One of the tools for small groups that I encourage the facilitators at our church to use are the topical studies by Chip Ingram and Living on the Edge. These studies utilize a DVD teaching for about twenty minutes per lesson and come with a great study guide for the participants in the small group.
In this post I provide you with some helpful tips and tools to use if you want to use the Living on the Edge topical studies in your small group.
I. HOW TO PREPARE FOR THE GROUP
While some churches might give announcements saying, “Anyone can grab a few friends and start a small group! It is easy!” that is not true. To facilitate a small group and do it right you need to spend some time preparing for the group-both about a month before you start your study-and each week before each lesson.
A. Before the Group Starts the Study (about a month before your first meeting)
1. Test each DVD to make sure they work.
You don’t want to put the DVD into your player the night of your study and realize that the DVD is defective. Test them out to make sure they all play and work well.
2. Make sure you have the correct study guides and that you have enough study guides.
As a Small Groups Pastor I have made the mistake of ordering the wrong study guides for groups as well as not ordering enough. About a month before the group starts be sure you have the correct study guides and that you have plenty of them.
3. Adjust the zoom so that the text shows up on the bottom of the TV screen.
This tip is hard to describe in a blog post, but TVs have a “zoom” option. If your TV is “zoomed in” then the text from the DVD that shows up at the bottom of the screen will get pushed out of the view of the screen. You might need to “un-zoom” your TV to ensure the notes text shows up on the bottom of the screen.
4. Make sure you read the “Small Group Leader Resources” in the back of the study guide.
At the back of each Living on the Edge study guide there is a “small group agreement,” notes on each session, a prayer section, and planning ideas. These are great tools you need to read and utilize to plan and execute your small group.
B. Before Each Weekly Meeting (two to six days before your group meets)
In addition to the activities I listed above that you need to do about a month before your group starts the study, you also need to do a few things each week to prepare for your small group.
1. Watch the DVD.
Sit down with your study guide, watch the DVD, and take notes just like you want your participants to do. This will help you know what the lesson is about and how you might want to better facilitate a discussion.
2. Look through the notes in the back of the study guide for helpful leader notes for that session (if available).
Like I shared above, be sure to read the “leader session notes” that Living on the Edge often provides for you. These are tips and ideas that will help you facilitate the group discussion, as well as some cautions you might need to avoid in your small group.
3. If there are passages referenced in the questions or that you are supposed to read, look up those passages in a good study Bible, and look for any good relevant study notes.
During the discussion time the study guide will often have the participants read a portion of Scripture and talk about it in the group. I suggest you read the Scripture and the notes provided in a good study Bible. This will help you to explain any difficult concepts in the passage give some context to the passage for the group.
4. Watch the coaching videos for that session (if available on the DVD or online).
Sometimes Living on the Edge will provide “coaching videos” for the facilitator. The “True Spirituality” study has the coaching videos listed on each DVD and the “Spiritual Simplicity” study has the videos online. Similar to the leader notes in the back of the study guide, these videos help the facilitator to know what the lesson is about and how best to lead the group into a fruitful discussion.
5. Briefly answer the questions in the discussion session.
Lastly, be sure to take some time to write down your answers to the discussion questions in the study guide. You cannot facilitate a discussion about what other people think and believe until you know what you think and believe. Answering these questions will help you be prepared and ready to facilitate a great discussion in your group.
II. HOW TO FORMAT THE GROUP
There are three elements we want our small groups to have each time they meet. These are:
A. Discuss the Unifying Question for 5 minutes or less.
The Unifying Question is something my senior pastor has taught me to have our small groups do. Basically, just start off the group asking everyone “What did you learn from the message at church over the weekend?” We want our groups to ask this question for two reasons. First, we never want people attending small groups to replace people attending church. In other words, we want our small groups to compliment the weekend worship experience, not replace it. When the facilitator asks a simple question at the beginning of the meeting about the message at church over the weekend, it communicates to everyone that what happened at church is important. Second, we want to encourage people to apply what they learned from the message at church. If your small group meets on a Wednesday night and everyone attended church on Sunday, they might have forgotten what the sermon was about. Additionally, they might have forgotten to apply what they learned. Those are the two reasons we want our small groups to start by asking the Unifying Question.
B. Watch the DVD.
Most of the DVD teachings from Living on the Edge are about fifteen to twenty-five minutes. This gives plenty of time for discussion following the DVD.
C. Go through the study guide.
The Living on the Edge study guides are easy to follow and great to use in a small group. Most of all, the discussion questions often interact with Scripture as much as they interact with Chip’s teachings.
D. Two additional items for small group meetings: prayer and snacks.
In addition to the Unifying Question, watching the DVD, and going through the study guide, I also encourage our groups to have some time for prayer and snacks. This can occur at the beginning of the meeting or at the end. When they happen is not as important as being consistent in doing them at the same time each week.
III. HOW TO FACILITATE THE GROUP
After having our small groups use the Living on the Edge topical studies for more than two years, here are some of the common questions I’ve received and my responses to them.
A. How many weeks do we spend per lesson?
Most groups can complete one lesson per week. A group that meets for only one hour likely will need two weeks per lesson. But a group that meets for two hours will be able to complete one lesson per week. Remember that application is more important than completion. Take the time that your group needs to discuss the material and how they are applying it to their lives.
B. How do I work through the different sections of the Living on the Edge study guides?
There are more than 20 different study guides published by Living on the Edge. There are many varieties of discussion questions and sections. Therefore, you will need to read the “Leader Resources” in the back of each study guide and then come up with a plan for your group on how you will work through the questions in a group or sub-groups. You are the leader of your group so set a plan and go for it. Be assertive.
C. Do you have any other tips for facilitating a discussion using the Living on the Edge studies?
1. Facilitate, don’t teach.
Remember that you are not the “teacher” or “preacher” of the small group. Your job is to guide a discussion of the topic of the study and the Bible. You facilitate.
2. Application is more important than completion.
The goal of LIFEGroups is to help people learn and grow as they apply what they learn. Application of the material is more important than just completing it. So if you need to stretch out your group a week or two or spend more time on a lesson because the group is talking about the material and how it applies to their lives, that is important. Just ensure the group is staying on topic and focusing on how they can apply what they are learning to their lives.
3. Follow up with your group members about how they are applying what they are learning.
Ensure that your group is not just a “Bible study” or “seminar” where people learn but never do anything with what they learn. Try to follow up with your group each week. Ask what they are learning, how is it affecting their lives, what are they doing differently because of what they learned, how their attitude has changed as a result of what they’ve learned, etc.
4. What do I do if someone shows up to my group without a discussion guide?
Our church asks for a $10 fee to cover the cost of the discussion guides. As your group starts a new study ask everyone to contribute $10. If someone has purchased a guide but shows up to group without it, let her borrow a discussion guide for the meeting, but make sure you get that guide back after the meeting.
Question: Have you used the Living on the Edge topical DVD studies in a small group? If so, what was your experience? What did you like? What did you not like?