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What do you think is the best way to intentionally help people grow spiritually in a small group? Does it include curriculum/studies? Go straight from the Bible? Mentoring? Encouragement? Accountability? Other things?

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Thomas Rainer

One of the Biggest Mistakes Pastors Make

I love pastors.
I love affirming pastors. I love speaking positively for pastors. That’s why this article is a bit different for me.
Pastors, I want to talk frankly and, hopefully, with a spirit of love, about one of the biggest mistakes I see many of you make. Most pastors have little emphasis, or sometimes, even knowledge about the content that is taught in groups in their churches.

You Wouldn’t Do This in Preaching

I know you pastors would not think of coming to the pulpit unprepared. You know your text. You know your message. You have prayed about it. You have labored over it. You will not preach that sermon without much prayer and work.
It’s just too important. I completely agree. The centrality of preaching is paramount to the health of the church. I commend you for your prayers, your efforts, and your focus. You will not come to the pulpit unprepared.

But What Is Being Taught in Your Church’s Groups?

But many of you don’t give adequate attention to the content used in your church’s groups. Those groups may be home groups, community groups, small groups, Sunday school classes, or a myriad of other names.
I really understand your reticence. You don’t want to micromanage. You don’t want to be controlling. You want to empower people to lead and choose for themselves. But, in a LifeWay Research study, we found that 75 percent of group leaders and members desired direction for the material used in their groups.
Did you get that? Three of four small group leaders explicitly said they are seeking direction. They want your leadership in this vital area of discipleship.

Unintended Consequences

While pastors are largely very careful about who preaches and what is preached, they do not usually give the same diligence to the content of small groups. Discipleship can take place in many places, but it should be taking place in those small groups. And the unintended consequences of not having a wise plan for discipleship is that you will fail to make disciples, or you may even have heretical teaching in some groups.
Leaders must be intentional in providing a clear plan of discipleship for small groups, and that plan must include clear guidance about content. Such a posture does not mean that leaders are autocratic or non-collaborative. Leaders, pastors particularly, must be involved.

An Example of a Wise Discipleship Plan for Groups

While using LifeWay’s Bible studies as an example for content for groups may seem self-serving, I am very pleased with the work that has gone into this discipleship plan. I am well aware that there are many other choices available.
Basically, we have four broad lines of content for small groups and Sunday school classes. They are each distinguished by the starting point for the small group:
Starting Point: Theology. Gospel Project. The Gospel Project is a curriculum that studies the Bible from a theological perspective, particularly by looking at the grand narrative of Scripture.
Starting Point: Biblical Text. Explore the Bible. This curriculum studies the Bible by individual books of the Bible, going chapter by chapter through a particular book.
Starting Point: Life Issues. Bible Studies for Life. Another Bible study with a different starting point, Bible Studies for Life looks at key life issues (example: marriage, relationships, money, and others) from the perspective of biblical texts.
Starting Point: Church Context. Discipleship in Context. This particular curriculum is basically a customized study for the church. Leaders in the church let LifeWay know the biblical texts and focus of the study, and team members at LifeWay design a study just for the church. Many churches are using this approach to design studies around the pastor’s sermons.
We are gratified to see many churches using at least two of the curriculum lines in different settings. For example, one church uses Explore the Bible for its Sunday morning Bible study groups, and Bible Studies for Life for its home groups.

The Urgent Need

Again, LifeWay’s Bible studies are an example of intentionality of a wise discipleship plan to use in groups. You know what is being used for content. And you know why the particular Bible study plan is used. Pastors and other church leaders: please don’t ignore the urgent need to have a plan, purpose, and content for your church’s small groups.
The need is too great to let discipleship become haphazard and unintentional. You wouldn’t approach preaching without a clear idea of what you are preaching and why you are preaching. Please do no less for your small groups.
So, how does your church determine its content for small groups or Sunday school classes? Do you have a clear and specific plan for discipleship through your church’s groups? I would love to hear from you.

Western-Modern culture has spent centuries championing "information transformation"; while this has merit, there is a better way... A post-modern culture (and Christ's example) evidences "relational transformation" as the true catalyst. This is why I love that our church's term for discipleship is "pursue God in relationships"

Dennis, can you tell us more about your congregation's approach? Resources?

Network Coordinator

I believe that true discipleship involves 5 distinct connections:

* Connection with God (Prayer, Worship, etc.)

* Connection with People (Relationships)

* Connection with Truth (Scripture, Biblical worldview, etc)

* Connection with Character (Maturity)

* Connection with Ministry (Service)

Have you written on any or all of these? Interesting template ...

Phil, we are actually working on this at present and hope to have something in people's hands first of the year. We have learned over the years that small groups and faith formation does not equal Sunday school in church buildings. Increasingly, our off-site small groups are taking the place of our Sunday school on Sunday morning. These groups are much more likely to happen in people’s homes or in coffee shops and at the beginning or end of the workday rather than on Sunday. But it all takes place in a response to a call to pursue God in relationships, a call to follow Jesus on his terms and so become his brothers and sisters—sons and daughters of God.  

Phil Miglioratti said:

Dennis, can you tell us more about your congregation's approach? Resources?

Network Coordinator

We welcome posting/linking to whatever the Holy Spirit has to offer through your ministry ,


All of the above... I know, that's not the answer you're looking for.  For me the key is "intentionally" and having a plan.  There are times when curriculum is the best approach, and other times when using the Bible (like an Inductive Bible Study/ Discovery Bible Study method) is the way to go. Mentoring, encouragement, and accountability should come as the result of being a part of the Small Group, with the goal of helping everyone mature in Christ, and become a disciple-maker.  

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