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.

Writing Effective Group Curriculum

Writing Effective Group Curriculum

By Allen White

Photo Courtesy of Luke Tevebaugh.

Whether you are writing curriculum for a video-based study or a weekly sermon discussion guide, effective curriculum requires some dedicated steps and some finesse that comes from experience. Based on studies I’ve written for both churches I’ve served on staff as well as other churches and ministries, I want to share some of the things I’ve picked up over the years.

Every Lesson has Four Parts.

Bible studies consist of these four things: Ice Breaker, Observation Questions, Interpretation Questions, and Application Questions. Or, to put it another way: How are You? What does the Text Say? What does It Mean? What are You Going to Do About It? While some studies may appear to have more parts and pieces, it all boils down to these four.

The purpose of an Ice Breaker is to get the conversation started. You want to ask a simple question that anyone can answer to get the conversation going. You don’t want an ice breaker just for the sake of an ice breaker. You want a question that will lead into the discussion to follow. A great resource for ice breakers is Cheryl Shireman’s What’s Your Story?

Observation Questions are questions anyone can answer from the Scripture passage. (I am old school and believe that a Bible study should involve the Bible.) Questions can come from quotes or actions in the text. Even a question like “What jumps out at you from this passage?”can be a great start. These are the Who, What, and Where questions. The answers are the facts from the text. Try not to oversimplify these questions or else the group will avoid them. These questions are to help the group members dip their toe into the water.

Interpretation Questions ask the How and Why questions. How do you feel about Jesus’ words? Why did the person in the passage react this way? The caution here is to ask questions that can be answered without knowledge of other passages of Scripture. If your questions assume the same vast Bible knowledge that you have, then you’re going to leave some people behind. If a cross-reference will shed light on the meaning of the passage, then add the cross-reference to the question. Don’t assume the groups know as much as you.

Application Questions are the meat of any Bible study. In our mission to “teach them to obey” as Jesus commanded us (Matthew 28:20), practically applying what the group members are learning to their own lives is the most important part of the study. How does this passage challenge their attitudes? What action should they take? Encourage group members to take on an assignment or set a goal for them to live out the following week. Then, in the next lesson, after the ice breaker, check in on their progress.

Create a template with these four parts. You can name them whatever you want to name them. If you write from a template, you never start with a blank piece of paper. For a sample template, contact me at allen@allenwhite.org.

Writing for the Entire Congregation is Tricky.

Every congregation is made up of a broad spectrum of believers. You have everyone from new believers to seasoned saints. You have people who perceive themselves as not having much to offer spiritually and people who pride themselves on their spiritual maturity. (But, how mature are they really?) You have members who have a strong command of Scripture, and you have people who are just discovering their Bibles have both Old and New Testaments. How do you write curriculum that will connect with every member in your church?

Unfortunately, most curriculum is written toward the least common denominator. You don’t want to go over anyone’s head, so you write easier questions for newer, less knowledgeable believers. The problem is you leave out those who are well beyond the new believer stage. I have found that creating a section of the curriculum simply titled “For Deeper Study” meets the needs for those who regard themselves as “deep.” This could include questions based on cross-references to the text or questions assuming greater Bible knowledge.

Deep is a slippery word. I don’t believe you need to parse Greek verbs to meet this need. You want to avoid writing lessons to what I call Bible connoisseurs who are searching for some nuance of the text they have never learned before. Read more here.  To me deep speaks to deep application. How does the word penetrate my Christian façade and speak to my true self? What if Jesus was serious about what he commanded us to do? How should my life change starting today?

You don’t want to leave anyone behind whether they have vast knowledge of Scripture or no knowledge. Creating different levels of questions in the curriculum will help you to bridge this gap. Explain to your group leaders that say the first 10 or so questions are for newer believers, but then the Going Deeper section is for more mature believers, then let them decide which questions are the most appropriate for their groups.

Integrating the Video in Your Curriculum Writing.

If you are creating video-based curriculum, then you need to provide links connecting the teaching on the video with the study guide. I’ve found that transcribing the videos with a service like Rev.com is very helpful in writing curriculum. Take exact quotes from the video teaching and put them into the study guide followed by a question. “In the video, our pastor said __________________. How does that statement impact what you think about _____________?” If you don’t refer to the video in the study guide, then sometimes the video can seem unrelated to the group study.

I prefer to write the study guide after the video shoot. This way the video doesn’t change. It’s done. Then, using your template from #1, write your questions using the same passage(s) of Scripture, the teacher used and add some quotes from the video. If something wasn’t thoroughly covered in the video, then you can add material in a lesson introduction which should be read in the group meeting.

Video-based curriculum is a great way to start discussion on a topic. The group leader does not need to be a Bible expert, because the pastor on the video is the expert. Video curriculum also makes the link between the pastor and small groups stronger. The pastor’s effort is meaningful to the group. For more on video curriculum, click here.

Training Your Group Leaders with the Curriculum.

Whatever you want your group leaders to do in a meeting should be stated in the curriculum. I prefer to put these instructions in every book rather than creating a leader guide and a student guide. I want group members to see how easy it is to lead a group and maybe they’ll lead a group on their own eventually.

Leader instructions that are taught in a meeting or hidden in the introduction to the study guide will never make it into a group meeting. If you want the group to pray together at the end of the discussion, then add a question or statement about prayer at the end of the application section. If you want group members to take responsibilities in the group like bringing refreshments, hosting the group in their home, or leading the discussion, then add these instructions into the application section during the first two weeks of the study. If you want group members to invite more people to the group, then put that in the study. If you want group members to avoid spending time on prayer requests like “Please pray for my Aunt Gertrude’s big toe,” then add those instructions into the study. You get the picture.

Leaders will be reminded if the instructions are in each lesson. If the leader skips something, then a group member will be quick to bring it up. And, in the process, group members will discover that they could lead a group themselves.

Concluding Thoughts.

There is an art and a science to curriculum writing. Curriculum requires a basic structure to get the group to where you want it to go. Remember the four parts? Curriculum writing also requires the finesse to write for an entire congregation without leaving anyone out. Integrating quotes from video teaching will make your curriculum more cohesive. Training leaders and their whole group is another great way to cast vision for future groups and get the Word of God deeper into your members’ lives.

Oh, and if all of this seems too much for you, then recruit a volunteer team of writers to help you. Don’t make any promises on what you will or won’t use, but ask them to help. Other paid services like Lifeway’s smallgroup.com can also help you create your own curriculum.

There is nothing wrong with purchasing your curriculum. But, writing your own curriculum gives you the chance to encode each lesson with your church’s DNA and address specific things to your congregation.

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