6 Reasons why a Personal Study Guide Enhances People’s Spiritual Growth

Today’s blog post is practically a guest blog post by my friend and colleague, Richard Edfeldt. Richard is one of LifeWay’s Church Partners, a group of dedicated professionals who visit many churches each week. In the course of a Church Partner’s week, he will keep a pulse on trends, recommend curriculum, provide impromptu counseling on education and other church-related matters, and provide training when needed. Richard and his fellow Church Partners are terrific experts, and invaluable to the churches to whom they relate.

Richard Edfeldt, LifeWay Church Partner

Richard compiled a document that pulls together a number of reasons why church leaders and group leaders should consider the value of Personal Study Guides (PSGs). Perhaps you know these as “Sunday School Quarterlies” or some other term. It’s the small book full of 13 Bible studies that most churches provide for their members and guests. When I saw Richard’s document, I asked permission to post it here on the blog. Without further ado, here are some reasons why PSGs are a valuable tool to help people grow as disciples, straight from Richard and the helpful document he compiled:

The largest research project ever conducted on effective discipleship practices revealed that healthy churches teach people to connect to God’s Word, both on an individual basis as well as in community. But that connection doesn’t just happen.  It requires an intentional plan and provision of resources.  It also requires a consistency of purpose.  Finally, it requires time in God’s Word.

So how can you help your members learn to connect to God’s Word?

By training them to use a Personal Study Guide!

Why Personal Study Guides are important to a person’s discipleship development:

  1. THEY REMOVE BARRIERS. When you hand someone a Personal Study Guide, you remove his/her biggest obstacle in connecting with the Bible – confidence.  Essentially, you equip long term members to become active participants and you tell guests, “We want you back. You belong here.

  2. THEY ARE A DISCIPLESHIP TOOL. Learning to connect to God’s Word doesn’t happen overnight. It takes intentionality and commitment. The Personal Study Guide provides guidance and commentary to help an individual understand what they’re reading in a format that is easy to follow. It also helps them develop a daily time in the Word and with God.

  3. THEY INCREASE A PERSON’S EXPOSURE TO THE WORD. Exposure to God’s Word transforms a disciple’s life.  Giving someone a Personal Study Guide communicates that personal Bible reading and study is essential for spiritual growth and it provides them with a practical guide to approach their person Bible study time.

  4. THEY CAN ADD TO DEEPER DISCUSSION.  The Personal Study Guide exposes an individual to questions that promote understanding and application throughout the week. Giving an individual time to digest the Scripture on their own helps lead them to deeper discussion when the group meets weekly.

  5. THEY CREATE A STRONGER COMMUNITY CONNECTION. Through repeated exposure to the Word and to deeper group discussion, Personal Study Guide also helps deepen the investment an individual makes to their group and to their church. As a result, the people in your groups become some of your most engaged church members.

  6. THEY DEVELOP LEADERS.  Every group has people who are already well equipped to lead, but may not believe it yet.  These guides demystify the process of preparing and leading the group conversation, giving the group member the confidence they need to take the next step toward becoming a group leader.

The PSGs that LifeWay produces, for example, cost approximately $2.75 each for 13 Bible studies. The PSGs are printed on high-quality paper, and in 4-colors so that the brilliance of some photos really shines through. At this price, a church can provide an individual with a PSG for just $.03 per day! There is no greater investment that a church could make than to provide its members and guests with Personal Study Guides.

Tomorrow’s post is also going to come straight from Richard’s document – this time he will show us 11 ways to encourage people to use Personal Study Guides in their quest to be fully devoted followers of Christ.

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The Value of Personal Study Guides

Today’s blog post is an excerpt taken from the book One Hundred by David Francis and Michael Kelley. It’s a book that is intended to help the smaller church move past the 100 barrier and reach new people.

In this brief excerpt, Francis and Kelley help us understand the value of providing printed curriculum for group members. An unfortunate trend today is that churches are decreasing or eliminating this valuable tool from their teacher’s toolboxes. I wish it wasn’t so, and not just because I work for a company that produces Personal Study Guides! I’m a group leader like many of you, and I’ve seen the value of Personal Study Guides in my adult Bible study group. We use them weekly to guide our study time. Here is what the two authors have to say:

It’s a good and right thing to expect members to come prepared for the class session. That’s one advantage of providing inexpensive printed curriculum materials…Along with your invitation (for guests to come back)  you can provide a copy of the study material you are using. If you are using what we call “ongoing” material at LifeWay, you can say something like, “Here’s a booklet with the topics and Scriptures we’re studying in our class right now. Before you come, you might want to take a few minutes to find the study for that weekend in the book, and read ahead. …By that simple act, you’ve removed the number one barrier for adults: thinking they know too little about the Bible to participate. (pp.24-25)

Personal Study Guides cost about $2.50 each, which boils down to a whopping $.19 a week (they contain 13 Bible studies). For less than a quarter a week, you can put God’s Word into the hands of members and guests, and you will have a more robust Bible study when everyone has had the chance to read ahead and study on their own.

Another advantage to using ongoing curriculum is that you don’t have to stress out about what your group is going to study every 4 to 8 weeks! The scope and sequence is predetermined by teams of experts who carefully craft the materials and choose topics and passages to be studied. It relieves me of that responsibility as a group leader, and it frees up my time to focus on meeting the needs of my group members as a teacher-shepherd.

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Discipleship and PSGs: Discipleship Shouldn’t Take a Week Off

If we care about the discipleship and growth of people in our Bible study groups, there is an inexpensive discipleship tool that should be made available to every group member. My parent’s generation called them “quarterlies.” Many people still call them that, but the terminology is shifting to PSGs (Personal Study Guides). They are personal in the sense they are to be read by one person, with notes and questions written all over the pages of the book as the believer studies the Scripture. Here is a great lesson I re-learned this past Sunday.

How a snow day taught me to continue valuing the PSG

My church did not meet for Bible study two weekends ago. Five inches of snow and frozen parking lots made it almost impossible to navigate the streets. Many churches either canceled all morning and evening events, or they held one worship service only. My Bible study group was canceled. Perhaps you’ve experienced something like this?

My Bible study group was set to begin a new six-session Bible study series on that snow day. One week later my group gathered together for Bible study after our church’s morning worship service. I was faced with a dilemma:  do I teach the first session (the one we missed because of the snow day) or do I stay in step with the suggested Bible study dates in the table of contents and simply teach the second session and skip the intro session?

I chose to teach the first session, but everyone in the group who had their own PSG read the second Bible study session and were ready for me to dive into that study. One lady, Arlene, made the comment that she “always likes to come to the group prepared,” so she studied the second session. Here is what I told the group when they found out we were going to skip over the second session and get back on schedule by moving on to session 3 the next time we meet:

“Discipleship doesn’t take a week off”

By that I meant that the people’s time had not been wasted if they read the second session of the Bible study, studied it, responded to the questions in the session, and were prepared for me to lead them through that study. The snow day may have interrupted my church’s schedule, but because every one of the people in my group are provided a PSG by our church, discipleship didn’t take a week off, and their growth as believers wasn’t interrupted, either. Instead, people stayed in God’s Word even when they couldn’t get to church. They met with God. They read their Bibles. They responded to questions and insights in their PSGs. There was no wasted energy! The PSG is an essential, foundational discipleship tool.

In a new book co-authored by David Francis, Michael Kelley, and myself (click here to get Teacher - Conversational Communityyour copy), we asked the question, “Where did we get the idea that people can only learn in a group? Certainly not from the research” (Teacher: Creating Conversational Community, p.17). The most important factor in a Christian’s growth toward maturity is whether or not they regularly read the Bible and other Christian literature. As asked in the book, “Shouldn’t we expect members to ‘keep up’ with the group study – whether or not they are in attendance every time?” (p.17).

Why Personal Study Guides are so Important These Days

There are some church practices we identify in the book that are making discipleship more and more difficult. See if you have seen any of these in your church:

  • Groups are meeting less frequently
  • “Active” members are attending less frequently
  • Members are not provided study materials of their own
  • Thus, they have nothing to study when they miss the group’s Bible study time
  • Therefore, discipleship is dependent on unprepared members with less-than-perfect attendance in groups that typically meet less frequently than they once did

So we believe that it is wise in this changing environment:

  • To focus on the key indicator of spiritual growth: self-feeding on the Bible and other Christian materials
  • Provide Bible study material that is part of a “map” for discipleship
  • Expect members to use the materials to prepare for the group’s Bible study and conversation, whether they attend the group or not

It’s not about Personal Study Guides – it’s all about people’s discipleship. This past week I had a wonderful reminder about the value of a little Personal Study Guide and how it kept my entire group grounded in God’s Word, plugged into Scripture, prepared them for class, and helped them learn new things about God and themselves.

I hope you and your church have PSGs that you use to self-feed on God’s Word and to prepare yourself to engage in active learning through the study and discussion of the Bible.