Study guides are standard, books are great, and DVDs are a fresh way for groups to interact with Bible-based materials. Yet, whatever the type or quality of the resource, the biggest difference between a spiritually enriching study time and a painfully boring study time just might be you—the small group leader.
This weekend, we hosted our quarterly small group leadership training event called our Small Group Leader Symposium. We introduced our church’s recommended curriculum for the new ministry year. Lots of good stuff! Recommendations include some classics, some tried-and-true materials, and some brand new DVD resources.
We watched some of the new DVD-based studies together, and we talked about specific resources that have ministered to us personally. And then at the end of our time together, I challenged our leaders with the significance of their role in nurturing a rich study time. I emphasized four key ingredients for success—all focused on the importance of preparation.
1. Read and Re-Read
Unfortunately, most of us have participated in small groups where the leader had clearly not read the chapter or worked through the study guide. They didn’t really know what the chapter was about—much less the key points of the study. What was that experience like? My guess is it subtly communicated; “This wasn’t really worth the time”
As the leader, you’re not required to know every line in the chapter, but you ought to be the most well-read person in the room on the chapter or study. You need to know your way around the chapter, so when someone in your group raises a point of interest you can guide others there and speak to the topic clearly. This communicates value and importance of the material you’re studying.
Assuming you’ve read and re-read the materials, consider other ways to add depth to your study time. Is there a video clip that supports the study material? Is there an object to use as a prop that could visually enhance the teaching? Is there a quote or another writing that could be brought in to help others gain a more full understanding? Do some research outside of the study guide and consider ways to further your groups’ growth.
3. Pick the Best Questions
Not all study questions are created equal! Most study guides have far more questions than any group can possibly work through in a one discussion time. As the leader, you know the issues your group is dealing with in life. Spend some preparation time selecting which questions work best for the individuals in your group. Pick the questions that seek to connect with people’s heart—not just their head.
The goal of study questions is not to get through them all—but instead to nurture rich and spiritually-enriching conversation. (Nobody is going to test you on the material.)
4. Take Notes As You Go
As a leader, take notes on how people are processing the study material. Is someone wrestling with a Biblical truth? Was someone challenged by a thought or idea presented in the material? Take note of this—literally. This gives you insight into the hearts of those with whom you’re doing life. This also gives you connection points for ministry opportunities between studies.
Leader preparation communicates value—both of the study materials and of the individual members of your group. Take time to prepare, a rich study time depends on it!