Do you know why Personal Study Guides are a Good Idea for Groups?

Not to be confused with MSG (bad) PSGs (good) are an essential discipleship tool for Christians today. Unfortunately, in an attempt to trim costs, some churches have opted to order only leader materials – or worse: they order nothing at all and teachers have to “make it up as they go.”

Other churches PSGshave chosen to provide every member and guest with their own Bible study booklet. That PSG (Personal Study Guide) is an important part of a group Bible study experience. I’m a big fan of every group member (and guest) having their own PSG.

It sounds self-serving, I know, because I work for a Christian publisher that creates PSGs for its Bible studies. But even before I went to work for LifeWay, I was what Ken Blanchard would describe as “a raving fan” – a raving fan of PSGs. In fact, I was such a big fan that every kid, student, adult, and guest in my Sunday School received a PSG. Here are 4 reasons why PSGs are a good idea:

  1. Discipleship doesn’t take a day off. You know as well as I do that people attend Bible studies sporadically. People are often present one week, then absent two. But if that person has a PSG, they can continue to read, study, and respond to God’s Word between Bible study sessions. Just because the person is absent doesn’t mean they should take time off from being immersed in God’s Word! Having a PSG means the absentee can keep up with the group.
  2. The group experience is better with PSGs. Having a PSG before the group meets for Bible study makes it possible for group members to read and study ahead. They can jot down questions, respond to statements made by the author, and mark words or phrases for which they need more clarification. Coming into a group Bible study “warmed up” helps every member to get into the Bible study. We’ve all been a part of a group in which no one prepared in advance. Boring! People just sit there, waiting for the teacher to do it all. PSGs give group members plenty of material to jog their thinking, challenge their understanding, and apply biblical principles to their lives.
  3. The PSG helps guests fit in. Savvy churches are handing out PSGs at their guest centers  and in their groups. When a person fills out a guest information card, they are handed a PSG. The PSG is theirs to keep whether or not they attend a group. Having PSGs at greeter stations sends a healthy signal that the church cares for its members and guests, invests financially in people’s spiritual growth, and raises expectations about what will take place in the Bible study groups. It’s difficult to get visitors to attend a Bible study group; fear of the unknown often keeps some people away. But having a PSG in advance puts the guest on a level playing field with every other member of the group. Now they know what the group is studying (and will study).
  4. The financial investment is fantastic. A PSG produced by my company costs approximately $2.65 per person. Before you say “that’s a lot of money” (because you may be purchasing them for hundreds of people), consider this: each PSG contains 13 complete Bible studies. By doing the math, that means each session costs just $.20! There is no other resource a church could provide to help people mature in their daily walk with Christ, and nothing more economical they could provide to create better group experiences for everyone, than a $.20 a week Personal Study Guide.

That’s just 4 reasons to consider using Personal Study Guides in your group (or groups). I can think of at least that many more! I’ll save those for a future post.

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The reason your group may not be making disciples is simple

Today’s post, like all posts on Mondays, comes from a book that I recommend you place in your personal library. Discipleship  That Fits, by Alex Absalom, is one such book. He has a simple definition of discipleship that I like, and he has some great thoughts about what discipleship really looks like, or should look like, in your church and in. your Bible study group. He also tackles an important subject: why the Western church may not be making disciples like it should. As group leaders, you and I have the ability to change this! Here is what Alex Absalom has to say. See if his words fit your church and your Bible study group:

Discipleship is helping people to trust and follow Jesus…So often we in the church focus the vast bulk of our discipleship (and evangelistic) energies on the transfer of information. And while there certainly is an undending depth to what we believe, an overemphasis on information transfer is not the most effective way to disciple others – and definitely is not the predominant biblical pattern…discipleship is imitation…Discipleship is primarily about imitation over information…Good discipleship is a balance of relationships, experiences, and information. Regrettably, the Western church has the tendency to emphasize information downloading over relational discipleship. Instead, relationships should be the highest priority (pp. 19-26).

Alex’s main point is that we tend to think we are making disciples because we are transferring information to them through our Bible studies. Like he said, the Bible contains rich truths that need to be understood by Jesus’ disciples. But if that’s all we do to produce disciples, it will fall short. Relationships are required to make disciples. 

If that is true, then here are a few implications for our Bible study groups (I shared these with a group of church leaders in Arizona this past weekend when I was out there to provide a day of training):

  1. Groups must become smaller –  I cannot have a relationship with every member of my group if I’m teaching a “pastor’s class” or another class that is large in size, say 40+ in attendance (that’s like teaching a small church!). 
  2. Groups must become more interactive – Group members must be allowed opportunities to talk and wrestle with the biblical text. A smaller group is a more conducive environment for conversations than a large “master teacher” class. As I hear people in my group share stories of struggles and victories, and as they ask questions of both me and the biblical text, I will know how to serve them and disciple them into people who look and act like Christ.

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