Our church does “Community Groups.” Like many churches these days, ours centers on the Sunday morning worship gathering coupled with small groups of people gathered in homes. Most of our groups use the time to build friendships and to study the topic of the previous Sunday.
When it comes to the study, there are generally two questions I hear over an over. The first question is “How can I get my people to talk!?” Perhaps in the future I’ll be able to write something about group dynamics, but my simple answer to that one is always: “Ask them.”
However, the second question has been on my mind recently. It is this: “My group wants to go deeper, do you have any suggestions?”
I’m glad you asked.
Usually, when I get this question, the group leader is thinking about curriculum: “Can you suggest a book to study?” “Is there a video series that might cover this topic?”
However, I’ve been around long enough to know that even though there is some great curriculum out there, the answer to this question is almost never curriculum.
When Christians talk about wanting to go deeper, something deeper is already going on.
I’ll come back to that in a bit.
First, deeper study requires study. That is, everyone needs to be doing homework. If we want deeper discussions, we must be very clear with people that completed homework and serious forethought is required for participation. I’m astonished at the number of times a group will claim to want more in depth study but not actually put in the effort. Do not be ashamed to poke and prod people on this front or to boldly tell them what the expectations are.
For my group, I am not looking for deeper discussions if by deeper we mean new insights and more knowledge. I’m looking for deeper discussions in the sense of more deeply personal. I want people to share what’s going on in their hearts and in their lives. Previous study can uncover “deeper” truths, but the only thing to produce deeply personal discussions is the level of trust in the room.
Secondly, book studies are great fun and can be really inspirational, but they also make it difficult to invite new people into the group. It’s always hard for people to join something in the middle. If you choose a book study, Bible study, or any other tool to follow, be prepared for a season when people will be less likely to visit your group. I think this is reduced by us basing our studies on the Sunday message because anyone who came to Sunday Worship can feel prepared for the study that week, but it is something to keep in mind.
Thirdly, “deeper” studies can sometimes mask the real need people in the group have. For example, in your group, you might have a person who doesn’t actually know the Bible very well. They have been in church for a long time, but they just don’t read the Bible for themselves. For those people, reading a Christian book might actually exacerbate their problem by giving them the illusion they are doing something spiritual when they are actually avoiding God’s Word. You as the leader need to determine if that is true or not.
So here are a few ideas from me about ways to up the “spiritual depth” of your group discussions:
- Assign everyone homework that they are to take notes during my message and review them once before group time.
- Assign everyone homework that they are to read each verse from the Sunday message in context, and make notes about what they think that verse teaches.
- Assign everyone homework that they are to spend 10 minutes a day in prayer and Bible reading and bring those notes with them to the group.
- Assign everyone homework that they are to have one conversation with one person (preferably a non-Christian) each week about what they learned on Sunday before the group time.
- During group time, don’t allow the discussion to end until each person around the room has identified one specific behavioral commitment they are making in response to the topic, and to kick it up another notch, pray individually for each person and the commitment they have made, and to kick it up a notch further, begin every group meeting with a review and report of the previous week’s commitments.
Too easily, a group will begin to feel a sense of hunger for “something more,” and that’s when you as the leader need to assess why they want more before giving in to what they say they think they want.
Here’s an illustration. This last week, I preached an intentionally shallow message (let me explain to you the different books in the Bible) not because I think the people in your groups can’t read the table of contents in their Bible, but because we are coming out of Easter with an outreach focused message series. Your discussion could be just as shallow as the message was or you can turn it into something deep by helping to apply it to the lives of the people in your group. For some of your people, they need to make a commitment to pick up the Bible and read it. For some of your people, they need to open up a conversation with someone else and talk about the Bible to them!
Take advantage of the weeks of “shallow” discussions or “shallow” messages to go deeply personal with your people. And, to top it all off, when a person or group says they want to go deeper, don’t simply trust they know what they are talking about. Be their leader, help them identify both why they want to go deeper and what “deeper” means to them.
As for you, please continue to go deeply into reading God’s Word, deeply into prayer, deeply into sharing your faith, and deeply into leadership! Deeply assess where your people are and where they need to go and gently push them in that direction.