A question every leader contemplates when starting a new group or season is what content they plan to use for 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 about to kick-off. Ultimately, you want to have a philosophy and plan in place about how to handle group curriculum.
I’m going to cut to the chase with my biases on choosing curriculum: I look for material that comes from a trusted source, matches my church’s DNA (theology, core values, language, 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 vs. fill-in-the-blanks and leading/predetermined-answer questions), has creative and engaging content delivery, and isn’t too thick academically or homework-wise.
I favor interaction over watching videos together, so I look for bite-size segments vs sermon length teaching. Asking people to watch videos or do homework in advance of group meetings doesn’t seem to work for most folks and has a way of scaring off some personalities. So instead of “required” homework, I prefer material that enriches each member’s personal devotional life and challenges them to serve together, e.g. Rick Warren’s 40 Days in the Word (40ditw.org).
Most group leaders are intimidated by the idea of having a pure Bible study and just using the Word of God, which is too bad. If you discover this too, 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 including biblex.com, gospelproject.com or resources from InterVarsity Press. Regardless, a church’s point leader for groups should prepare to answer questions related to choosing and using curriculum for maximum impact.
Familiarize yourself with what’s out there. There’s a lot of great materials available to stream Netflix-style through online resource houses like rightnowmedia.org. If leaders can’t find a digital ‘on demand’ solution, they will probably look to you for guidance so here is a list of twelve criteria designed to help you think through the best choices for group curriculum with your 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?|
|Communication||Does the language, emphasis and style of what’s being communicated reflect our church’s DNA?|
|Purpose||Does the curriculum goal or purpose support your group’s focus this upcoming season?|
|Duration||Do the number of sessions required to work through the group 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?|
|Scripture||Does the content do a good job at referencing Scripture and getting group members to dig deeper into God’s Word?|
|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? How do you think group members will respond to this idea?|
|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?|
If you’re not the lead/senior pastor, I recommend having a conversation and learning their preferences. A simple step like this might even inspire greater alignment between the weekend programming and group life of your church!
I always like to remind group leaders that curriculum is meant to serve the 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 group 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…it should be inspirational and challenging!
At the end of each season in a group’s life together, you want to see evidence of people loving Jesus more, loving others more, loving God’s Word more, and loving lost people more. Remind group leaders of this and how the Lord will use them, their group members, and many other factors, including the curriculum, in the process.