Sermon-based Small Groups: Yes or No?

More and more churches seem to be moving to a sermon-based curriculum for their small groups. That is, they review and study the same text the pastor preached on the previous Sunday. On the other hand, I’ve met church leaders who oppose this approach. Here’s a summary of the arguments I’m hearing:

Why Sermon-based Small Groups are Good:

  1. They allow church members to dig more deeply into that week’s preached text. Seldom is it a bad move to know the Word better, and focused study can help the church reach that goal. Particularly, the group can work together to ask how they should apply the text in their life that week.
  2. They provide a place for church members to ask questions about the text. I’ve never seen someone ask a question during the sermon, but that doesn’t mean that listeners don’t have questions. A sermon-based small group gives opportunity to ask those questions.
  3. They promote consistency and unity among all the small groups. Regardless of the number of groups, everyone’s studying and reviewing the same content—which helps to build unity and direction within the church.
  4. They encourage worship service attendance. If you know that you’ll be discussing the sermon material in your small group, you’re more likely to be at church to hear the sermon. And, you can often listen to it online if you need to miss the service.
  5. The facilitator is just that—a facilitator. His or her job is to lead the group in discussing the sermon and biblical text. Facilitators don’t have to study a new text and prepare a new lesson each week.

Why Sermon-based Small Groups Aren’t Always Good

  1. The church misses an opportunity to teach more Bible in the small group. If the group is only discussing the sermon text, they seldom veer from that text. Over the course of a year, the church studies only what the pastor has preached – and there’s usually a lot more Bible than that.
  2. Some group members might feel like they’re simply hearing the sermon again each week. And, if they’re only doing that, what’s the point of attending small group?
  3. The discussion can sometimes become nothing more than a critique of the pastor’s sermon and leadership. The group thus becomes an opportunity not only to talk about the sermon, but also to express concerns and air grievances about the pastor. The leader ought to halt this kind of discussion, but that doesn’t always happen.
  4. Group members who miss church that week may feel unprepared to come to small group. Yes, they can often listen to the sermon online, but not everyone will take that step. Some will simply decide not to go to small group that week.
  5. Writing sermon-based curriculum is not easy. It’s not as simple as just reiterating the sermon’s points. It requires someone who has the time to write it, who knows how to write well, and who thinks practically enough to build application into the curriculum. I’ve seen too many churches hurt their small group ministry by producing only weak, unfocused curriculum.

What are your thoughts? What does your church do? 


  • Steve Schoonover says:

    I look forward to your helpful emails and this one particularly addressed an idea I have worked with for some time.

    Establishing a small groups ministry in an existing church is quite a challenge, one on which I almost gave up. Fortunately, perseverance paid off in that several groups now meet regularly and we have become aware of the faith building value that being in a Bible-based small group provides.

    As coordinator of growth groups, I give group leaders a good bit of autonomy. However, knowing the constraints on some leader’s time, I develop a weekly group guide based on the Scripture that our Pastor plans to use in the upcoming Sunday sermon. This is, in no way, to be considered an opportunity to critique the sermon. In fact, with the exception of one group, the groups meet before they have heard the sermon. Most groups are happy to have the group guide as an outline and folks have formed some ideas about the relevance of the Scriptures that will be the basis of the upcoming sermon. Recognizing that the needs of groups can vary, the group guides are emailed to group leaders on a take it or leave it basis.

    A recent growth group guide is available for anyone interested. Request a copy from:

    Thanks for all the effort to make our worship experiences more effective.

    In Christ, Steve Schoonover

  • We do sermon based-ish. I plan out my preaching calendar for the year and then we use lessons on the same text. So it isn’t really based on my sermon, just the same text. This way we don’t have anyone writing lessons. But, we do encourage small group leaders to take good notes and try to connect the discussion guide with the sermon. We have been doing this for just a little while and it has been working really well so far.

  • We do sermon-based application questions. We have a team of people who take turns writing application questions during the morning sermon. Community Group facilitators have access to those questions right after the sermon. Discussion isn’t primarily intended to “review” the sermon, but intended to help people take the next practical steps in their lives that the text demands. Hopefully, these discussions help people take application a little deeper personally than can happen in the sermon.

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