If you have tried to find small group materials online, you have probably noticed that there is no shortage of materials. How do you wade into the sea of information to choose the topic and materials for your group?
1. Choosing Your Topic
People’s needs come first not only in determining your group’s purpose and design, but also in choosing your topic.
People come first. When choosing the topic, look first at people’s needs for growth. What do they struggle with, desire, or have interest in? People give up other things to make room for the groups they sign up for. Ask your pastor(s) about the needs they sense. Get feedback from members themselves. Talking with members new to small groups will help you understand their needs, while experience may give you perspective on what can help meet those needs.
Topics change as people change. You are not locked forever into a topic. If the attachments are good and people are getting something out of the group, the topics may change as lives change. My group has studied several different topics, depending on what was going on in our lives — relating to God, reading classic Christian mystics, marriage principles, and so forth. We have also had topic-less seasons in which we just wanted to be in each other’s presence and open up our lives to each other.
You will also want to figure out how long to stay on a topic. Some studies last four to six weeks, which is probably a minimum for effectiveness. Some, like Believe or The Story, go on for months. Make sure everyone is on the same page in this regard, because some people like to try lots of things to find out where they should land, while others are ready to commit to an in-depth, long-term study.
Broader may be better. The broader the topic, the more room people must delve into other aspects of their lives and integrate them into the group meeting. For example, topics on spiritual and personal growth would tend to invite anything a person deals with, more than parenting topics would. If, however, the specific topic is where the need is, defer to that.
Your relationship to the content. Determine whether the topic is a good fit for you and where you are as a leader. Has the topic touched your life, and have you seen God’s grace change you in that area? Is it still a new and raw topic, one you may not yet be ready to facilitate? Is it one you just can’t feel any interest or passion about? The best fits are those the facilitator has enough experience with to have gained some wisdom and victory in the process.
2. Selecting Materials
The following seven guidelines will help you select appropriate material to meet your group’s needs.
Biblical and sane. Technically, these terms are redundant because God is the author of sanity. However, just because study materials include Bible verses does not mean they are conveying God’s meaning. Cults have been built on the strategy of using Scripture the wrong way. So check out the materials yourself and have experienced people look them over, too.
Recommended. Find people who have successfully led groups for a long time and ask them about materials. Their experiences will have taught them a wealth of knowledge about what works and what doesn’t.
Created by those in the know. Look at the credentials of the publisher and authors of the materials. If the study guides involve process and group interaction, what is their training in group dynamics? If it is biblical content, are they qualified in their training and experience? Some people may not have much formal training, but the school of experience and a good track record have qualified them. Others may have both.
Has substance. It is important that the material go beyond the obvious solution of “do what you’re supposed to do.” Good and growing groups do more than just read the Ten Commandments and stop. Choose substantive study guides that deal with the underlying causes, motives, injuries, values, misunderstandings, sins, failures, and weaknesses that impede growth. Look for materials that offer real hope and solutions.
Treats members as adults. Make sure the study materials take positions where the Bible takes positions—as on divorce or ethics—yet leave the same room and freedom that the Bible leaves for people to make choices. For example, you may choose several ways of “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) to your teen: tone of voice, environment and setting, the topics you bring up. Avoid materials that instruct you to use their exact words or rigid rules to convey something to your kid.
Practical. Concepts and principles need to be easily translated into application. Many study materials have homework or thought questions. These help to put flesh on the skeleton ideas being taught.
Fitting for the group nature. The type of people in your group may help you decide on materials. Often, if a group settles into itself over time, the members will want to venture out beyond formal group study guides. They may want to go over a topic or book they like and will undertake creating the study structure themselves. This great exercise in ownership can really motivate group members. Pray and keep an open mind as you search out topics and materials. It is an exciting part of the process.
Leading a small group Bible study is important to people’s spiritual growth but doesn’t have to be anxiety-inducing. Choosing a study can be made simpler with the above tips.
A great Bible study to consider for your group, whether it is a new group or a more established one, is The Rock, the Road, and the Rabbi by Kathie Lee Gifford and Rabbi Jason Sobel. In this six-session video Bible study (now with video streaming code included!), join Kathie Lee as she visits sites in Israel that have impacted her faith and understanding of Scripture. As she shares her story, Rabbi Jason—a messianic Jewish rabbi—provides fascinating background details that make the story of the New Testament come alive.
As Kathie Lee and Rabbi Jason reveal in this study, Jesus (the Rock) came into this world and walked the lands of Israel (the Road) to show us the way to God. And when we are introduced to the mysteries of God’s Word (the Rabbi) and understand it in the context in which it was written, radical transformation begins to renew our hearts and minds.