

When we first came here there were two active small groups.  One was a women's Bible study and the other a men's prayer breakfast.  There was a clear desire from people that they wanted to grow as disciples and develop their missional desires even further.  In the Fall of 2009 we started four small groups as a key avenue for this endeavor.

 

But what kind of small groups would they be was the question we had to answer.  Having been a small group geek for more than twenty years I knew that there were  a lot of models out there that might fit, there was a ton of curriculum we could use -- some of it really focused on discipleship and mission.  I even had a bunch of it on my shelves for easy access.  But I knew we needed to start with something simple and easy to work with  -- a no-brainer for under-trained and somewhat tentative leaders.

 

That's when we decided to go with sermon-based small groups, and our church loves them.  I had recently read Larry Osborne's book  Sticky Church and really felt he was on to something.  Larry's church, North Coast Church in northern San Diego county, uses sermon-based small groups pretty extensively which seems to really help connect people in a deeper way with the church and it's mission.  Larry's approach is more a philosophy than a model of small groups although he assumes healthy components of small groups should exist.  The philosophy is that by getting people talking more deeply about the week's sermon the church will be on the same page and the message finds a deeper resonance in people.  What pastor wouldn't want that?

 

What I particularly like about sermon-based small groups is that I find that my study becomes richer as I prepare for a sermon.  I find that I can organize my message for greater impact knowing that some of the parts I wouldn't have time to include will be discussed in the groups.  I often come up with group discussion questions as I'm preparing my message.  Some pastors might think that this just creates more work for them, but I don't find it so since I know what I want people to be discussing in their groups.  I really think it helps me streamline the sermon for maximum impact.

 

People tend to take more notes during the sermon because they know they'll be discussing it later in their group.  Even a new attender to your church can slip right in and be able to discuss if they've been at the Sunday service.  The message is more accessible. And even if someone misses a Sunday, we put our sermons online so people can access them anytime.  A key question asked every week is something along the lines of, "What one thing jumped out at you from the message this week about….?"  It gets people talking every time.

 

Discipleship focus is built right in.  Hopefully as a pastor , you're hoping that the sermon you bring will contribute to your congregation's growth as disciples; either it will challenge people to consider what new steps they need to take or that they will be encouraged to keep moving forward in their relationship with Christ.  Knowing this gives me freedom to really direct the application questions for the small groups.  The feedback I get from the leaders is that people are really opening up in our groups and supporting each other in prayer especially in regard to accountability in spiritual growth.

 

Add to the group a service component and the groups really come alive especially when your messages challenge them to live out their faith and then give them tangible avenues in which to do it.

 

Our church really likes doing small groups this way.  Some groups do use a short-term curriculum (often DVD based) from time to time, but always return to the sermon-based groups.

 

Of course, if you do head this route you'll want to make sure your pastor is on board since he/she may have to adjust a little.  And of course, you have to evaluate what is best for your church.

 

'til next time,

Akd.

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I like the idea of sermon based small groups. We should include the youth so we can witness our faith and connect to them.

Thanks

Ken

Thanks, Allen (both for this post and you're previously promoting Sermon-based groups to me).

Our congregation has 5 new small groups this year (600+ member church). Two of the groups chose to do Sermon-based study guides. The other three groups have leaders who are also staff, so they each went their own way. Those groups did however put a much greater burden on the leaders.

Of the sermon study groups, one was initially hands-off about much of anything other than socializing. The sermon study guides have helped give the group a focus which they were still open to (no small thing!). The other group, which was very diverse in age and ethnicity, has also done well with the sermon study guides.

The challenge we face has been more in creating the sermon study guides, particularly because we have three pastors who are in the regular preaching schedule (and a fourth who preaches 2-3 times a year). The sermon study guides have a different tone depending on who is preaching, just like our sermons. I haven't heard any complaints about it, but I have noticed the difference in the questions. Sometimes I wonder if this is good or not.

In Christ,

Mike 

Participant

Mike,

It's great that you've gotten some small groups happening at your church.  I can see how it could be a little difficult when you have a number of people doing the preaching.  Having a set format for developing your study guide helps tremendously with that.  My suggestion, if you haven't alread, is to make sure the preaching team and staff are on the same page as to what you're trying to accomplish with the groups in terms of end result as to how people respond to the study.  We are very focused on discipleship so we make sure that the application questions really take people beyond loosely applying the biblical text to their lives.  I've been told that my questions really challenge people to share their spiritual and personal struggles and then to receive accountability from the group.

It may be helpful too for everyone to have a copy of the small group leaders best friend, The Seredipity Small Groups bible.  There are questions for every pericope in the bible broken into three sections; starters, dig and application.  I always have it open when I'm putting studies together.  It can be helpful when you're not sure where to go with it or need a few helpful questions to include.

I'm happy to send you some sample copies of what I use here.  Just let me know.

Keep up the good work.

Allen

We started sermon-based small group studies about two years ago at River Park CRC - probably the best discipleship moves we've made in some time.  Beyond the discipleship piece, it's brilliant in it's community-building capacity.  Literally, everyone (well, all who are in a small group) is on the same page, interacting with the same materials, wrestling with common questions.  So what if you're in a different small group - you can still interact with other church members about the studies because you're all working off of the same page.  We also created three seasons or windows (each 8 weeks in length).  We realized that people commit in shorter bursts of commitment - so we have a fall, winter and spring small group window.  It allows for a "breather" time and if you want you can move to another group.  We created a basic template for each study so there is some uniformity in each study, no matter on who is preaching (at RPC, the preaching staff would created the study together).

Participant

Phil,

That's awesome. That format is a great idea.  We've just decided to go the "window" route too.  People enjoy that.  A few groups prefer not to break too long.  But I think having seasons gives people a bit of breathing room like you said.

 

Love you book btw.  Freda and I have been using through Lent.

Hey Guys ,

  Have any of your churches tried some sort small group with teens and adults. We seem to have a difficult time keeping our youth as stats say our average age is 52. I thought this could be a way to teach them what we believe in community setting.

Ken

Participant

We've tried it in a previous church. But the truth is both the adults and teens would rather not discuss their lives together. Having been a youth pastor for many years I couldn't see it working. Youth are dealing with vastly different issues of which they don't feel very comfortable discussing amongst themselves let alone with a bunch of adults who generally like to tell them how to live their lives. Our youth have their own small groups discussing things more pertinent to their concerns and in a way that connects with them. We do get adults and youth together from time to time for kind of round table discussions. We get them involved in other ways.

I personally don't think that just getting the youth and young adults into mixed groups will change anything. It's a whole church systemic and mindset thing that's creating a gap. That's a whole different discussion altogether.

You are most likely correct. I have great open theological discussions with my kids and their friends. I find their incite  about life's issue's to be pleasantly simple sometimes. I think Allen it could be achieved but it would require the strong desire to listen to their wisdom and folly. you have to humble yourself so they feel confident to speak their mind. But like you said I too don't believe it will happen because we are all pretty broken.

Ken

Amen to all that's been said here about SBSG's!  We've been using them now for a couple of years and it has been one of the  best things we have done to revive our small groups.  My teaching partner and I meet each week to put together the questions for that week's study.  There is some continuity that way no matter who is teaching the questions and the format are relatively consistent.

I love the way SBSG's get more folks thinking and moving in the same direction.  Since we tend to do 4 - 6 week series they are focusing on a specific topic for a longer period of time.