EPISODE #104 – SERMON BASED SMALL GROUPS
With Bob out recovering from COVID-19 JimBo invites Alan Stoddard to come on and answer a question from a listener, Josh Walley. Josh is the LifeGroup Hype Man at Journey Fellowship in Berman Georgia. He asked if the Bootcamp would explain more about sermon-based small groups.
Alan Stoddard is the Co-author with Kenneth Priest of ‘Groups that Revitalize’
JimBo Stewart: [00:00:00] All right here we are back at the bootcamp minus the replant guru, Bob Bickford. He is out today, but that’s all right, because we are graced with, one of our faithful listeners who submitted a question and where we’re such a high class. establishment that I was able to pull out one of the world’s greatest experts at the question that our listener had and bring the author onto the podcast.
And so, today we’ve got Josh, Wally and Allen started with us. Josh, introduce yourself to us.
Josh Walley: Hey Jimbo. Yeah,
Josh Wally here. I always laugh because the joke is I am the, a mediocre backup preacher at a journey fellowship Baptist church. Breman Georgia. I’m also a life group. And I’m, I’m kind of the, uh, LifeGroup, height man in our church. I, I really want to see all of our members in a life group plugged in somewhere.
JimBo Stewart: I liked that the life group hype man, that’s a that you should definitely get a business card.
Josh Walley: Yeah.
JimBo Stewart: That says that that’s your official title? [00:01:00] A LifeGroup height man. So Josh brought a question to us. He messaged me on Facebook. Josh, what was the question?
Josh Walley: Oh, my question? was, is. I know the week before that Jimbo had mentioned what is a sermon based small group. And that’s when he led me to your book. Alan, and, I was just going to get you to expound some more on that.
JimBo Stewart: Yeah. So Josh asked what is a sermon based small group. And I thought, you know, let me reach out, Alan and I are Facebook friends. We have some mutual friends and Kenneth priest and John Scanlon and Alan, has some. Here in Duvall, the nano four on the west side, uh, Jacksonville, where I’ve pastored for the last seven years.
Uh, and so Alan, introduce yourself to us.
Alan Stoddard: Cool. Hey, thanks for letting me be a part. Jimbo, Josh. Alice Stoddard. Yeah, I’m a Florida boy at heart still. And I’m in New Mexico right now at Calvary church here in Ruidoso. my journey was sermon based small groups. I was just telling a Jimbo that I was coming out of a demon [00:02:00] residency deflated, ready to quit at Gordon-Conwell I’m a Southwestern seminary guy.
Got too many degrees from there. And love Southwestern. Amen. Cheapest plug shameless plug for Southwestern. Okay. So, so. I went to Gordon-Conwell long story short. I didn’t know what I was going to ride on. Right. I was reading simple church at 30,000 feet and I thought I’m not, I don’t have anything to write.
So let’s just get back to work. And I ran across a guy named Tony and I can’t remember his last name. It’s a footnote in the book, but Tony, uh, he was doing sermon based small groups in a Sunday school. And I thought that’s audacious. Now this was in 2000. Nobody was doing that in 2008, unless you live in California.
and did, so I got off the plane, started researching it. I ran into the name, Larry Osborne at north coast church. Really Osbourne is the real father of the movie. Of server-based small groups here in the United States and they can be traced back to,[00:03:00] I remember I got the second chapter. I turned it in and had Robinson killed my second chapter.
I mean, he just nuked it and I thought, oh, we can, he was old school too. He would send it, he would mail it back and it had all of his read on it. I’m going, he said this from the Bible. He said, you got to do something from the Bible. You can’t just do theory. So I went to the book of acts and I thought, is this something that Jesus and the apostles did?
And sure enough, the principle of reduplicating what was taught in a main session or a main worship gathering, whether it’s a home church or whatever, there are principles there in the book. I was like, wow, this thing’s biblical sweet. So I sent it back to Robinson and, started looking, uh, young each other.
Is that his name? No, youngie Cho in Korea used to give his sermon notes to women and the church to lead small groups because the men were working all the time and the women had to lead the groups. He would just that it was a movement in Korea, even. So I am a real fan of small group live. I probably [00:04:00] am fanatical about. And being that I really don’t think you’re growing much. If you’re not in a small group, it can be any small group. I get that. But sermon based small groups I think are the way to go because they, they take. What was taught on Sunday and they, they insert them back into the life of a small group. I prefer them groups that happen in homes, but they can happen in Sunday schools and people have a misconception about them.
They think it’s just a griping session or something about the sermon or something like that.
I have learned in these days, I’m probably giving away too much material, but, I’m learning. I’ve learned that, like I wrote some this morning, it was seven questions that came from the text. I want people talking.
I don’t want to have just a lecture model. Again. We need more lab talking and discussion in our groups. I don’t think until someone’s talking, I can’t tell where they are with the. And so I can’t measure. So I don’t, it’s, it’s a combination of reteaching teaching new content that wasn’t in the sermon. And then, um, the [00:05:00] questions that drive people to, to the Bible.
And then probably, usually I’ll throw this in. I usually put at least one passage that was not even addressed on Sunday. That’s a parallel passage that the small group leader can teach on his or her own small group, surveys.
JimBo Stewart: let’s see. I want, I think one of the, one of the things that makes it seem so daunting. For a lot of guys when they start to explore this concept is man, I barely have enough time, especially by vocational guys. And I barely have enough time to get a sermon written much less, right. Small group curriculum.
On top of that, what would be, what would be your advice for, for that pastor? That that’s kind of the issue that they’re going to struggle with as they think about this.
Alan Stoddard: It is one of the biggest things. When I did the survey, I surveyed 30 churches and one of the biggest kickbacks was I don’t see how I could possibly write this stuff. And what they’re thinking is you write some kind of big curriculum, and there’s people out there that do that by the way, Josh hunt does that.
and I think he writes more of a curriculum page. I write a one page. Questions only. [00:06:00] Now it can change either way. I’m I’m big on questions and open your Bible. I would say to a pastor you’ve already got one question. Cause if you’re gonna, if you use a big idea or a thesis statement in your sermon, you’ve got one big question.
That’s driving your sermon anyway. You’ve already, I would say you’ve already got the questions in your, in the study that you’ve done through the week. You’re asking five questions that dig in a text to ask a word study or an application for this day. So when you think about taking the homiletics and
then turning it back toward the Bible and getting what the questions are, and then putting that in practice and application, it doesn’t take that long.
You, you can actually write the questions in no time. If, if pastor will do it. Another thing we write in the book is get somebody else who’s arrived. on your, either on your staff or a volunteer, another person that will sit there during the teaching to say, would you write these? And then with voice texts these days, man, you can have that done pretty fast.
And I argue this, we don’t have, [00:07:00] I knew this question was going to come up. We don’t have time. Not yet. Because in a small church, I learned this from Dr. Hemphill and Dr. Eldridge at Southwestern, Dr. Hemphill was his own educational minister. I think until person Norfolk got to 1100 people. And I think he had a ministry assistant, but he was he the lead pastor, the senior pastor first Norfolk.
He was his own educational guy for a long time. And so you have to have a mindset. The pastor has to become a disciple maker through small groups So there’s, you have to plan at Jimbo. It has to be planned. I get that has to be on the calendar and here’s what will happen. You’ll get tired. And it’ll, you got to have reinforcement, you gotta have help. Your small group leaders have to jump in.
And I tell our group leaders, I say, you have to have at least one question that you’re getting from this passage that, that the Lord kind of prompts you and you go, Ooh, I’m going to ask that question in group. And Alan’s not even addressing it there. If you keep it simple, it’s nowhere near as bad. Then you do what you, if not, you do what you were saying.
Small groups.[00:08:00] And then
you can have a lot of
JimBo Stewart: yeah. well, we firstname.lastname@example.org, which is a resource put out by Lifeway. That catalogs basically all of their small group discussions that they’ve ever made, really, even a lot of their video studies and things like that. And you can custom build out of all of their kind of material.
They’ve rewritten it on there in a small group discussion question, asking type format with some commentary and some things like that. And so what I would do is in October, September, October, November of every year, I would plan out the entire. Preaching calendar for the, for the next year. So we would have a spreadsheet of the T the main text for every Sunday for that entire year.
And then I would sit with some lay leaders and we would use small group.com and find the material that best fit and a small group.com. This they’re not a sponsor or anything like that, but they’re just what we used. Also, if they, if they did not have the text in the way that we needed it. We could [00:09:00] request it for no extra cost.
as long as we gave him four to six weeks and they would write it and it was customizable. You could download as a PDF or as a word document. And it was usually three to four pages and about a page and a half of that would be commentary on the text. And then it was kind of basic question format. what I would tell our small group leaders, we did it in our Sunday school class.
And so whatever I preached on on Sunday, they would actually discuss it the night, the following Sunday in small, in, in Bible study before the sermon. And we would do through books of the Bible. So it would be, it would all build on top of each other. And I would always say, look, take your notes. We would give them the notes in advance.
Take the notes with you while you’re listening to the sermon. And like you were saying, Alan, think of questions that come to your mind, think of things that come to your, this is not a hard, rigid document that you have to stick to like a script. It’s just a framework to help you as you’re leading in that discussion and getting people discussing the word of God and how it applies to their lives.
It says, use that document and write out things that come to mind, [00:10:00] write out questions that come to mind and use that in your time. And. It really helped people dive deeper into scripture. And I put, as far as the writing, the small group material, it put little to no work on me. Other than that initial looking through small group.com, and it seemed to work really well for us at redemption.
Joshua. What questions do you have for Alan while we’re on here?
Josh Walley: well, I’ll be honest with you, Jim Bo, a lot of my questions were answered because I read Alan’s book last night. Um,
JimBo Stewart: I don’t think we’ve said the name of the book yet,
Josh Walley: I got it right here. It is groups that revitalized.
That is it bringing new life to your church through sermon based small groups? I definitely recommend it. And Alan, I can definitely tell there was one part I was reading and I was like, when you mentioned it just a minute ago, but I was thinking he had to have read simple church by Tom ranger.
I could tell you were inspired by that as I was reading that. And I think that [00:11:00] is a great point. I mean, We do it. We get bogged down so much with so many programs. And so, so just up stuff and being simple, I honestly believe is the way to go. And there were a lot of things in your book that I really keyed in on that you even mentioned it earlier, that I do believe that being in someone’s home is so much better than doing it in a Sunday school environment.
our church is like just over a year and a half. Year and a half years old, we are a, we’re kind of a plant and a replant. We were a church body that didn’t have a building. There was a church that had about eight, nine members that was dying. We joined together and their building, but we don’t have any roots.
For Sunday school classes. And so life groups were kind of our only option. And, um, it’s been, it’s been awesome. It’s been awesome to build those relationships. And I know that those are things that you mentioned in your book about building relationships is so important. I had a couple in my life group that, [00:12:00] um, The husband got COVID really bad.
And the wife had to take him to the emergency room and you know, he’s an elderly gentlemen, gentlemen, and I was the first person she called her life group leaders. So it takes a lot of pressure off of the pastor when you have life groups that are doing things like that.
Alan Stoddard: Yeah, that is incredible. And that’s. So I love this because I finally realized at one point I was like, and the hard part is you don’t want to sound like you’re knocking Sunday school
and no one is planting a Sunday school, barely that I know of, maybe somebody, but everybody’s shifting to something that you don’t have to build as big a building for that.
But it can be done in Sunday school. It all depends on the leader. So like the, the gist of the book is that it opens up with a real plea for revitalization and he is an amazing revitalization guy. I sat in one of his workshops a couple of years ago and I was just like, wow, this guys he’s grown so much.
We were [00:13:00] graters at Southwestern. Now he’s back on staff. he starts off with this revitalization thing of everything relates to revitalization, no matter what, it just kind of gets back to church health. And so Canada makes that plea. And then what he did was he drops this sermon based small groups, right in the middle of revitalization.
And basically we argue that it starts with the. And the pastors integrity and his calling, it’s crucial that the pastor be the hub of this teaching ministry in the local church. And that means every pass it. So that means. You know, I think this is one of the things we get wrong in church is that we, we hire someone or we assume, but we hire someone to do, the educational ministry part.
And they’re probably more of a programmer than they are a disciple maker and small group leader. And it just becomes real, a real struggle at times. So, so Darrell Eldridge used to say this, he’d say nine out of 10 pastors are not in a small group. And Haddon [00:14:00] Robinson said, where’s that footnote? So I called Darryl.
I said, where’d you get that? And he goes, it’s just a number that I get from asking pastors. I don’t have anything official. He said, it’s lower now, 60 to 70%, which more pastors are in small groups or anyway. So, so by the time the pastor is, in with integrity and with calling. Discipling other people to make disciples literally doing that.
Then what happens is you drop that leader that you pick and is in a life group or a small group. And if you trust that part, this is my, this is how I am. If I trust that small group leader, I’m going to put them in that small group. And I am not concerned about what happens in that group. Now I want you to be a sermon based small group.
Don’t go rogue and teach something else. I mean, you’ve got freedom to do that. I mean that add your, add, whatever you need to add your trusted. No problem. But don’t like start a whole new study or something. They’ll do that to us. Well, when that happens and you, it’s easier to manage, it’s easier to manage.
You don’t have to buy curriculum. You’re [00:15:00] not having to people. The way that they learn is come to church. If you’re in church, you already know what you’re studying in your small group or for a Wednesday or Tuesday, or whenever you do it. And here’s the thing, the Edgar Dale cone of learning. When I ask people about that, they’re like, what?
And I go, yeah, you remember it? It’s 5% of what you remember, 5% of what you hear, 10% of what you see, 20% of what you and we don’t enter active learning until we hit the 50% mark, which is discussion, discussion, teach it, or do it, discuss it, teach you to do it. And until then we’re in passive learning. So what that told me.
Wow in our churches, we’re doing all this lecturing and yeah, PR preaching is a big deal and Robinson, he also, you know, and I, I told him, I said, life change best happens in circles, not rows. I quoted Andy Stanley Haddon. Robinson said, tell that to the apostle
Paul and what he meant was don’t down downgrade, preaching in your pursuit to do small groups and he’s right.
[00:16:00] But people don’t remember. Why. And, and why would you change the topic in your small group to something else? They’re not going to remember. You’re just adding Dave Ferguson in his book. The big idea says we give 21 different ideas on any given Sunday to people. they’re really freakish at his charge.
They everything’s coalesces around the sermon series. I’m not saying that has to happen, but the point is people don’t read. And we would be better off doing them based on what we’re already doing rather than changing the subject again. the genius of it also is that we use a S a semester system. We followed north coast, so we go 10 weeks, 10 weeks and 10 weeks.
We only, we’re only in small groups for 30 to 35 weeks out of the year because we do a couple other things and that gives those other things become fresh. You’re not inviting everybody to everything all the time, all year long. That was a lot of blabbing right there. But man, I get really passionate about it.
It’s exciting. Let’s see. I’m not anti Sunday school, but I do. I, I do think we’re, we’ve [00:17:00] passed the time where if your church is not doing any kind of off-campus groups, I’m not saying get rid of your Sunday school. Don’t hear me say that. I am saying we’re in day and time now where you need some alternatives because younger people will go to a small group on a week, night as to where for some reason they’re not going to get up an hour and a half earlier.
I know it’s happening in many churches, but we’re not talking about those church. We’re talking about the other churches that are primarily going, how do I get my young adult Sunday school to grow? It’s not going to grow because it’s just like out here in New Mexico, you can’t do ministry like the south out here.
It doesn’t. And when we started small groups. Wow. Uh, young people to start flocking. Well, they’re still awake. Yeah, that
Josh Walley: good stuff.
Alan Stoddard: I think if, I think if you’re a pastor, it, it gets you involved.
JimBo Stewart: Yeah, no, that’s really good. I like what, one of the things I like so much about is, is that idea of there’s so much we’re asking people to remember. And really our goal was to [00:18:00]get people to engage in God’s word, to understand God’s word and to apply God’s word. And if they’re thinking through one lesson in the sermon, another lesson in small group, and then there are other lessons in their own personal quiet time.
If they’re doing that, they’re not, it’s harder to drill down deep into something. And I believe sermon based small groups provide an accessible way for people to start to drill down just a little bit. And deal with questions. They may have one of the things I saw, with our people at redemption is it, they really honestly started paying more attention to the sermon because they would, they would start taking people who were not note takers would start taking notes.
Cause they would think, I want to ask about that whenever we meet, uh, for our. We did it as a Sunday school. And so they would think I’m not gonna remember that by next Sunday. And so they would, people would write down their questions or their thoughts that stood out to them and we would encourage them.
If you don’t know where else to start [00:19:00] studying in the Bible, then just kind of drill down where we’re at and you can, you can move on to other things later. But if you’re just beginning in learning how to study God’s word, Then the text that the beauty of us doing it through books of the Bible is you would, you would pretty much know where we’re going to be picking up next week is where we left off this week.
And, and so you can discuss that in your group. You can write down those notes, you can study it this week and do those things. And we found that to be really beneficial. One last thing, Al what’s one last kind of benefit or something you’ve seen as a great benefit of sermon based small group.
Alan Stoddard: I, oh, I was going to mention that it’s easier to get leads. It’s easier to get leaders. It just as much easier if, if we just think it through it’s much easier. So I want to come back to that. I want to ask you something that when you did it at redemption and you did it the week next week, and it came up on Sunday, could you tell a con I better continuity and, and, and stretching out the teachings from week to week? I’m sitting there going, if I had that, I would love that because right before I’m [00:20:00] going to, to worship, I’m talking about what we did last week and it’s probably going to connect the next step to this week. But am I assuming that, or what did you actually see?
JimBo Stewart: no, we definitely saw that. And so it part, I think the front end back end of that was why we saw people more engaged in the sermon is one, they were just in a group discussing the previous texts that led to it. Even as a pastor, as a preacher, it made me think through how do I reference them? To last week and show the connection, right?
How do I show the connection from last week
Alan Stoddard: One of
JimBo Stewart: the
connection for next week?
Alan Stoddard: Sorry, I didn’t mean to talk over you. One of the things I did Sunday was I brought up a question from the previous week’s groups and one of the questions that was in it, I raised it in the teaching. So now I’m connecting each week to the group life. the last thing I would answer that with, with a. It’s easier to get teachers and because you’re really not getting just teachers, you’re looking for people who are servants teachers, and they’re willing to go, okay. [00:21:00] I’m willing to lean into creating a disciple-making environment and survey small groups with, with discussion and teaching that goes on. And, and it feels different. We’re used to a lecture model, so it feels different. You’re like, oh man, I don’t want to have a bunch of teaching. I used to be so hardcore. I didn’t want anybody asking no questions in my Sunday school class. I was like, I got everything to say. I’ve really changed. I’ve realized, no, actually I need some chaos in that group.
Now I get the group back. I’m like, okay, give me the group back. You guys are doing great. You’re discussing this. You’re killing it. I love it. But give me the group bag and I’ll go, okay. Now let me ask you this. Or the text says this book so you can give direct. But if, if all you’re willing to do is learn the Bible, no, some Bible and ask questions and care about people.
You can be a small group leader in the sermon based small group. Cause you’re not the master teacher. The pastor is,
JimBo Stewart: Yeah, it. it, creates a, a much better on-ramp for your small group leaders. The weight is not as heavy for them feeling like they’ve got to study this thing from [00:22:00] scratch, but they get to build off of the sermon and go from there. Another thing I would say is for us, it increased our small group involvement, because you said earlier, it starts with the pastor.
if the pastor can remember to kind of plug. Small groups on a regular basis that always helps. Right. And it’s always much more beneficial if that’s a natural plug. Well, when you do sermon based small groups, man, it’s a super easy natural plug. I found just to be able to say, I would always, I always love saying, Hey, and if you want to discuss this further.
Come to a come to a Bible study next Sunday morning and you’ll have an opportunity. And then we started doing some home-based groups as well and do a mix of both things. we’re coming towards the end of our time. I wanted to plug one more thing here at the end. The coauthor that we don’t have on with us today is Kenneth priest.
And he has some resources for pastors at SB, texas.com. I’ll put a link in the show. called preaching points and teaching points, which he actually [00:23:00] has three year a three-year preaching plan for church revitalization. That includes a launch series a hundred days through the Bible, go into the book of acts, covering profits, all sorts of things.
And so there is some really good material that he has built. For a church revitalization, especially, or replant to be able to go through a three year process that we’ll walk through the seven churches in revelation. And he has video commentary called preaching points. And then he has video commentary called teaching points and it’s with him and some other professors at Southwestern.
And. It provides you an opportunity to help prepare you as the pastor, especially if you’re bi-vocational, it’s Amanda. It’s a lot of good dense information in the video commentary, but then also for a year, small group leaders, your teachers, the teaching point videos, and it builds off of that sermon based small group idea that they would go through those same series.
As you, and it gives them something to prepare them. And [00:24:00] so that’s another great resource, which is one of the things we love to do on the replant bootcamp podcast is just point you to some other great resources out there. Josh Allen, thank you guys so much for taking the time to come on with us today.
this is a great discussion.