5 Reasons Why Our Small Groups Stopped Doing “Book Studies”, And I’m Glad

For the last couple of years our small groups went through various books. We’ve been through Crazy Love, Radical, Jesus + Nothing = Everything, and a few other books. I believe that people have benefited from these books. It also has helped to create a reading culture in our church.

But we’ve stopped…

Before we launched our Spring semester of small groups we made the decision to can the book studies. Our main reason was a conviction that what we need more than anything in our church is for people to deal directly with God in His Word. Therefore, our small group material is a recap of the morning sermon with a brief commentary on the text and 8-10 questions (prepared by yours truly).

Our people have loved it. And it has breathed new life into our small groups. Here, I believe are 5 reasons why:

  1. Easier to have open groups. In the past, when a new person/couple attended our church it was awkward to invite them to a small group, especially when we were six weeks into a book study. Now, there is no hesitation. We’ll just be talking about that morning’s sermon. They are as prepared as anyone else in the group.
  2. It creates better sermon listening. It’s not really a “quiz” in our small groups—but I do believe that people tend to listen better when they know they’ll have to talk about what they heard. Our small groups cause people to own that weeks sermon for a longer period of time.
  3. It teaches people to go directly to the Word. Rather than being mediated through books, authors, etc., this helps people to deal directly with what God says. Hopefully, this trains people to ask what God thinks about a situation before we ask what our favorite Bible teachers say. Furthermore, this teaches our people to ground application in the proper context of God’s Word.
  4. It gives people a whole theology. One of the benefits of verse by verse preaching is that it causes us to deal with the whole counsel of God. That gets circumvented if we pick and choose which books we are going to go through each semester. We will always pick the ones that we are comfortable with. Doing small groups this way causes us to discuss uncomfortable topics and in turn to teach the whole counsel of God.
  5. It’s harder to dismiss. If somebody doesn’t like a point that an author makes it can be easy to dismiss them. In fact, we’ve seen people dismiss entire books based upon not liking the way that an author writes. It’s a tad more difficult to say that about God’s Word. If you don’t like the way something is written or what it is saying you have to deal directly with God.

There are several other benefits that we’ve seen to doing our small groups this way. The involvement of our members has been greater. People spend their weeks reading God’s Word more than reading other books. I’m sure that I could think of even more reasons.

Going through book studies might be helpful for your church. It might be something necessary for the season that you are in. For us, though, at First Baptist Jasper, canning the book studies has been one of the greatest blessings for our church. I’m glad we did it.

  • http://www.challies.com Tim Challies

    “Crazy Love, Radical, Jesus + Nothing = Everything.” If those books are representative, you may have been reading the wrong kind of book. Each of those is worth reading, but there are books that are much, much better in a group context. Like “The Holiness of God” or “The Discipline of Grace.”

    • http://mikeleake.net Mike Leake

      Crazy Love was actually one that the church did before I got there. We did Tripp’s How People Change, which went okay but I don’t know if people were ready for it. Radical went well. Tullian’s book didn’t go well at all (wasn’t good for group context). We did Chan’s Forgotten God, which was geared towards group stuff–and it bombed. As did Compelled by Love.

      I like your suggestions of The Holiness of God and The Discipline of Grace, and see how they’d be much better in group context. But like I said in the article, at this season in the life of our church I think going straight to the Word is beneficial. In a different season we might go back to a book study–and if we do I think something like Holiness of God would be a great place to look.

      • http://OneFear.net/ John Warren

        I think there’s something to be said for both approaches:

        If doing book studies, some serious thought needs to go into what books would be most useful in a group setting and within the context of a specific group. If that is a part of the book selection process, I think book studies can be very valuable.

        But there is definitely something to be said for going straight to Scripture and tying it in directly with the message the Pastor brought that week. Ultimately, I think I would normally lean this direction, but it may take more time and prep work for the person leading the group.

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  • Michelle Dacus Lesley

    I’m a book study author, and I find myself very much in agreement with you! Lots of good food for thought for me as I write. Great article, thanks!

  • Troy Walliser

    Logistical questions: Do you have on-campus small groups and if so do they discuss your sermon the following week or does your worship service precede your small group hour?

    • http://mikeleake.net Mike Leake

      Troy,
      At present all of our small groups (we call them Life Groups) meet on Sunday evenings. We have one at the church that kind of serves as a Sunday evening service. Then we have multiple ones meeting in homes throughout our community.

      If we eventually have groups meet throughout the week we will have people discuss the previous Sunday sermon.

  • Marty King

    Would this approach work as well if group met before sermon?

    • http://mikeleake.net Mike Leake

      It would work if you discussed the previous weeks sermon/text.

      • Marty King

        As a group leader, I like this approach and agree with your reasons. But, as pastor, you wouldn’t suggest groups discussing the sermon subject/text prior to your message?

        • http://mikeleake.net Mike Leake

          Personally, I think it works better to do it after the sermon, simply for the sake of focus. Of course I’m not opposed to people discussing the subject/text prior to the message–and occasionally that will happen since we know our preaching calendar well in advance. Sometimes we will put a few questions that will get us ready for next weeks text.

      • Chuck Huckaby

        I know a church in England that studied the text for the upcoming Sunday the week before. That way people were “primed” to hear the sermon and they had done some pre-study.

        http://transforminggrace.wordpress.com/2011/03/17/why-the-swedish-bible-study-method-is-so-good/

  • Chuck Huckaby

    I appreciate your comments here. Saying that you’re simply “Reading the wrong kind of book” just means you’re probably refining the quality of your crutch! Book after book usually are – after all – a crutch to keep us from facing the Bible squarely. It’s not that I don’t like great books, it’s that I probably love them TOO MUCH. And when that happens they keep me safely insulated from God’s Word. I have shared your post on my FB page and hope it will get you some readers…

    http://www.facebook.com/disciplemakinginthehistoricchurch/posts/415752291880393

    • http://mikeleake.net Mike Leake

      Thanks for sharing the article, Chuck.

      • Chuck Huckaby

        No problem!

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