Sermon-Based Small Groups

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sticky_churchAlthough sermon based small groups is an idea that’s been around for many years, it was recently brought back into the limelight by Larry Osborne’s book, Sticky Church.  In his book Osborne shares the North Coast Church small group strategy.  While there are other elements (at North Coast it is used in combination with a semester strategy), the essence of the strategy is that a discussion guide is provided that allows further discussion and application of the message the pastor just preached.

I need to point out that much like the “church of” vs “church with” small groups discussion, what we’re talking about here is not that there are some groups that use the discussion guide.  In the classic application of the strategy it is the primary type of group offered.

A very simple idea.  The question is, “Does the strategy make sense for you and your church?”  Like everything else, I’ve found it to be helpful to grant that while there is no problem-free strategy or solution, there are advantages and disadvantages:

Advantages of Sermon-Based:

  • The key advantage is probably that they do allow further discussion of the pastor’s message.  In a dialogue environment, everyone is able to ask the questions they wanted to ask on Sunday.
  • Another very powerful advantage is that it narrows the focus down to one conversation (in the small group and in the church).  Rather than group members hearing one concept on Sunday and another in their group meeting, they are allowed to focus on one thing at a time.
  • Because groups are using a curriculum that takes the pastor’s message another step, it provides a great incentive to mention what members will be talking about in the week ahead (i.e., “in your groups this week you’ll be focusing on how to take this next step.”).  Where some pastors find it difficult to actively integrate references to small groups into every message, sermon-based can make it easier to connect the dots.
  • Every Sunday focus on the importance of being in a group where “you’ll have the opportunity to dig deeper  into this topic” often encourages many to at least try out the idea of being part of a group.


Every strategy has both advantages and disadvantages.  Here are a few disadvantages you should be aware of:

  • A church-wide application of the strategy can limit additional hooks in the water.  That is, when all the groups are using the same material it doesn’t give as many opportunities (topics) for an unconnected person to consider.
  • There is an art to writing good sermon-based discussion guides.  Without the right person on the team, the discussion will simply be a closer examination of the information…without true application.
  • It can be more difficult for an outsider (a friend, neighbor or co-worker)  to jump into a group that is discussing something that everyone else has already started thinking about.

As you can see, there are advantages and disadvantages to the sermon-based strategy.  There are other strategies.  Is this the right one for your church?  It depends on several factors.  The most important factor might be the purpose of small groups in your church.  Questions?  Need help determining what makes the most sense for your church?  Why not schedule a coaching call to make your next step the right one?

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  1. Cary Branscum on October 14, 2009 at 8:17 am

    Doing sermon-based groups for the month of October right now. First time this good church has ever done it, not the first time for me, but this has gone the best for the reasons you mention in your article. Lots of prayer and sweat on the content of the discussion guides paid off in blessings for our groups. Just want to emphasize the great point you made re: discussion guides. Blessings. Cary

  2. Mark Howell on October 14, 2009 at 9:44 am

    Thanks Cary! Would love to see an example of what you guys are doing!