How We Got To 80% – part 4 (Curriculum)


This week I am continuing the series of how we got over 80% of our adults in community groups. You can read part 1, part 2, & part 3.

One of the scariest thoughts for a new leader is “what should our study be?”. It should also be something that group pastors/directors take very seriously. The way that the Gospel is lived out will be greatly influenced by what is discussed and regurgitated during that weekly group time. There are some great studies out there – and there are some really bad ones as well.

Each church has its own system when it comes to curriculum for groups. Some churches have all of their groups do studies based on the sermons. Some have a list of approved studies. Some only do straight up Bible studies. Some allow their groups to pick any study that works for them (Free Market). We fall somewhere in the middle of all of those. Here is a list of what our groups do and the pros and cons for each one.

Message Notes – I love studies based on the Sunday messages – especially for brand new groups. A great resource for learning how to do message notes is “Sticky Church” by Larry Osborne.


  • It doesn’t cost any money.
  • No one has to teach the material.
  • Group members have done their “homework” by just attending on Sunday or catching the podcast on the way to group.
  • It re-emphasizes the message for the entire week. Most people have forgotten the points of the message by Monday (sorry, pastors, it’s true).


  • The downside to message notes studies is that veteran groups will start hearing the same answers after about 2 years.

DVD Based Studies – Well done DVD studies are perfect for new and veteran groups. I think Pete’s books, Plan B and Empty Promises, are two of the best DVD studies out there.


  • The teaching is done by a trusted, talented communicator.
  • They have study guides that help walk the group through a discussion.
  • Most study guides have bonus material for group members to read during the week.
  • There is usually a Leader’s Guide that has suggestions for helping the group work toward action points out of the study.


  • Studies that are not creatively produced can end up boring the group before the discussion even gets started.
  • Some studies can be costly.

Book Studies – A lot of books will have group study questions that follow each chapter, or at the end of the book. John Ortberg’s books always have great studies built-in.


  • Great for people who learn best through reading.
  • Some people need the extra motivation to read more.


  • For me, this is the least effective kind of study. It is very difficult to get people to actually read the book (especially guys), and you spend half of the time catching everyone up on what they should have already read.
  • It puts a lot more on the leader to be prepared. I have attended groups where the leader didn’t read the chapter. That’s a bad group.

Bible Studies – There are some great Bible studies for groups that just want to drill down on books of the Bible.


  • Hard to go wrong with the Bible as your source material.
  • Great for veteran groups that have just done message notes for a while.


  • I would be careful with newer groups that have inexperienced leaders. They may not be prepared for some of the questions and rabbit trails that will inevitably happen.
  • They will need more coaching than a leader that is doing message notes or a DVD based study.

I would suggest having an accessible list of approved curriculum with a mixture of all of the above. It’s also helpful to have a library with several different studies that leaders can check in and out for a semester. You might ask groups that have already purchased curriculum if they would be willing to donate it to the church when they are finished.

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About the author

Chris Surratt is a ministry consultant and coach with more than twenty years of experience serving the local church. Chris served on the Executive Teams at Cross Point Church in Nashville, TN., and Seacoast Church in Charleston, S.C., prior to becoming the Discipleship and Small Groups Specialist for LifeWay Christian Resources. He is the author of Small Groups for the Rest of Us and the just released, Leading Small Groups: How to Gather, Launch, Lead, and Multiply Your Small Group.

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