Show up or Study up? Why Ongoing Studies are Good for your Group

Today’s blog post starts off with a section from the book Countdown: Launching and Leading Transformational Groups. It was co-authored by two friends, David Francis and Rick Howerton. Click here to jump to a free PDF version of the book that you can download and read.

In the book, the authors spent some time helping us think through the benefits of using ongoing curriculum in our Bible study groups. Their philosophy resonates with me; it’s the one I’ve had for the last 26 years. Here is what David and Rick had to say about curriculum, and our expectations of group members:

In a fine secular book, Discussion as a way of Teaching, professors Brookfield and Preskill argue convincingly that ‘having participants do a serious, crucial pre-reading of materials to prepare themselves for discussion increases enormously the chance that you will have good conversations” (p.17). Waggoner’s research found that people perceived spiritual growth more if they did ‘homework’ (Shape of Faith to Come, 273). If reading the Bible and other biblical materials is the number one indicator of year-over-year spiritual growth, shouldn’t we expect more of group members than just showing up? And nothing at all if they can’t show up? Providing materials has a cost, of course…(p.63).

I want everyone in ongoing groups to have some uniformity. Am I just stubborn? No. I am accountable. So are you. It is a wise leader who discovers a well-designed discipleship plan, embraces it, and sticks with it…(p.61).

Our experience suggests that group leaders eventually grow weary of the burden of curriculum selection – even if they c an see approved samples. Further, as they themselves mature, they are more likely to say something like, ‘It’s all God’s Word…just tell me what topic, text, or theme is next!’ There is actually great freedom in that declaration. (Countdown, p. 61).

A very real challenge for small group pastors, ministers of education, discipleship directors and others who lead the groups systems in churches is the selection or approval of Bible study curriculum. Few can read every word of every potential study, review it theologically, and determine if it is appropriate developmentally. Some can. But most of us need to rely on authors and brands with a track record for providing trustworthy content (Countdown, 59).

Here is a quick summary of David and Rick’s key points about the benefits of providing ongoing curriculum to groups:

  • Church leaders are accountable for what is taught and studied; so are group leaders.
  • Time constraints limit how much material can be reviewed and approved by church leaders.
  • Christian publishers like LifeWay exist to do the “heavy lifting” and design trustworthy, adaptable materials for all kinds of groups.
  • Group leaders grow weary of answering the question, “What’s next?” In fact, research for the book Transformational Groups has proven that 75% of group leaders actually want more guidance from pastors and staff to help make curriculum decisions.
  • Group members will be better prepared for group interaction and discussion if they have been provided some type of ongoing Bible study curriculum.

My conviction is that the use of ongoing curriculum greatly strengthens a Bible study ministry, makes the recruiting of new leaders and the starting of new groups much easier, and that not having to constantly search for new materials (group leaders) frees them up to serve their groups more deeply, rather than hunting down the next study their group will do together.

I realize that I could be accused of being selfishly motivated because I work for LifeWay, and this is what we do – provide trustworthy content for groups! It sounds rather self-serving for me to say “use ongoing curriculum” when it benefits me. But I actually said these things decades before serving at LifeWay when I was leading groups ministries in churches.

So, if you are using ongoing curriculum in your group, good for you! If you are not, talk with your pastor or staff leader about choosing a series and sticking with it. There’s great benefit to you and your group members!

If you want to see some of LifeWay’s best study materials for ongoing groups, click here.


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