The practice of adult small groups has come a long way in our churches over the years. From almost exclusively Sunday School to house churches to the small group movement in homes, coffee shops, and restaurants, we’ve seen groups grow in all sizes and disciplines, closed and open (remember that conversation?). In the last season of groups ministry we’ve seen discipleship groups and missional groups and affinity groups. We’ve been re-introduced to “community.” Largely due to this progression, we’re much more aware of the value of the discussion and the art of the question. And now there are hybrid programs with Sunday School and off-campus groups side by side within the same structure. Many of us are instituting the alignment approach. There’s been a lot of trial and error, frustration, and success, and there have been many good, redemptive results along the journey. Amidst all the sound and fury over the last 30 years or so, here is my question: Are you serious about your groups? I mean, really. Are you serious?
There’s a creeping danger couched within our current approach to groups. At the core of the programs, the movements, our philosophical approaches and models, I’m wondering how often we really think about why we “do” groups. How often do we consider the end game of each group meeting and its objective? If we are not careful and attentive, our groups will increasingly begin to mirror a culture that lacks any capacity toward what Jesus referred to as “the weightier matters.” Community is biblical, relationships are human, and discussion can be edifying. While these components are essential, the north and south poles of any effective group or group ministry must be personal holiness and disciple-making. These poles orient us and equip us for moving forward as disciples of Jesus.
It’s this reality that makes it so alarming to me how infrequently curriculum choices and options pop up when I’m in conversations with group leaders. Can we really be serious about our groups if we are not intentional about curriculum? After all, this is the material that we’re trusting as a vehicle for transformation several times every week. Have you considered the complete experience of your groups? Do you plan your content so that your group members are getting a comprehensive discipleship strategy? Are you asking—even demanding—something from group members? Are group members being exposed to Scripture at the heart level, trained in doctrine, and taught how to apply truth to their days, weeks, and months?
At Lifeway, we have addressed this paradigm with what we have referred to internally as “starting points,” but it’s actually a scope and sequence—but with neither a scope nor a sequence. It’s really the best kind of prescriptive model, but it’s not actually prescriptive. I recommend that you consider putting your groups on a rotation that runs through theology, text, and life application using our catalog of small-group resources in the Explore the Bible, The Gospel Project, and Bible Studies for Life lines.
Explore the Bible: These 6-week Bible studies focus on specific biblical events, such as The Life of Abraham or The Sermon on the Mount, or on entire books of the BIble, like Hebrews. Each is easy to lead, and even though each of these studies begins with the text, it isn’t to the neglect of application or theology.
The Gospel Project: Our small-group versions of The Gospel Project feature specific theological positions. Each of these releases is also a 6-week study and includes short devotional experiences for each group member to complete between group meetings. Available studies include Kingdom Come, Longing for the King, Saved, God in Our Relationships, and God First. Studies in The Gospel Project series also include biblical application and Scripture.
Bible Studies for Life: The triad rounds out with a curriculum that helps group members work through their faith with life application. While Explore the Bible provides an in-depth study of the text and The Gospel Project explores the theological nuances, Bible Studies for Life addresses the common needs and concerns of everyday life by offering navigational skills rooted in biblical truths. Releases in this series include a DVD with short teaching sessions from the author. Titles include Resilient Faith, Storm Shelter, Overcome, Stand Strong, Distinct, and Like Glue and deal with a variety of topics of faith, such as dealing with adversity, living beyond your circumstances, depending on God’s promises, and family relationships.
Running your groups through theology, text, and life application seems like a natural rotation. Explore the Bible, The Gospel Project, and Bible Studies for Life represent a good mix of video, daily expectations, leader help, and group dynamics. Learning styles and progressive disclosure are also taken into account. In terms of making your groups into disciple-making enterprises, it’s hard to imagine a better engine than text-life-theology.
Brian Daniel leads the discipleship publishing team within Groups Ministry at Lifeway. He has written multiple small-group Bible studies and contributes to several blogs, including Walt Disney World News Today. He also co-hosts the Groups Matter Podcast Show with Rick Howerton and the SEC Spin Radio Show during football season. He and his wife Karen live in Hendersonville, TN, where he heads up discipleship at Grace Church. He has two daughters, Ashton and Schuyler. You can follow Brian on Twitter: @BCDaniel.