A massive number of churches are doing sermon-based Bible studies. That is, someone or a team of people in the church listen to the weekend sermon (or get the notes prior to the sermon being preached) and create a conversational Bible study to be used by small groups that week around the topic of that sermon.
While there’s nothing wrong with this, every church should consider the pros and cons of doing sermon-based Bible studies.
1. 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.
2. Small group members are reminded of the main points of the sermon which helps establish and reinforce the truths that were taught.
3. Sermon-based Bible studies make more time to discuss application. Since the principles and practices that would normally to 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. But a caution: Many would say that the discussion the group has together determining what God is saying is vital as group members learn how to interpret Scripture without a talking head. Many may never learn to think on their own or use their Bibles or interpret Scripture independent of someone telling them what it means if the model for processing Scripture is sermon-based discussions alone.
1. People with the gift of teaching never get to exercise their spiritual gift. Every church has multiple people with the gift of teaching. When a church chooses to do sermon-based Bible study, the teaching has already been accomplished. A group leader with the gift of teaching will never have the opportunity to exercise his or her spiritual gift. Oftentimes these people go to a church that makes it possible for them to teach God’s Word.
2. Elevating the pastor’s words while inadvertently diminishing God’s Word. When utilizing biblically based, well-done curriculum the conversation is strategically turned toward what the Bible is saying. When discussing the weekend sermon the discussion is built around what the pastor said. The primary voice in the Bible study isn’t God and His Word, it’s the pastor and his words. Instead of hearing phrases like, “The Bible says,” or “Jesus told us,” or “God’s Word demands,” small group members hear phrases like, “Pastor told us,” “If the pastor was here he’d probably say,” or “I’ll check with the pastor and see what he meant.” The pastor’s voice may inadvertently become known as the ultimate truth source rather than the Bible being the only source of all truth.
3. It could lead to senior pastor worship. Sermon-based small group experiences can easily lead to high levels of senior pastor worship. My experience has shown that the senior pastor’s name is brought up and he is held in awe at least six times during each group gathering. Jesus’ name and his personality are discussed much less than the pastor’s personality and the senior pastor’s name. Jesus is subconsciously established as the senior pastor’s sidekick, the secondary personality in church life. Before long, many believers speak more of their pastor and his great sermons than their Savior and His redeeming power.
4. Those farthest from Christ won’t attend a small group. Those who are far, far from Christ are not going to attend church services, which means they’ll never feel comfortable in a sermon-based small group experience. Let’s face it — people who are far from Christ are not going to come to a group to discuss a sermon they haven’t heard. To expect a not-yet-follower of Christ (who didn’t hear the weekend sermon and never will because they are not going to attend a weekend worship service) to come weekly to a sermon-based small group experience is like asking someone to come to a book club for a weekly meeting to discuss a book they refuse to read. They aren’t going to attend. Doing sermon-based small group experiences may mean many who might have heard the gospel and come into an eternal relationship with Christ never will.
Rick Howerton has one passion — to see “a biblical small group within walking distance of every person on the planet making disciples that make disciples.” He is pursuing this passion as the small group and discipleship specialist at Lifeway Church Resources.
What about flipping this around? What about doing sermons based off the small group studies? In other words, what the group has studied the week leading up to Sunday is what the preacher’s sermon is on.
Great and fair post Rick. We have been using the sermon based model for several years now at Hoboken Grace and I’d love to share a bit more of the pros and cons from our model that we’ve learned.
– Leaders has more time for connection. Because we provide the leaders with the questions they no longer are having to study or prep before they come to the group like they had to do with bible and book studies. With that time they have free up they are now spending more time with members of there group.
-One of your cons is that it robs those who have the spiritual gift of teach but I think at the same time it also opens the door for more leaders, no longer do you need someone with the gift of teach to lead your groups.
-Another thing I love about the sermon based model is that it’s an easier next step for those who are new to the church to join a group. There only requirement is to hear Sunday’s message which they’ve already experienced. When we did book studies it was always a challenge when new members joined the group because they were then forced to get the book and then catch up with the group.
-You’re right it is a hard model to reach people furthest from God but I think most models have that same problem.
– If you lead pastor skips around with scripture in their sermon it makes it really challenging to include bible study into the questions.
-I think with book/bible study that you can get by with a really strong teach but with sermon based if you have someone who isn’t a strong connector or encourage the group will struggle, because if application isn’t happening, members not feeling comfortable sharing or a family isn’t being formed people have little interest in returning.
I think your pros are right on, though I disagree with 2-4 of your cons.
2. If the pastor is continuously pointing to Scripture and seeking to expose the author’s original intent behind the passage being preached, then the pastor’s words should simply be a reflection of the Bible’s words. I see no contradiction here. I think this may stem more from the general attitude among Evangelicals today that one person standing to teach plainly and clearly what God’s Word says is out of style with post-moderns.
3. First, we could say that people could arguably do the same thing with the apostle Paul as they come to love reading what he has to say and getting to know him through his writing rather than seeking to see the same Savior he labored to exalt. But second, if churches would adopt a model of multiple teaching pastors, then this also would not be an issue. As most churches stand though, I do see in part what you are saying here.
4. Your assessment of non-believers “never” attending a worship service is a bit exaggerated. I’ve read research that states lost people are actually more likely to respond to an invitation to church than what we might believe. But again, if the sermon-based discussion continuously points to Scripture BECAUSE the sermon continuously pointed to Scripture, then there is no reason why they can’t be designed in such a way to benefit both those who heard the sermon and those who didn’t.