One of the first questions usually posed by new Community Group leaders is, “What studies do I use?”  Because studying God’s Word is an essential part of your group meeting identifying the best study is one of the foundational steps toward seeing transformation take root in the lives of your group participants.  That’s why we entrust you as the group leader with the freedom and responsibility of choosing what you will study—you know your group better than anyone and have the best pulse on what where you need to grow.  Determining the best study, though, is dependent on a number of factors unique to your group.  To assist you in determining the best curriculum to use, begin with this flowchart and guidelines.

Your role as leader doesn’t end with choosing what to study, though—that’s just the beginning.  Remember, the curriculum is merely a tool in the hand of the leader; using it effectively is the key.  Here are three tips to making your group study time more effective.

People Come First

This seems obvious, but is often where it is easiest to stray.  A study is only going to be effective to the extent that it intersects with the lives of those in the group.  Take a good look at people’s needs for growth.  What do they struggle with, desire, or have interest in? This is just one example of where it’s imperative to “know” your group. Look at what is going on in their lives.  While it never hurts to get feedback from the members themselves about what they’d like to study, never rely solely on this method.  God has uniquely prepared you to lead this group of individuals toward greater transformation—use discernment to determine areas of needed growth.

This is one reason giving your group members the opportunity to share their story is such an important step.  If you didn’t do this at the beginning of your group, it’s never too late!  Take the opportunity to get to know your group members in new ways that will enable to know how to lead them better.  [See tips on sharing your story as a group.]

It’s not about you!

I once heard it said, the role of the group leader is to “be the guide on the side rather than the center stage attraction.”  Leading your group toward transformation into Christ-likeness means doing what is best for them, even if it’s not your favorite way of doing things.  As leaders this is often one of our biggest challenges.  The goal of our study time is to communicate God’s truth in such a way that those we are leading will understand it best.  That requires that we allow the members time to process things. Sometimes it may even mean you needing to get out of the way. The study portion of your group time is about leading the group into discovery of what God has prepared for that time.

This is usually reflected most clearly in your attitude and language in how you approach your study time.  Try to take the attitude of coming alongside of the group, as opposed to being the teacher over the group.  Be cautious of using parental language like should and ought.  Instead, use as many I statements as you can from a sharing perspective, rather than of an imperative perspective.  People change when they are free to make a choice.  Jesus modeled this approach by being an authority, without being authoritative. The former invites a response and promotes transparency; the latter results in disconnect and defensiveness.

Be the Model

As the leader you set the tone for what your group will expect from your group time.  You have to model the attitude and the process you expect from your group members.

What’s your attitude toward that group meeting’s study?  Don’t ever begin one of these statements (or even thoughts): “[sigh] Well, we’re on week 7 of this study, so let’s see what this section is going to say.” Or, “I’m not really sure what the point of this week’s passage is, but let’s look at it anyway.”  If you’re not excited about the study, your group members certainly won’t be!  In order to come to your group time with joy and excitement requires that you have appropriately prepared—not just collecting the content to share, but genuinely wrestling with how God’s truth impacts your life.  Only then can you come to your group honestly fired up about what He wants to do in and through you, and see this enthusiasm shared by those in your group.  As leader, you establish the tone of your group.  Model a positive attitude, expecting God to show up!

In addition, you must also model the facilitation process you expect from the group.  By “facilitation process” we mean the way by which you as a group interact and learn during your study time.  A combination of structured learning and experience learning is best, but will be limited by the willingness of the group members to be involved.  Setting ground rules is an important first step.  By establishing a Group Covenant early on in the life of your group you can lay out a unified, cohesive set of expectations for the group process.  However, making those expectations a reality only happens when group members begin to see you lead by example in beginning to live out that process in your group time.  Self-disclosure, acceptance, transparent sharing, mutual support, affirmation, and speaking the truth in love don’t just naturally happen in the group.  Continuing together along this path requires that the leader be the model.  If it’s going to happen in your group, you’re going to have to lead the way.  [A sample Group Covenant is part of the Community starter study and also available here.]

The task of making disciples is not an easy one, and it certainly doesn’t just happen by chance.  Be intentional about making your study time more effective.  Guide your group to discover the transformational power of encountering God’s truth in the context of authentic relationships, and see what He does with it!

Suggested resources for further growth in making the most of your group study:

Making Small Groups Work: What Every Small Group Leader Needs to Know (Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend)

Walking the Small Group Tightrope: Meeting the Challenges Every Group Faces (Bill Donahue and Russ Robinson)

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