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Sermon-based small group discussions

During our recent sermon series on the Song of Solomon (click here for related resources) our small group ministry experimented with a concept widely known as the sermon-based discussion method. We learned of this method from Larry Osborne and his team at North Coast Church. They have been doing this for a number of years now and have found it helpful in many ways. The method is simple: small groups, for their discussion/study time, cover the same general material the teaching pastor covers that week in the sermon. I say general because the secret ingredient to this is that the group is able to survey and discuss passages of scripture that correspond to the passage taught from in the sermon, while still covering the sermon passage as well.

The feedback from our leaders who participated in the experiment has been better than expected. These groups have by and large felt more a part of what we are doing as a church, and these leaders are the ones who are staying connected with our vision. Not to mention, these leaders have told me several times how much better we have made their job! Many of our leaders are not bible scholars (ok I think all but 2 are not bible scholars). They are Christians who want to love on other Christian brothers and sisters through encouraging them and doing life together with them. I don’t want to stamp out that fire by making them spend 10 hours preparing a study on Romans 7 and being so nervous with what they are going to share that they don’t take time to engage in real conversation with people in their group who silently but desperately need their leader’s care.

With the sermon-based method, we’ve taken those 10 hours away from the group leader and given them to our pastoral team. We write the studies each week and leave the group leader with the responsibility to download or pick-up the study a day or two before the group meeting so they can go over it (but if they download it 5 minutes before group starts they are still ok!).

Larry Osborne talks more about the advantages of this method in a recent article you should probably read.

Caveat: This model in no way “dumbs down” our hope for what a mature Christ follower should look like. We desperately want people to love Jesus and meet with God when they open His word each day. We actually believe this method will encourage spiritual growth more than others have that simply left small group leaders on an island to figure Romans 7 out for themselves. We are giving every small group member direct access to the teaching and leading of our pastoral team (who we believe God has gifted with teaching abilities for the building up of the rest of the church) who prepares the sermons and discussion guides each week!

We are excited about where this model will take us. Have you tried this before? What has your experience been like? Use the comment section and let me know.

  1. June 17, 2008 at 3:34 pm


    Great post, and really intriguing idea. Our small group is excited about trying this with the series on Moses that we’re planning this summer. I can say with certainty that I’ve enjoyed church-provided material and what that does for my planning and preparing. I’m excited to know that we’ll be aligned with what other groups and the church at large will be doing.

    Thanks for all you do. God bless you.


  2. Curt
    June 18, 2008 at 6:29 pm

    I was recently brought on staff at a church to oversee and restructure existing and future small groups and adult discipleship programming. We’re gonna be using this approach with our Sunday morning groups/classes and then we’ll hopefully begin working it into the overall life of our small groups.
    At my previous church I was the preaching minister and I hated the idea of spending so much time preparing a sermon only to have it over and done with in 30 minutes without any thing in place for follow-up or personal application. So I really like this idea and think it’s a great way to set things up.

  1. May 5, 2010 at 3:06 pm

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