By Aaron Earls
Where can a church begin looking for the right Bible study materials? For some, it may be within the church itself.
Unique circumstances make churches different from each other. For most churches, those differences don’t require Bible study curriculum specifically designed for their situation. But some churches may require customized material.
Let’s say a church wants a study to accompany a sermon series or undergird a special church-wide campaign. Customized Bible studies haven’t always been readily available for most churches, according to Michael Kelley, director of Groups Ministry at Lifeway Christian Resources.
“Up until now,” Kelley said, “if a church needed curriculum written specifically for them, the only real option was to invest a significant amount of time and money in producing it themselves.”
Even for churches that had the resources to manage a project of this size, the work often suffered, Kelley said, “because the church is simply too pressed for time in all their areas of ministry.”
To solve that problem, Kelley and others at Lifeway developed SmallGroup.com, a web-based tool that allows churches to create and customize Bible studies for themselves. “With SmallGroup.com, a church can have customized content and still devote their energy to other areas of ministry,” Kelley said.
The site has more than 1,200 searchable studies on 400 topics from all 66 books of the Bible. If a passage or topic isn’t available, one of the best features of SmallGroup.com, according to Kelley, is that users can request a study at no additional charge and a Lifeway curriculum specialist will contact them with 48 hours. Users can even add church-specific logos and terminology to their Bible study templates.
This was the tool Jorge Molina was looking for. Molina is small groups pastor at Christ Fellowship in Miami. He said SmallGroup.com offers an advantage to churches that take time to hear from their people what is needed for Bible study and create materials to reflect those needs.
According to Molina, any church can benefit from the church-based curriculum. “This system lets you customize the material to what you feel is best for the people you lead,” he said.
Kelley noted three specific small group approaches that were part of the development of SmallGroup.com. First, wanted to develop something that would help churches that prefer sermon-based content.
Chris Surratt, a ministry consultant who used the website at Cross Point Church in Nashville, said he appreciates pre-made studies, but customizable options allow leaders to adjust the content to fit their church. “You have the foundation of a great study with the ability to tweak it to the specific language of your pastor’s message,” he said.
Churches can create simple, six-week campaigns to coincide with the weekend sermons. “You can setup your studies with the themes ahead of time and tweak them to fit the messages as you go through the series,” Surratt explained.
The second type of approach considered in developing SmallGroup.com was the long-range planning church, Kelley says. With static curriculum churches are limited in how far ahead they can see the small group material, according to Kelley, “a church could plan months and months of Bible studies according to their own ministry trajectory.”
Churches who want to empower their group leaders were the third type of church discussed when planning the resource. “At SmallGroup.com, a church can give every group leader access to the tool,” says Kelley, “allowing each group to have their own custom approach to Bible study. All the while, the church staff can see exactly what each group is studying at a given time.”
For churches interested in SmallGroup.com, there is a two-week free trial. Multiple leaders and staff members can sign up for their own trial, so several people within a church can experience it for themselves, according to Kelley.
He said subscriptions are intentionally designed to be affordable—starting at less than $20 per month. The pricing scale is set by how many group members are using the content from SmallGroup.com, not the total number of members or attendees at the church, according to Kelley.
While other starting points for small group material will always be relevant, many churches can gain a lot from a starting point close to home—their own congregation.
Aaron Earls is a writer for Lifeway Christian Resources.