After a church decides the purpose of their small groups, the next big task will be to decide what sort of lessons their groups will use. Our church has used different types of lessons over the past few years and I thought I’d share 6 different group discussion styles a church could decide to use.
- Mirroring the Sermon
- Storying the Bible
- Inductive Bible Study
- Using Study Material
- Responsive Discipleship
1. Mirroring the Sunday Sermon: This is where all small groups lessons reflect the main point of the Sunday morning sermon. The idea is to take the point further and discuss how to apply it to your life.
Positive: The church knows what everyone’s learning. People in the church aren’t bombarded with 5 different points and applications. They begin their week with one clear point to challenge them and application to work on. The church is definitely on the same page with how people are growing in their church.
Negatives: It can be stressful to create lessons each week for all the groups. The sermon schedule has to be planned in advance so the lessons can be created in advance. People can feel like they’re going over the same material again but heard all the best parts in the sermon. They might have already responded to the material on Sunday morning and thought about how to apply it to their life. So, the group time could turn into sharing what they’ve already decided, or even dissolve into, “What did you think about the sermon today”? (For more info read, The Big Idea)
2. Storying the Bible: Most people seem to be auditory or visual learners. Seldom do people primarily learn from what they read on paper. The idea with this lesson type is to take a story from the Bible and verbally share it with a group. You then ask people to help retell the story they just heard, and then read it together as a group. After that you ask simple questions from the text like, “What did you learn about God from this story? What did you learn about people? How can you apply this story to your life?”
Positive: There’s very little prep work needed other than the leader memorizing the story. You don’t have to worry about the subject material because they’re always using the Bible. It’s a great way to learn the stories of the Bible and be able to share them with your children.
Negative: This will only work for Bible stories and not for parts of scripture that are more informative. Some people have trouble drawing life applicable conclusions just from hearing or reading a Bible story. People could draw incorrect inferences about God or people from a Bible story if there’s no helpful background given. People can wish there was more to chew on after a semester or two using this lesson type.
3. Inductive Bible Study: This is studying the Bible in a way where you let the Bible speak to you and inform your life. It’s similar to Storying the Bible except you’re only reading it. After reading a passage you’ll discuss 3 general questions. 1. What happened? (What did you notice?) 2. So what? (Why is that important?) 3. What should you do in your life based on what we just read? When I was in college the 3 questions were, “What does it say? What does it mean? What does it mean to me?” (Thanks Intervarsity!)
Positive: A leader should put in some prep work to answer any specific questions about the text that might come up, but overall there’s very little prep work needed. Again, you don’t have to worry about the subject matter. It’s a great way to teach people how to engage the Bible in their personal lives as well as group. It’s easily translatable in all circumstances and it challenges people to engage the scriptures for themselves.
Negative: This is a pretty classic way to study the scripture as an individual or a group. This is not the best way to dig into the culture at the time or words in the original language. A teacher can add those elements if they’d like. There are certain scriptures that have a definite interpretation and asking the group, “What does this mean to you,” could open the scripture up to incorrect application.
4. Using Study Material: There are so many wonderful small group study materials out there. They’re all made by people at least two times smarter than you or me. Some are books, others are DVD’s. There are also workbooks that you can work through together as a group. They all vary in length from 4 to 12 weeks.
Positive: The material is usually well-written and strong. It saves the leader time because he/she doesn’t have to write a lesson. It puts the burden of learning on the whole group and not just on the leader to “teach us something.”
Negative: The group will only be as effective as the people in the group are committed to doing the homework. People can get used to “smart people” telling them what to think about the Bible instead of learning how to search through it on their own. It can make both the leader and group lazy as they depend on the material to do all the hard work for them.
5. Teaching: This is where a small group leader takes on the role of a teacher and fully explains a passage or theological concept.
Positive: The teacher can make sure everyone understands the correct theology of a passage. You can go “deeper” into the scripture this way and possibly squeeze more “life” out of a topic.
Negative: Very few people have the amount of time and know how to make this work properly. Group participants become spiritually passive and expect the teacher to feed them truths. People can miss out on hearing other people’s thoughts on a topic.
6. Responsive Discipleship: This is where a few individuals or small group gets together and discusses what God has been teaching them over the past week. They might ask 2 main questions. 1. What has God been telling you this week? 2. What are you going to do about it? The goal for the group is to respond to God’s activity through the week and celebrate that together and challenge each other each week to follow through with what He’s asking them to do.
Positive: It’s puts the weight of spiritual growth directly on each individual. It makes the process of discipleship very simple. This process doesn’t dictate what sort of material you need to grow. You could decide what to use based on what God’s doing in your life. This process puts the emphasis of growth on what happens in your daily life and not on what happens once a week in group.
Negative: Many people could have a hard time answering those two questions. It could feel to “wishy-washy” for people who need clear boundaries. It could be hard for people to know what to do and how to grow beyond answering the two main questions.
Each of these 6 group discussion styles can be effective. If one’s not working, maybe it’s time to try something else out.