A frequent question comes up in small group circles. Whether talking to groups of pastors or small group leaders or even in discussions within the Small Group Network, everyone wants to know, “What’s the best study on…”
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By Allen White Group members, like everybody else, are busy people. “But, if they’re really committed, they would do their homework,” you might object. What if they’re really committed and show up to the group most weeks? The question of homework raises several issues about expectations and gifts in your group. 1. What is your goal concerning homework? What is the homework preparation for? If the center of the group is sharing life together, then the preparation comes from our life experiences of the previous week. If the group is centered on a lesson, then by doing homework, each group member is prepared for the discussion. Statistically, half of the group members will do homework and the other half won’t. As the group leader, it’s important to include everybody in the discussion. Group members who prepared will be quick with their answers. Group members who didn’t prepare will need a little more time to respond. 2. What expectations have been set by the group? Has the group agreed to homework? Did the group choose the study together and go into it with eyes wide open? Did they understand how much homework would be involved? Or did the group leader spring the study on them? Group expectations are best decided together as a group. Everyone should agree to what study the group will be discussing as well as any expectations for homework, rotating leadership, bringing refreshments, etc. If the group leader chooses to assign homework without the group’s consent, then don’t be surprised by a lack of participation or a possible mutiny. 3. What benefit is there to doing homework? If the group has prepared in advance, then we understand that the lesson will be easier to lead. But, what’s in it for the group? Other than avoiding the group leader’s wrath, what do they get out of it? Group members who spend time studying the topic in God’s Word will definitely benefit from spending time in God’s Word. The principles more than likely will stick with them longer. These are all great things if the entire group agrees to it. Be clear about what is expected: self-study, daily reading, reviewing the discussion questions, attending the Sunday service. 4. What if the group can’t live up to the agreement? One summer my group decided to study a great Christian book. Our assignment was to read and discuss one chapter per week. We all agreed. Then, reality set in. While everyone attended the group each week, most of us, including the leader, had trouble getting to the chapter every week. Yet, we were committed to completing the study. Our solution was simple: at least one group member would read the assigned chapter each week, give the group a summary, and lead the discussion. This was great for many reasons. Our guilt was relieved. Everyone led at least twice that Summer, so they read at least two chapters. The group didn’t fall apart. Then, of course, we agreed to never attempt another book study again. 5. Asking for homework reveals a teaching gift. Carl George has wisely said that if the group leader is assigning homework, then more than likely, the group leader has a teaching gift. Teachers make homework assignments. His suggestion is not to use the teaching gift to assign homework. Instead, the group leader should use his gift to do the homework themselves, and then teach the group along with the group discussion. While you don’t want to turn the small group into a class, the group leader’s teaching gift can certainly enhance the discussion. Of course, the other alternative would be for the group leader to teach a Sunday School class or a Bible Institute type class rather than leading a group. Expectations can run awry unless they are clear, reasonable and accountable. The key is buy-in from the group. Adult learners are motivated by what interests them. Imposing something on them is highly demotivating. Taking the time to agree together as a group will greatly reduce frustration all of the way around.