What I’m Learning About Small Groups: Evaluate and Improve (Part 2)


Time to Evaluate

This is part two of a series of posts I am doing describing the process of evaluating our small group curriculum at First Family Church and the changes we made based on feedback.

If you missed it, you can read part 1 of the series here in which I describe our curriculum for the 2012-13 school year.

Starting in the Fall of 2013, we completely revised our curriculum to focus our groups more intentionally on the lessons from our weekend teaching and to provide our church family with more notes heading into their small group discussion.

From our 2012-13 curriculum, we eliminated the following:

  • The Compass
  • The Extra Point Podcast
  • The Study Notes

We completely revised our Weekly Group Handout, added more detailed Sermon Notes, and provided a Leader’s Study Guide in place of the Study Notes.

Finally, we added a weekly study group to our routine. Every Thursday morning, our teaching team made up of Todd Stiles, Carlos Jerez, and myself meet for about 90 minutes to work through a passage of the text we will be teaching. We try to stay about three weeks ahead on our teaching schedule so we have time to develop the curriculum that will coordinate with the weekend sermon. [NOTE: Here is our planning calendar for the book of Acts. We work from this document throughout the series. Our planning calendar is typically complete for the next six months with a rough draft of the next year in place. You can view our planning calendar for the 2014-15 year right here.]

Here’s an overview of the various pieces we offered in 2013-14:

Sermon Notes

Sermon Notes—this was a good addition that proved to be well appreciated by our congregation. Prior to offering sermon notes, we simply provided a space on the back of our worship folder for notes. Now, we provide our church with a simple outline of the message with plenty of room to write. We also provide a link on the sermon notes to an online version for those who are using tablets during church. The sermon notes include a “Sermon In a Sentence,” which is a lesson we picked up from Haddon Robinson’s classic book on preaching, Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository SermonsIn Chapter 2 of his book, Robinson quotes J. H. Jowett to summarize the idea of a Sermon In a Sentence:

I have a conviction that no sermon is ready for preaching, not ready for writing out, until we can express its theme in a short, pregnant sentence as clear as a crystal. I find the getting of that sentence is the hardest, the most exacting, and the most fruitful labour in my study. To compel oneself to fashion that sentence, to dismiss every word that is vague, ragged, ambiguous, to think oneself through to a form of words which defines the theme with scrupulous exactness— this is surely one of the most vital and essential factors in the making of a sermon: and I do not think any sermon ought to be preached or even written, until that sentence has emerged, clear and lucid as a cloudless moon.[1]

Starting in the Fall of 2013, every sermon produced through First Family included a summary Sermon in a Sentence statement that we used to guide our curriculum development. [See example.]

Group Handout

Weekly Group Handout–the Group Handout was converted from a single letter-sized document printed on both sided to a single sheet that formed the inside of our Sermon Notes insert in the worship folder. By combining these into one document and inserting them into our worship folder, we ensured that everyone who was handed a worship folder as they entered the church also received our Sermon Notes and Group Handout. The Group Handout includes the same elements of the previous year’s handout: an Introduction, Getting Into the Text, Digging Deeper, and Conclusion. Moreover, this helps our church begin processing the group discussion questions while they are listening to the sermon. [See example.]



Leader Study Guide

The Leader’s Study Guide–in revamping our Leader’s Study Guide, we intentional sought to provide more direct answers to the discussion questions rather than require the leader to dig out the answers from a commentary. Our approach was simple: we provided the question from the handout and in a different font provided an answer for the leader to use as a basis for his own response during small group time. In addition, we provided some basic commentary on the weekly text so our Small Group Leaders would enter the discussion with a basic level of confidence and understanding of the text. [See example.]

Reflection on Changes

Overall, I believe we made several positive changes to our curriculum in 2013–14 based on the feedback from our leaders at the conclusion of the 2012–13 year.

If I had to highlight the single change we made that most impacted the quality of our teaching, that would be the addition of a weekly study time. I am often amazed at how much more progress we make during our 90 minute discussion over the same amount of time studying in isolation. Adding the Study Group to our weekly preparation has helped us simplify our teaching and unify our message across multiple campuses and in our small group curriculum.

Have you learned any lessons in preparing curriculum for small groups that would help us continue to improve our process?

What I’m Learning About Small Groups:

  1. Robinson, Haddon W. (2001–06–01). Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages (Kindle Locations 475–479). Baker Book Group – A. Kindle Edition. ↩

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