August 19, 2009
Looking at what happens in a sermon-based small group
If you didn't see it in the newsletter this week, SmallGroups.com is participating in a blog tour for Larry Osborne's recent book Sticky Church. The book covers the sermon-based small-group system Larry set up at North Coast Church over the years.
I've agreed to review chapter 11 of the book here; it's called "Flies on the Wall: What happens when a sermon-based small group meets." If you want to check out the blog posts for the rest of the chapters in the book, click here.
I've always liked the idea of sermon-based groups from an organizational standpoint. It seems like a great way to get the whole church on the same page not only about the weekly sermon, but about the value of small groups, as well. On the other hand, I've also been curious about the experience of the individual group leaders in such a church. Does such a system make leading a group easier or harder? More rewarding or more boring? That's why I was excited to review this particular chapter.
My opinion has always been that I would be stifled as the leader of a sermon-based small group. I love the creativity of crafting a lesson that approaches a Bible passage or topic in a new way. I enjoy being spontaneous and using different activities and games to supplement the teaching time. Most of all, I get a real kick out of leading people in meaningful discussions. Could those things survive in a sermon-based group?
Larry said a couple of things that eased my fears on this issue. For one, North Coast gives its leaders the freedom to digress. Larry writes: "Since the process of sharing, study, and prayer is more important than any specific content we might provide, I don't care that much if a group deviates, as long as it's led of the Spirit or in response to the needs of the group." That sounds healthy, to me.
Larry also emphasizes that the study material needs to cover different texts and materials than those covered in the Sunday sermon. Otherwise, people get bored because they are hearing everything twice. Amen.
But other aspects of North Coast's sermon-based group system would give me the heebie-jeebies as a group leader. Specifically, the curriculum is produced by the church and includes pre-written homework questions. Even worse, Larry encourages group leaders to have their members read their written answers out loud during the discussion time.
Yikes! I can't imagine being able to sit through that.
To be fair, Larry notes that the practice of spontaneous questions and answers usually favors the people in your group who are extroverts or enjoy "shooting from the hip" with their answers. And that's true.
But for my taste, the answer is not to make everything scripted. Training leaders in facilitation skills (how to properly direct a discussion) and offering times of silence for everyone to think of answers to different questions would be much better.
What do you think? Does the idea of being given pre-written homework and discussion ideas sound appealing to you? Would it make things easier? Or would it only drive you crazy? Let us know!
posted by Sam O'Neal on August 19, 2009 1:51 PM