By Reid Smith
A question every small group leader contemplates when starting a new group or season is what content they will use as their study focus. Sometimes, this question is answered by church leadership, if your church creates weekly study material based on the weekend messages or a church-wide groups-based campaign is implemented. Ultimately, you want to have a philosophy and plan in place to select small group curriculum.
We all have our biases about what we like or don’t like with study material, so I’ll be upfront about mine. I look for Bible-based material that comes from a trusted source, matches my church’s DNA (theology, core values, language, and style), is clear with its purpose, manageable in size (5-8 weeks), is designed to build relationships and activate faith (through good, open-ended, application-oriented questions versus fill-in-the-blanks and leading/predetermined-answer questions), has creative and engaging content delivery, and isn’t too burdensome, academically or homework-wise.
If the curriculum is video-driven, I look for bite-size segments versus sermon length teaching, to encourage more interaction. Be mindful of your group as you make decisions about homework, watching videos ahead of group time, and other time demands. Expectations outside of group time are perfect for some groups but don’t work quite as well for others. I prefer material that enriches each member’s personal devotional life and challenges them to serve together. Rick Warren’s “40 Days in the Word” is a good example of this.
Most group leaders are intimidated by the idea of having a pure Bible study and only using the Word of God, which is too bad. If you discover this, think of ways you can help them build their confidence and competency in this area. There are plenty of “through-the-Bible” or “exegetical” Bible study tools that can help, such as The Gospel Project, and there are many studies that focus on a single book of the Bible. Regardless, a church’s point leader for groups should be prepared to answer questions related to choosing and using curriculum for maximum impact.
Find out if your lead/senior pastor has preferences about curriculum before you research and offer recommendations. This simple step might even inspire greater alignment between the weekend programming of the temple courts and the group life of the house-to-house movement in your church! The 12 criteria below are intended to help you think through the best choices for your group or small group leaders.
|Criteria to Consider||Question for Leader|
|Publisher / Author||Does the study come from a reputable source?|
|Theology||Does the group curriculum look to the Bible as its source of truth and concentrate on the essentials of our Christian faith?|
|Scripture||Does the content reference Scripture and succeed at getting group members to dig deeper into God’s Word?|
|Purpose||Does the curriculum’s objective or purpose support your group’s focus this upcoming season, taking into consideration the personal goals of your group members?|
|Communication||Does the language, emphasis,and style of what’s being communicated reflect your church’s DNA?|
|Duration||Does the number of sessions required to work through the material make it a reasonable commitment for new or existing members?|
|Video||If your group curriculum is video-driven, does the average length of each segment work easily within your allotted meeting time?|
|Engaging||Is the delivery of the content dynamic or boring?|
|Questions||Are the questions designed to be thought-provoking, stimulate conversation, and promote life application?|
|Homework||If there is homework, how much are participants being asked to do in advance of meetings and how do you think group members will respond?|
|Access & Cost||How easy does the access and cost of the material make it for people to join in? (This varies depending on whether the content is for the leader or the members, if it can be downloaded, etc. Find cost effective options.)|
|Chemistry||Does the content fit the personality of the group? In other words, based on what you know about your group members, do you think they will resonate with the “feel” of the curriculum and the style in which it’s communicated?|
Familiarize yourself with what’s out there and prepare to answer questions related to choosing and using curriculum for maximum impact.
Remember that curriculum is meant to serve your small group—not the other way around. Always be flexible and prepared to scrap the material if it feels like the energy of the group is waning. Essentially, the curriculum you choose should support the transforming work of the Holy Spirit in people’s lives. It shouldn’t feel like a chore to get through it, rather, it should be inspirational and faith-stretching!
At the end of each season in a small group’s life together, you want to see evidence of people loving Jesus more, loving others in the church more, loving God’s Word more, and loving spiritually-lost people more. Remind group leaders how the Lord will use them, their group members, and many other factors—including the curriculum—in this process.
Reid Smith has been equipping leaders in churches of all sizes and stages of growth for effective disciple-making since 1996. He lives in Wellington, Florida where he serves as a Groups Pastor at Christ Fellowship. You can find more of his helpful resources at www.reidsmith.org.