Small Group Life — Lifeway’s Engaging and Affordable Curriculum Line

I wrote about Lifeway’s Small Group Life curriculum series a while back when it was a new product. Now entering its second year, the series offers a number of key advantages:

  • Affordable pricing (a full year’s curriculum can cost as little as $14 per person)
  • Subscription model similar to that of a Sunday School quarterly
  • Easy preparation
  • Each study can be used as a 6 or a 12 week study (each session is designed to be divided into two)
  • Free downloadable lesson ideas for kids
  • Free downloadable videos for each session online
  • Leader’s Notes are embedded in each study and Leader’s Guide is included in every study guide
  • Family devotional ideas are included

The study guides in the series are called episodes and are part of a year-long pattern that follows Lifeway’s adult ministry strategy of connect, grow, serve, and go.

Barbarians, the fall 2010 offering, is a good example of the engaging nature of the series.  Based on the idea that “over the past two thousand years, Christianity has moved away from its renegade roots to something more comfortable–housetrained conformists who have grown soft through carefully constructed lives veiled with the order of the routine and the mundane,” this study is designed to help group members take steps back into the passionate self-abandonment of the original tribe.

Barbarians’ 6 thematic topics are:

  • The Barbarian Creed
  • Jesus the Barbarian
  • Beat of the Barbarian Heart
  • The Barbarian Call to Action
  • Barbarian Blind Spots
  • The Barbarian in Community

Barbarians is an engaging study and part of a sustainable model.  If you’re looking for a reliable curriculum to give your groups access to, this is a product you’ll want to check out.  You can find out more right here.

Downloadable Small Group Curriculum from Josh Hunt

Looking for downloadable curriculum for your small group ministry?  With over 3,000 lessons available, you probably need to take a look at Good Questions Have People Talking and JoshHunt.com.  Whether your leaders are seasoned veterans or fresh out of a new leader orientation, this is a resource that will be good to know about.

All of Josh’s studies have three important features:

  • Ready to use questions that make it easy to teach
  • Helpful insights and quotes from respected commentaries that give them depth
  • Stories and illustrations that give them life

Whether you’re looking for an in-depth Bible book study or a particular topic, you’ll find a complete catalog of available studies right here.  And let me tell you, it is a very extensive catalog.  In fact, the only thing longer is the list of enthusiastic reviews right alongside.  Very impressive.

While Josh Hunt might be best known for his church growth and training conferences (with high profile recommendations from Rick Warren, Charles Stanley, Ed Stetzer and John Maxwell), he has extensive experience developing curriculum and has been writing study questions for a long time (over two decades!)  Even at 4 lessons a week it takes quite a while to get to 3,000!

He’s also using a very affordable pricing model.  Pricing isn’t based on the number of items.  Your monthly subscription allows unlimited downloads for the month.  With pricing for an individual subscriber at $5.99 a month, there is a sliding scale based on attendance to make the lessons available church-wide.  Even pricing for a large church (over 1500) is very affordable at $99.99 a month.

You’ll find a set of free samples right here.  In fact, the whole book of Ephesians is available for you to preview free.  You’ll also find a free 7 day trial right here.  Take a look at the sample lessons.  I think you’ll discover a resource that will be a great benefit to your leaders.  Especially for your groups that enjoy working through books of the Bible, Great Questions Have Groups Talking might be just the ticket.

Whether you’re looking for a resource that will provide reliable content for groups looking for an in-depth discussion of the Bible or you just want to enrich your leaders and help prepare them to lead great discussions, I think you’ll appreciate Good Questions Have People Talking and JoshHunt.com.

Formation: Building a Reliable Foundation

My review copy of Formation: Building a Reliable Foundation arrived a couple days ago.  New from LifeWay, the Small Group Life series was launched recently.  Formation is the first release of a four study series (the others to follow over the next few months).

Thumbing through the pages, reading the introduction, even diving into the format and questions of the first session, I noticed a few things that you’ll want to know.  Before I get into a list of observations though, let me just say I think you’re going to like the Small Group Life series.  This is good stuff!

A Few Distinctives:

  • The concept is presented in episodes, scenes, and takes.  Kind of like the production of a film or a play.  The book is an episode.  Sessions within each book are scenes.  And within each scene are a couple different takes.
  • Small Group Life launches with three core values: flexibility, affordability, and continuity.
  • Flexibility: Every episode (book) in the series is designed to be a 12 week experience that can be completed two ways.  Each scene (session) can really be separated into two “takes” on the same subject.  Kind of a second run at working through the same concept with another scripture passage.  Groups that meet twice a month may want to do both takes in the same meeting.  Groups that meet weekly can easily use the second ‘take’ as followup the next week.
  • Affordability: The pricing of the material is very affordable.  In fact, it’s even available on a subscription basis at $16.95 a member for a full year of group material.  That’s a great price!  If you want to check it out first, you can order Formation right here for just $3.50 and shipping.  12 sessions!  That’s very good.
  • Continuity: Designed as a three-year journey, Small Group Life will expose your groups to “basic doctrines of the Christian faith, foundational events recorded in Scripture, and traits of Christ.”  If you’re looking for a series that can take your members somewhere…this leads to a very good destination.
  • A distinctive that I really like (and I bet you will too) is the Serve/Go section near the end of each scene.  Connected thematically with the concepts of the scene are ways the group can put into practice the principles and ideas they’ve just learned.  Very nice!
  • Small(er) Group Life: Each scene has a companion children’s resource that is available as a free downloadable pdf.  You can check one out right here.  In addition, each scene in the adult study refers to what the kids experienced, includes two family devotional ideas and a possible family activity.  That’s huge!
  • Leader Notes: The Leader’s Guide is included in each book.  The notes are not extensive, but this is a study that is very simply designed, has built-in scripture notes, and takes very little preparation for a leader to pull off.  That said, including the Leader’s Guide in the book itself makes it easier to build in the value of rotating facilitation among group members.
  • Each session has a video that is referred to in the second take.  It can be downloaded or viewed online.  They’re short, to the point and intended to help fully expose group members to the concept being studied.  You can see a sample at the end of my review.

All in all, this is a great new series!  If you’re looking for a curriculum idea for your small group system, this is a very good one and I highly recommend it.  Good job LifeWay!

Episode 1 – Atonement from LifeWay on Vimeo.

Sacred Roads: New from Threads

sacred-roads-smallLooking for a challenging journey?  Sacred Roads: Exploring the Historic Paths of Faith may be just the ticket.  New from Threads, Lifeway’s young adult and college line, this one takes you on a pilgrimage in a “search for discipleship discoveries” designed to help you re-imagine and re-invent the way it happens in the 21st century.

An important note is that although the Threads brand targets young adults, this particular study has something to offer any group that is willing to work at becoming more like Christ.  If the intent is beyond fellowship and hanging out, this is a good study to include in the list of next steps.

Similar to Red Revolution and other studies in the series, Sacred Roads is a challenging experience.  Participants will work their way through six different pathways of discipleship.  Each session is designed to be studied in advance and then discussed in a group meeting.  A feature I love is that each session ends with a verse to be memorized that will help cement the concept and make application much more tangible.

In the introduction, Zempel points out that “discipleship with Jesus was never reduced to a workbook of questions with obvious and simplistic answers.”  You won’t find that in Sacred Roads either.  What you will find is a thought-provoking and provocative experience that for most will venture into aspects of authentic discipleship that have been all but lost.

If you’re looking for a way to help groups take a next step into discipleship, this is a study that should be on your radar.  It’s not plug and play.  It will require a leader and participants committed to a journey.  But it will be a trip worth taking.  This is a good one!

Recommended Follow-Up Studies

As I’ve mentioned, when you’re launching new groups using a church-wide campaign it is very important to give your newest groups something to do next that is similar in kind.  DVD-driven.  Easy to use.  Plug and play.  They will be much more likely to continue if you help them at this critical moment.  Here are two suggestions you should take a look at:

Both of these studies are from series that have several very good titles.  They’re easy to use.  They’re on topics that will be engaging for your new groups.  Want more, you’ll find a whole list right here, but these two are my favorites for a next step.

Money Talks: New from Liquid

money_talksLooking for a creative way to jump-start a discussion about finances and stewardship in your congregation?  You may want to take a look at Money Talks, a new 5 week small group study from Liquid.  Similar to other studies in the Liquid series, Money Talks takes a look at the Penders, a California family with an outrageous view of money.  A little different than others in the series, this topic is explored with a twist of comedy…taking a little of the edge off the topic.

Episode one takes a look at Matthew 25 and The Parable of the Talents…but in a way that will capture the attention of your groups and generate a great discussion.  Whether you know your Real Housewives of Orange County or not, there’s a very familiar feel to the interview format that is very engaging.

Each of the 5 sessions follows the Pender family as they encounter the principles of a different New Testament passage.  A short talk wraps each session and sets up an engaging conversation.  The video segments are short…less than 10 minutes.  Just about the perfect length to grab attention, explore the concept, and whet the appetite for discussion.

If you’re looking for a way to help your groups talk about stewardship, Money Talks could be a way to get things started.  You can preview session 2 of the study right here.  Take a look!  I think you’ll like it.

How to Choose Curriculum to Start a Group

What curriculum helps a group get off to the best start?

I’m asked this question (or one like it) almost every week, so I thought I’d take a day and answer the question.  If you’ve asked it…here you go!  If you already have a favorite…use the comments below to add your favorite to the list!  But before I start naming names, how about a little philosophy?

First, keep in mind the skill level of your new leader.  By “skill level” I mean more than their reading level.  I’m talking about their ability to jump-start participation, to grab the attention of new members, and to facilitate interaction.  Unless I know differently, such as in the case of a new group with a seasoned leader, I know I need to choose material that is easy to use.

Second, keep in mind the maturity of the members of the new group.  This is very important.  And by maturity I don’t mean how long they’ve been at your church.  I’m really referring to the fact that they’re already living out a lot of what they’ve learned.  The Apostle Paul points out that you can look like an adult and still need milk (1 Corinthians 3:1) and the writer of Hebrews reminds us that “though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! (Hebrews 5:12).”  Unless they’re already living out what they’ve already learned…I look for material that helps with the basics to get a group started.

Third, I look for a topic that will peak the interest of the new members.  When I’m starting a group for men, I look for a title and topic that will make sense to men.  Same for women, couples, singles, etc.

Fourth, I look for a six week study.  Lyman Coleman said that six weeks is short enough to make a commitment to and long enough to begin to develop a sense of connection (very rough paraphrase).  I’ve found that to be very, very important.  There are some great 12 to 14 week studies.  They do not work well to start new groups.  They seem daunting to new people and they are tough to join after about week 3.  Six weeks is the perfect length.

Fifth, I lean toward a DVD-driven study.  I always say “there’s an upside and a downside to everything.”  The biggest upside of DVD-driven curriculum is that it makes it possible for an ordinary person to start a small group. Think about it…when you bring John Ortberg or Erwin McManus into the living room you allow them to get the discussion started.  That’s a big advantage.  When you’re using a curriculum to implement a strategy to help lots of people test-drive a small group…helping ordinary people open up their home and invite a few of their friends…that is a HUGE advantage.
I’ve found that most groups are ready to set the video aside after two or three series.  Some hang on much longer.  Most discover that they get a lot more out of their own Bible study and discussion.

Looking for a list of studies that work well?  Here are many of the studies that I’ve reviewed.  And, if you haven’t signed up to get my updates…you can do that right here.

New from Simply Youth Ministry: Live Online

sym_liveWhat do you do for student small group curriculum?  Anyone?  Anyone?

If you’re like a lot of us, you don’t have a comprehensive plan.  In fact, most of us are a little stumped when it comes to how to pull off group ministry for students!  That makes what’s coming out of Simply Youth Ministry pretty interesting!

Live is the new four year curriculum for students from Doug Fields and the folks at SYM.  You can read about it right here.  You can even download a free lesson today!

While you’re here, be sure and sign up to get my update whenever there’s something new in the world of small group ministry.  Whether you’re looking for strategy, ideas and tips, or curriculum…we believe it can be better!  Click here to get the update!

The Easter Experience

The Easter Experience, from City On A Hill Productions, is a new church-wide study from the folks that produced H2O.  With host and teacher Kyle Idleman, The Easter Experience includes a six session DVD-driven small group study that coordinates with a six weekend message series–designed to conclude with Good Friday and Easter.

The DVD-driven small group curriculum, much like H2O, uses a highly cinematic approach.  Rather than a talking head approach, each session uses dramatic storytelling and challenging teaching to present the passion and resurrection of Jesus.

Very much a campaign in a box, you’ll find basic instructions for implementation on the Leader’s Training DVD, as well as sermon outlines, graphic elements, posters, bulletins, included on the resource CD in the Church Kit.

You’ll appreciate the high quality of this production.  The onscreen reenactment of the passion week’s key events coupled with Idleman’s observations make for a dynamic experience.  In addition, they’ve done a very good job with the Participant Guide, producing a set of questions that lead to a great discussion.  If you’re a regular reader of my reviews you know that I am always looking for studies that will appeal to the people who aren’t part of your church.  Although this is a topic that’s not necessarily on the easy end, I believe it will interest many of the friends of your members.

If there is a challenge, it is the cost of the Bible Study Kit.  At $39.99 for the DVD and Leader’s Guide it is on the expensive side, however, with orders of 10 or more kits there is a 15% discount (and higher discounts may apply with larger orders).

All in all, The Easter Experience is another great study from City On A Hill Productions.  I highly recommend it.

The Tangible Kingdom Primer

tangible_kingdomSome time back I wrote about The Tangible Kingdom by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay, an engaging and challenging book about creating incarnational community.  I love it.  If you haven’t picked up your copy yet, you can order it right here.

Couple weeks ago I received a copy of the new Tangible Kingdom Primer, designed as a “spiritual formation tool to prepare your heart for mission” and a “field guide for starting mission together.”  Take a look at the Table of Contents:

  • What is Missional?  Even your group leaders have begun to hear this word.  What does it mean?  How does one live missionally?
  • What is Incarnational?  Can you be missional and stay home?
  • The Gospel: Is it just a “small set of beliefs or doctrines?”  Or is it something that should transform every area of our life?
  • What is Community?  What do you need to have it?  Can you have it alone?
  • Living Out is “the natural and deliberate process of living among, listening to, and loving people in culture, with the desire to connect them to our Christian community.”
  • Inviting In is about “friends not targets.”
  • Becoming an Apprentice isn’t about learning about discipleship.  It’s about the practice of becoming a disciple.
  • The Intuitive Life is “important because life rarely happens in steps, programs, or logical sequences.”

Let me say, “I like the way this study is formatted!”  An 8 week experience developed to help groups establish some new patterns, this book is truly a primer (a book of elementary principles).

Each week implements a series of practices:

  • Day 1: Exploration introduces the topic and helps establish an understanding of the concepts.
  • Day 2: Meditation provides a scripture to soak in.
  • Day 3: Change asks, “What does this idea mean in your life?”
  • Day 4: Action is about putting the idea into practice.
  • Day 5: Community is an opportunity to gather with friends who are putting these ideas into practice with you.
  • Day 6: Calibration revisits the theme from a new angle.
  • Day 7: Communion is intended as a day to be intentionally restful.

I think you’ll find the topics very engaging and the format very provacative.  Whether you have groups in your ministry that are ready for a next step or are dreaming of the day when your church is truly engaged in its community…this is a study you ought to check out.