Turn Your Sermons into Small Group Studies

Turn Your Sermons into Small Group Studies

By Allen White

Many pastors are interested in creating their own video-based curriculum. But, they put it on the backburner because they feel the pressure of creating the next Purpose-Driven Life. Let me relieve some pressure for you – that’s not going to happen. There is both good and bad news in that statement.

The bad news is that you’re probably not in line to write the second bestselling non-fiction book of all time (second only to the Bible). But, the good news is you have content. When you think about your sermon files, digital, analog, or otherwise, you are loaded with content. But, how do you repurpose your vast content into curriculum?

1. Pick a Dominate Theme.

What are you passionate about? Look at the recurring themes in your past sermons and series. Do you teach about leadership, relationships, marriage, parenting, spiritual gifts, finances, or evangelism? What topics get you the most excited?

Several years back, we were working with a pastor in Bakersfield, California who wanted to write a book and video-based curriculum on relationships. His small group pastor and his assistant went treasure hunting for past sermons on the theme. They came up with an extra large banker’s box full of sermon files. The content was there. Now, it needed to be organized.

2. Choose Six Big Categories within the Theme.

For a series on relationships, the material could be sorted into “stacks” of topics like Connection, Communication, Conflict, Care…you can come up with two more categories beginning with the letter C. (I was headed toward cucumber and calamari.)

Once the content is sorted, then choose one key verse for each category and a few supplemental verses. I’m old school. I believe a Bible study should be based on the Bible.

If sermons are only available as audio or video files, get the sermons transcribed. A service like rev.com is accurate, efficient, and affordable. (It’s what I use).

3. Get to Work on Your Video Scripts.

Take the six categories and their verses and write a 10-minute script on each topic. Since sermons are often 30-45 minutes, then you’ll need to dial back the content. Videos longer than 10 minutes tend to become passive and will cause group members to zone out. Keep them engaged by keeping the video short.

After your scripts have been reviewed by the senior pastor, then prepare for your video shoot. Take the production as far as you can go. You can’t compete with professional studios, but your pastor on camera is far more meaningful than high production value. Don’t try to out Netflix, Netflix. If you need direction in creating video curriculum, curriculum coaching is available. If you prefer to hire a professional full production video team, check out my partners at All In Small Groups. Even if your videographers create amazing video, small group curriculum video is a different genre. It’s a bit of a learning curve, but help is available.

One word of advice: If you are planning to launch a New Year’s series with your own curriculum, shoot the video in mid-October to mid-November. If you wait until January, it’s too late. If your series will launch after Easter, then you should shoot the video in February. If your series is for Fall, then shoot in May/June, before everyone heads off for vacation. Don’t wait until August, or you’ll be in the weeds.

4. Write the Study.

Once the video is shot, then it’s time to write the lessons. I prefer to write after the shoot, because the video doesn’t change. Some pastors will want to see the study guide content before the shoot. Do whatever your pastor wants to do, but if you can write after the shoot, it will save you from a rewrite.

You know what curriculum is, so I don’t need to explain that. But, as you write in conjunction with the video, don’t ask obvious questions. Also, it’s a waste of time to ask questions about the main passage, since your pastor explained what the main passage means in the video. Nobody’s answer will top the pastor’s answer.

Write questions pointed toward how the group members’ personal experiences connect with the topic. Focus toward application. Your goal is to hit where the rubber meets the road, not where the rubber meets the air. Include some direct quotes from the video and base questions on these quotes. This will show the tie between the study guide and the videos.

If you need help with curriculum writing, enroll in the Writing Effective Curriculum Workshop that starts on October 31, 2018. Professional writing services for creating video scripts and study guides are also available.

5. Designing Your Curriculum.

Before you think about the design, decide on the format(s) for your curriculum. Will you offer printed study guides? Services like CreateSpace/Kindle Direct Publishing offer affordable print-on-demand services. If you use a service like this, download their guidelines and templates to make sure your designer is designing the book correctly. You might also consider your local printer. If your printer doesn’t print books, they probably have a relationship with another company who does. Again, begin with the end in mind. Start with the print specs and make sure your designer has these.

If your church has its own graphic designer, then start bringing him or her Starbucks every day starting immediately. Seriously, allow plenty of lead time. Keep in mind, most church graphic designers are overburdened with projects.

If you don’t have a graphic designer on staff, consider using a member of your congregation who may volunteer their time. Word to the wise: Look at samples of their work before you agree to let them design your book. If their work is a match, then proceed. If not, then a gentle refusal is in order. Even if you decide to use a member to design your book, only commit to one design project. If the person does great work and is easy to work with, then maybe use them again. If the work is not great or if the person is difficult, then count the cost before you use them again.

Final Thoughts

I could write a book on curriculum writing. I have learned a great deal over the years in my time working for Brett Eastman and Lifetogether Ministries. Personally, I have written curriculum for Chip Ingram, Doug Fields, Michael Phillips, and have produced series including The Daniel Plan by Rick Warren. All of that to say, I know the ins and outs of curriculum production. If you need help, I can help you.

If you would like to talk further about curriculum production or writing, please contact me at info@allenwhite.org. I’d love to share more pointers with you.

Why Writing Curriculum is Better Than Buying It

Why Writing Curriculum is Better Than Buying It

Why Writing Curriculum is Better than Buying It

By Allen White

With so much curriculum available on the market today, why write your own curriculum? Curriculum from publishers is written by professional, well-known authors. It has been thoroughly edited and proofed. The curriculum is designed and printed. All you need to do is buy it, right? While you can purchase the right study with the right topic (and without the work of creating your own), there are some distinct advantages to writing your own curriculum.

Integrate Your Church’s DNA into the Study

Published curriculum is written based on someone’s else’s doctrine, point of view, and even denomination. If those things align with your church, then published curriculum should be the way to go. But, even if the curriculum comes from your denomination, doctrinal statement, and point of view, it won’t reflect the vision and values of your church. Every church is unique. Even churches in the same tribes vary widely according to their region, their culture, their setting (urban, rural, suburban), their demographic, their ministry approach and so many other things.

You can hang your church’s mission statement on the wall, where everybody can see it, but few will remember it or live it out. Or, you can bake your vision and mission into every lesson your group members study and help them better apply your church’s vision and values to their lives.

Some churches will even name the main sections of their curriculum template after their church’s values. Let’s say your church’s mission is summed up as Connect, Grow, Serve (which is a great assimilation strategy, but is not a discipleship strategy. Read more here…). The icebreaker section of your curriculum could be the Connect Section. The Bible discussion could be the Grow Section. And, the application questions could be the Serve Section. This is not a great example, but you get it.

In order to reinforce your church’s values and take your people deeper into your church’s interaction with the community, writing your own curriculum will remind people of where the church is headed. Vision leaks. Your curriculum can recast vision on a weekly basis.

Motivate Your People to Do and Not Just Talk

A great deal of published curriculum focuses on a knowledge-based approach to discipleship. Don’t get me wrong. God gave us a book and a brain. That’s not a coincidence. Reading and studying the Bible is important. But, living out what the Bible says is even more important. After all, “faith without works is dead” (James 2:17).

Often published curriculum leads people into gaining more knowledge about the Bible and a greater understanding of the meaning of the text. But, is it changing their lives? D.L. Moody put it this way, “The Bible was not given for our information but for our transformation.” If your people are growing in knowledge, but lacking in transformation, there is a problem with how they are studying the Bible.

By writing your own curriculum, you can help your members set weekly goals for themselves, participate in specific community projects, or take on an assignment to apply your Bible study where the rubber meets the road instead of where the rubber meets the air.

As Howard Hendricks said, “Most believers are educated well beyond their level of obedience.” By writing your own studies and directing your members toward lesson outcomes that focus more on obeying God’s direction rather than outcomes focused on mere education, you will take them closer to Jesus’ instructions to “teach them to obey all I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20).

Include Future Leader Development

Curriculum does not need to serve just the single purpose of Bible study. You can integrate leadership development into each study. Rather than spending hours training group leaders to develop apprentices, you can put the leader training directly into the group study. Write questions that will help group members get further involved in the group. Nothing is off limits. Ask group members, in the lessons, to share responsibilities for the group like facilitating the discussion, leading a prayer time, opening with an icebreaker, hosting the group in their homes, bringing refreshments, organizing a serve project, or planning a social event. Group leaders can delegate everything they are currently doing to the group members. The only thing they can’t delegate is the responsibility for the group.

By including these instructions in the actual lessons, even if the leader is reluctant to ask group members to participate, the curriculum asks for them. If you provide a sign up sheet or calendar for group members to record their assignments, then it’s all set. The leader no longer has to carry the entire burden of serving the group. The members will feel greater ownership for the group. Future leaders will be identified and developed to lead future groups.

You have to do this yourself. Very little published curriculum includes small group leadership strategies as part of the lessons.

Reduce Your Curriculum Costs

Published curriculum is expensive. The average study guide will range from $8-$20 per person. While that’s merely the price of a good cup of coffee or two, for some people and for most budgets, curriculum costs are expensive. If your curriculum is video-based, then you’re probably shelling about another $25-$35 for DVDs or streaming video. Fortunately, this is not the only way.

By creating your own curriculum, you can output your lessons as a pdf and upload your videos to Youtube. There is very little cost. If you want to up the ante and provide a professional looking study guide for an alignment series or church-wide campaign, services like Amazon’s CreateSpace offer print-on-demand services. For instance, my All In study costs $2.34 per copy. You can publish books on Kindle for free or upload video to Amazon Direct Video and not charge anything. You could even use a digitally interactive format like Connector.org which integrates video and print content.

Creating your own curriculum will not only reduce costs, but will provide flexible formats for your groups. For more information on creating curriculum teaching videos, go here.

Keep What’s Important in Front of Your Groups

Publishers care about providing quality resources to help your group members interact with God’s Word. They use very gifted, well-known teachers and speakers to produce these resources. They can do a lot of things that most church’s can’t. But, there is something they cannot do.

Publishers cannot customize their curriculum for your church. But, you can. As I stated before, you can integrate your church’s mission, vision, and values into every lesson. You can lead your people toward serving your community by including details of upcoming outreach events in the lessons. Even better, you can lead the group through a discussion on serving and outreach with your serving opportunity as the outcome of the lesson. You can train your group members to become group leaders by including your leadership training in the actual lessons instead of a page in the appendices of your book.

I’m not saying to avoid published curriculum. But, I do want you to consider the possibilities of writing your own curriculum. It’s your responsibility to lead your people, not a publisher’s responsibility.

This fall I am offering a 4-week Writing Effective Curriculum Workshop. For more information, click here.

Sale ends May 31st.

Great Spring Series

Stop Losing Groups

This mini-course shows you what to do before, during, and after a study to keep groups going. Click the Image for More Info.

Serious Applicants Only

Serious Applicants Only

By Allen White 

Is this the year to get serious about groups and disciple making?

Have the small group fads come up short?

Have your people actually changed?

You may be seeing a lot of people connected into groups. You also may be seeing people who don’t have the time or interest to join a group. Your people study the Bible and hear solid preaching, but what do their lives have to show for it?

Over the last 28 years of ministry, and the seven years of Bible college and seminary before that, I have studied how people grow spiritually. It won’t surprise you that life change doesn’t come from more book learnin’. Life change comes from the challenge of obeying God and surrendering ourselves as outlined in God’s Word, the Bible.

Life change does not come from knowledge-based learning along, especially for adults. Life change does not come from assimilating into groups so they can play patty cake. Are you ready to see your members’ lives transformed?

If you are serious about seeing your people grow in 2019, then I want to invite you into a coaching experience. My approach is not the only approach. But, I have figured out some things that will help you take the guesswork out of spiritual growth.

Two different types of groups are starting in 2019: Coaching Groups for Small Group Ministry and Coaching Groups for Disciple Makers. The coaching for Small Group Ministry will walk you through setting God-sized goals, building your coaching structure, connecting people into groups that last, recruiting great leaders, and training according to your leaders’ needs. The coaching for Disciple Makers takes a new/old approach to discipling the whole person (and not just their heads!).

For more information on both coaching groups: allenwhite.org

Join an Interest Meeting for the Disciple Makers Coaching Group on Thursday, Oct. 11 at 1pm ET: Click Here to Register

To talk about your church’s needs for 2019, let’s set up a 30 minute conversation: allenwhite.org/assess

Something’s Missing

Something’s Missing

What do you do with the new leaders you’ve recruited and the groups they started? Why are your groups declining after so much success? You’re not alone.

What worked yesterday is failing you today.

After living for years with the frustration of mature people who were well qualified to lead feeling rather unqualified, we made some radical changes. An invitation to leader training is not appealing to those who don’t consider themselves to be leaders. How do you get them to see they really can lead well, if they won’t even give it a try?

We had to change the entry point. We reversed the order. Training became second. Leading was first, but we didn’t call it that. At first, we asked people to HOST a group: Heart open to God, Open your home, Serve some snacks, and Turn on the VCR…you could be a star! Then, our people discovered that “HOST” just meant “leader.” Now what?

We went undercover. As our people were given permission and opportunity, we invited them to “get together with their friends and do a study.” We were asking them to LEAD a GROUP without using those words. After all, if they could gather their friends for a short-term study, they had the stuff to lead a group. We just didn’t call it that. If the HOST model brought us dozens of new groups, then this new way brought us hundreds of new groups. But, an unintended consequence rose up.

People were condition to both a low level of commitment and a short-term experience. One church I’m working with called their groups “burst groups.” These intentionally met for six weeks, then disappeared as quickly as they started. On-going groups weren’t even a consideration. Yes, people would join groups when a campaign was offered, but the reality was this church was only discipling their people in groups about 12 weeks per year. Sure, it was better than nothing, but it was also practically nothing.

Another church recently contacted me. They’ve faithfully launched short-term campaigns for six years now, but each campaign sees a smaller return. Their groups were in disarray. Coaching was non-existent. The thought of an on-going discipleship strategy seemed like wishful thinking.

A good idea had definitely gone bad.

How did we get here? The alignment series and campaign that helped us rapidly recruit leaders and connect people into groups outlived it’s lifespan. The HOST strategy wasn’t supposed to be the answer to starting groups 15 years after 40 Days of Purpose. They never grew up. They didn’t mature. These groups didn’t produce what they were supposed to.

The strategies weren’t wrong. They did exactly what they were supposed to do for a couple of years. They were never met to go on for a decade. What’s the fix?

We have to go back to all of those things we delayed for the six week campaign: requirements, training, coaching, leadership development, and discipleship training while maintaining momentum. You can’t lower the bar and leave it low. What was delayed initially must be reintroduced in the group leader’s first year! How did we miss that?

I want to help you. I am starting a completely different type of coaching group for 2018. We will explore how to turn our short-term groups into long-term groups and how to put our leaders and groups on a pathway toward growth and maturity. Your people are ready for a challenge. We made it easy to start, but now we must lead them into something more. We can no longer treat all of groups the same. While we will always start new groups with campaigns and short-term experiences, we won’t leave them there.

In this new coaching group, we will go deep on:

  • “Converting” short-term groups to long-term groups.
  • Challenging group leaders toward deeper commitment.
  • Coaching.
  • Leadership Development.
  • Well-rounded Discipleship.
  • A Curriculum Pathway.
  • Small Group Life Cycles.
  • Mission, Outreach, Evangelism.
  • Maintaining Momentum.
  • And wherever else we need to go.

The bottom line is that it’s time to grow up your groups and leaders. What has gotten you this far will not serve you and your church well in the years ahead. Always start new groups. But, what are you leading them toward?

I’m calling this new group: Exponential Growth Coaching. This coaching group will run January – December 2019. The group of 5 churches will meet twice per month. During one meeting per month, we will invite a guest like Mike Breen, Pete Scazzero, Gary Thomas, Lance Witt, and other experts on making disciples. Since it’s a small group, you will not only hear from them, but you’ll have a chance to ask them questions. You and I will meet individually once per month. We are going to figure this out.

To apply for the Exponential Growth coaching group, please fill out this short survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/KC8KQ9W

If you have any questions, please email me: allen@allenwhite.org or give me a call 949-235-7428.

I hope you’ll join me.

Allen

7 Reasons Your Group Launch Failed

7 Reasons Your Group Launch Failed

By Allen White empty room

Fall is a prime season to launch groups in churches across the country. In my consulting work, I am working with churches from Florida to Washington and Southern California to New York City. Among churches of various sizes and denominations, we are seeing some tremendous results. But, not every church hits a home run with their group launch. Here are some reasons why.

  1. You picked the wrong topic.

Small groups are a great vehicle for people to grow spiritually. But, in order for people to grow in a group, they need to actually be in a group. If a church’s goal is to connect their congregation into groups, then a felt needs topic is very attractive. If you give people something they want to study, they will jump right in. If you offer something they “should” study, it may not go so well.

Let me go on the record: Healthy, balanced small groups cannot live by felt needs topics alone. But, kicking off groups usually doesn’t go well with series on evangelism, stewardship, fasting, or other self-sacrificial studies. You need to establish your goal. If you want to increase the number of groups, then go felt needs. If you want to grow your people deeper, then offer these topics to your established groups.

  1. You set the bar too high.

The more requirements for group leadership, the fewer leaders you will recruit. If you required all of your new leaders to be church members, complete a lengthy leadership training process, or graduate with their Master of Divinity, you certainly limited the number of groups you could launch this Fall.

Your level of acceptable risk will greatly determine the reward. If you invite people to do a study with their friends, then you are only limited to people with friends. If you increase the requirements, you lessen the impact.

If you choose to lower the bar next time, then lessen the risk by forming “unpublished” groups. If the groups don’t appear on your church’s website, group listing, or bulletin, you are not implying any kind of official endorsement of the groups. If friends invite friends, you will form good, lasting groups, and if someone gets in a bad group, well, it was their friend’s group after all.

  1. You focused on recruiting group members.

As a pastor, if the invitation is for potential group members, you may or may not actually start groups. You will certainly give yourself a lot of busy work trying to find enough leaders to accommodate the prospects or trying to place people in the right group. But, you’ve missed the mark and the point.

If you have a bunch of prospective group members, you might have a group. If you have a leader, you WILL have a group. In fact, the best way to get into a group is to start a group — you’re automatically in! When the focus is on recruiting leaders, you will greatly increase your number of groups. If your focus is on members, you will probably just end up with a mess.

  1. You put too much distance between the invitation and the response.

When you or your senior pastor made the invitation for people to start a group, how and when did they respond?

If they were sent to the church website to register, they didn’t go.

If they were sent to the church lobby, they walked right by.

If they were invited to a meeting in the near future, they forgot.

If they had a sign up card in their hand during the service, bingo, they’re in!

If they were sent an email to remind them to sign up at church on Sunday, they forgot again.

If they were sent an email with a registration link, then they signed up.

The less distance between the invitation and the response, the greater the result.

  1. You gave too many steps from “Yes” to starting the group.

If the pathway from the response to the group starting took too many steps, then you lost leaders at every phase.

If you recruited months in advance of your group launch, there were too many days before they started. Cold feet and good intentions didn’t get them there.

If you required a training class, a membership  class, a pastoral interview, a group orientation, a group connection, and a final debrief meeting, you lost, lost, lost, lost and lost new group leaders.

If you kept the steps to a minimum, based on your own acceptable level of risk, you kept far more than any of the above scenarios.

  1. Your recruitment period was too short.

A few years ago, I was working with two churches of similar size who were launching groups on the same week. One church recruited 20 new leaders. The other recruited 60. The first church recruited leaders for one week. The second church recruited for three weeks in a row. Triple the recruiting equaled triple the result. You do the math.

  1. Your senior pastor was not on board.

If your senior pastor was hesitant about your next series in any way, it hurt you. Half-hearted appeals and hit or miss invitations lead to lackluster results.

If your senior pastor didn’t make the invitation for leaders, that was a huge miss. The senior pastor will get three times the result of any other staff member. I’ve served as an associate pastor for 20 of my 28 years of ministry. As soon as I learned this, I never made the invitation again.

How do you get your senior pastor on board with the series you recommend? You don’t. If you want your group launch to succeed, you have to get on board with where your senior pastor wants to go. If you respect your senior pastor’s direction, you will see respectable results. If you try to pressure your senior pastor into a series that is not his idea, you are on your own (literally).

Last Sunday, I worshipped with a church who had never had small groups. Their senior pastor decided it was time. He cast vision for groups. He kept the response close to the invitation. He focused on recruiting leaders. He did it all right. Then, on Sunday afternoon, 360 new group leaders showed up for training (and they have two more weeks to recruit!)

Learn the lessons from your failed attempt. There is no shame in failure, but there is shame in not learning.

Free ebook: The Senior Pastors Guide to Groups

Should a Senior Pastor be in a Group?

How Many Groups Should Your Church Have?

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