Archive for Small Groups

100 Small Changes Later…

100hashtag At the beginning of this series, David Francis introduced our blog to what would be 100 daily posts that provoke conversations about little things all of us can do to make our groups better.  These were not game changers or radical transformations of teaching methods.  These were small changes that could lead to minor course corrections in the direction of your group.  Most of them were not new ideas but simply reminders of things that need to be done.

We want to reflect back to the first post in this series, David Francis’ introductory article on August 1 of this year.

Sunday School is a system. It’s a bunch of things—big and small—that make a Sunday School excellent instead of mediocre.  Each relates to another and that to another and so on and so on. So what if every little thing you improved resulted in just one more person coming to Sunday School, coming back to Sunday School, enrolling in Sunday School, attending regularly in Sunday School, serving in Sunday School, and inviting another to Sunday School? Each of the 100 ideas you’ll read about in the next several weeks may seem inconsequential taken alone. But put 50 or 60 or 70 or 80 into practice and see what happens!

So, here we are.  100 articles later.  You now have 100 ideas from which you can draw for solutions to little roadblocks you may face while leading your group. Come back to this site often and refer back to these posts when you seeking answers.  We are here for you and will continue to be here with fresh insight and ideas to strengthen your group ministry.

The contributors of this blog will continue to add posts–only not as frequently as every day.  When a good idea comes to mind, we will share it here with you, the leaders of the movement.  Stay connected with us on Twitter and Facebook. Thank you for joining us on this journey of discovery. Keep making #SmallChanges that will grow your groups and help make disciples.

Principles for Transformational Small Group Bible Study

This is article ten of a ten part series. Click here to view the previous article.

Principle Seven: Application

The lesson had gone well. The class seemed to be engaged in the Bible study, and the teams have demonstrated creatively their understanding of the biblical truth in their passages. Several of the prospects the care groups had been cultivating had come and had participated in the discussion. Some had even shared an interest in knowing more about the gospel. Then it happened; the grand exodus! Just as the teacher was bringing the lesson to a meaningful time of application, choir members got up, gathered their Bibles, coats, purses, etc. and started leaving the room. All eyes followed them. The guests didn’t know what was happening. It was evident that the session was over even though the teacher was still talking.

This is a tragedy that repeats itself Sunday after Sunday in Baptist churches. Allow me a personal privilege: I have been a worship leader in many churches both large and small. I have always told my choir, “Don’t you dare leave Sunday School early to get to choir!” Think about it; when is the Holy Spirit doing his greatest work…, During the application stage of the lesson. That’s when the grand choir exodus takes place. When the choir leaves so do the minds of those left behind. If there is a lost person attending with whom God is working, his mind is taken off the focus of the lesson and off the biblical truth and the Holy Spirit’s work is hindered. I always told my choirs, If we don’t have it by Wednesday night rehearsal, we won’t get it 5 minutes before the worship service. Stay in Sunday School to the end, then come and God will bless our music. Choir can wait. That Sunday School hour is sacred unto God for Bible study.

The principle of application is critical to transformational small group Bible study. Biblical knowledge or content is not enough for transformation to happen. Learners need to discover Bible truths that are transformational and then understand ways to apply them into their life style…so they will take it home! The aim of any Bible study session is to guide the learner to discover Bible truths that are life changing and to apply the truths learned.

Application grows out of the teaching aim of the session and should answer these three questions:

  • What do I need to learn from this study?
  • What do I plan to do with what I will learn?
  • What change should take place in my life as a result of this study?

Application activities should help learners accomplish the teaching aimed during the session and apply it beyond the session. The application stage should progress from general to specific:

  • General application to LEARNERS: What are some ways LEARNERS can apply this truth to life?
  • Specific application to YOU: What is one way YOU will apply this truth this week?

This past Sunday as we studied Joshua 1:1-18 and Joshua as the new leader for Israel after Moses, I asked my class to brainstorm: (General) What can we all learn from Joshua’s leadership? I wrote their answers on a tear sheet on the wall. Then I handed each a “Post it Note” and said, (Specific) What is one way you will put into practice this week what you’ve learned from God’s Word about leadership? I encouraged them to put this note in their Bible at Joshua 1 to serve as a reminder. If they do this on a regular basis, soon they will have their Bible

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populated with notes reminding them of how they might be applying biblical truths they’ve learned in small group Bible study.

Let’s take it a step further. Transformational strategies must reach beyond the Bible study time as leaders help learners appropriate biblical truths into a missional lifestyle. Good relationships are developed through regular fellowships, ball games, retreats and ministry actions to members, but nothing beats a missional ministry to the community and to the lost. This helps members move the biblical truths discovered into a missional lifestyle. Quarterly Missional Projects in the community help learners appropriate biblical truths into life. The best appropriation actions are those that emerge from the Bible study. For example, our Sunday School class, following a unit of study about the Annunciation and Birth of Jesus decided to have a Baby Shower for the “Son of the Most High”. They collected baby gifts during the unit and gave them to a needy family in the community.

Jesus understood that knowledge was not enough. After telling the religious scholar the story of the Good Samaritan about how to treat your neighbor, Jesus told him to Go and do the same. Jesus knew that truth must always be applied and appropriated into real life if it is to be truly transformational.

For a compilation of this information and these principles plus a Bible Study Session Plan Sheet go to: – click on Sunday School and choose General Leaders. Select module 2: Transformational Bible Study – Resource.
Phil Stone is the State Sunday School Director for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

Principles for Transformational Small Group Bible Study

This is article nine of a ten part series. Click here to view the previous article.

Principle Six: Examination

Let’s review some of the statements made during this series of blog articles:

  • Definitions: Learning is discovery. Teaching is facilitating discovery. A teacher is a coach to discovery.
  • The teacher’s task to set up experiences so the learner can discover for himself Bible truths that transform.
  • Transformational Philosophy: Where there is no involvement there is no learning.
  • Philosophy Question: How do we keep learners actively Involved as they examine the Scripture passages?

Involvement can be as simple as connecting learners in pairs for discussing an idea; connecting 3-5 learners in small teams for answering questions; asking teams to tell back and demonstrate the biblical truth they discovered in their assigned passage using a creative method. Methods might include: art, drama, music, verbal, paper/pencil, games. Usually, the procedures in the Leader Guide provide creative methods that can be used or adapted to meet the needs of learners. But, I’ve found that when procedures do not

fit my group, I use the following Methods Processthat involves learners:

  1. Divide group into learning teams of 3-5 learners each.
  2. Each team is given written assignments. These are decided in planning meeting. The statement I hear more than any is, My class won’t do any of this creative stuff. How can I get them to do it? ALWAYS give written assignments! This creates a sense of responsibility on the learner. Even senior adults respond to a written assignment. Then, gently hold the group accountable for doing the assignment by encouraging and coaching them; giving them suggestions; and affirming what they do. Remember, the product is not important; it’s the process of learning that is significant.
  3. Steps in Methods Process: Read, Research, Discover, Create, Present

(1) Read: Each team is assigned a portion of the focal Bible passage. Usually the passage is divided into 3-4 sections. The leader asks the team to select a member to read their assigned passage aloud so all learners can hear the passage at the same time. This keeps slow/non-readers involved.

(2) Research: Each team is assigned the corresponding commentary in the Learner Guide, Leader guide, or commentary. Again, the team asks a member to read the commentary aloud.

(3) Discover: Each team is given 3-4 questions to discover the answers and briefly discuss:

  • What happened in the Bible passage? What are the facts?
  • What did the Bible passage mean originally?
  • What does the Bible passage mean to me?

  • (4) Create
    : Assign to each team a suggested creative method to use to tell back and demonstrate to the group the Bible truths discovered. The method can range from simply writing the answers to the Discover Questions on a visual or to using one of the basic methods: Art, Paper/Pencil, Drama, Verbal, Games. Change creative methods to keep this approach fresh. Remember, the best method is the one the team chooses to do, so they may ignore your suggestion.

    (5) Practice and Present: Teams have 15 minutes to prepare a 3 minute presentation. Teams are given adequate time to complete assignment, then teams present work to large group. It is frustrating and ineffective to use this approach if teams are not given adequate time to discover, prepare, and complete their assignment. However, encourage teams to answer quickly the Discover Questions and move to the creative part ASAP. The leader sits while teams present, and then uses information shared plus information from the Leader Guide Commentary to add to and tie together the facts and Bible truths presented by each team. The leader then facilitates discussion of the relevance of Bible truths for today and encourages learners to share stories of where the passage intersects with life experiences. The focus stays on the Bible Truth for the session and relates to the unit as a whole.

    This past Sunday we studied Joshua 1:1-18. Here’s a sample team assignment:
    Team One
    Read: Joshua 1:1-18; focal passage vv. 5-9

    Research: P. 16, Rely on God’s Presence – Learner Guide


  • What was God’s repeated exhortation to Joshua as a leader – vv. 6, 7, 9?
  • Why do you think God needed to repeat this command?
  • How can we be strong and courageous even in the face of challenges and/or failures?

  • Create:
    Interview Joshua and one or more of the Israelites. What were they feeling; what were their fears?
    How did they express confidence in God; Joshua?

    Present: You have 15 minutes to prepare a 3 minute presentation.
    Phil Stone is the State Sunday School Director for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

    Sunday School in a Transformational Church

    This is article five of a ten part series. Click here to view the previous article.

    Word Driven

    Read Luke 10:25-27 and listen for Jesus’ teaching method…

    Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus.  ‘Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?’

    Jesus answered, ‘What’s written in God’s Law?  How do you interpret it?’

    He said, ‘That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence – and that you love your neighbor as you do yourself.’  ‘Good answer!’ said Jesus. ‘“Do it and you’ll live.’  Looking for a loophole,  he asked, ‘And just how would you define neighbor?’    Jesus answered by telling a story and encourages the scholar to listen for the answer to his question.

    (Jesus tells The Good Samaritan story)

    Jesus asked, ‘What do you think?  Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?’  ‘The one who treated him kindly,’ the religion scholar responded.  Jesus said, ‘Go and do the same.’

    Jesus began by pointing the scholar to the scriptures, The Law and asked for his interpretation.

    Jesus didn’t tell the scholar anything.  He involved the scholar in discovering for himself the biblical truth that could transform his life.

    Then he sent him on a mission!  Jesus knew that knowledge was not enough; the truth must be appropriated into life for it to be transformational.

    Principle:  A Word-Driven Small Community ‘begins with, returns to, and ends with God’s Word which is relevant to any challenge or discussion.’ Stetzer/Rainer

    We Baptist fume and fuss about the Bible, but I’ve discovered that we will do anything to keep from studying it and when we do, we make it the most inane hour of the week.  As I have traveled across NC over the past 30 years, I’ve asked this question to a multitude of churches:  How long do you spend in actual Bible study every Sunday? The average answer is about 30 minutes.  Sunday School classes practice the “Three Baptist’s B’s” quite well  15 minutes of shooting the Bull; 15 minutes of talking about the Ball game, and maybe 30 minutes of Bible study.  We also spend an inordinate amount of time on announcement and prayer requests, plus we must wait until everyone is there before we do these, because it would be a tragedy for anyone to miss the announcement/prayer requests, but Bible study can go out the window!  You can tell that I have a bit of passion around this subject.  We must remember that announcements do not make disciples; that we’re praying ourselves into biblical illiteracy (and I believe in fervent prayer); and that hour on Sunday morning is sacred unto God for Bible study.  We’re fooling ourselves if we think that people are getting it anywhere else.  They’re not.  So, what does it mean to be Word-Driven?

    A Word-Driven Sunday School…

    • Has the Word of God as its anchor.
    • Is not an emotional support group.   Members are always brought back to God’s word as the source for every need.
    • Shares stories and experiences when the biblical passage and life experiences intersect
    • Teaches with DEPTH …less about covering the content and more about engaging the content.

    Regarding depth, Adults indicated that only 14 percent of a possible study time should be dedicated to teacher explanation or lecture as opposed to 40 percent for discussion and hands on learning. The Younger Unchurched and the Churches that Reach Them, Stetzer, Hayes

    I have the joy of teaching a small group of adults on Sunday mornings.  I’ve discovered that they really do want                   a ‘word-driven’ Bible study that ‘begins, returns, and ends with God’s word’; one that doesn’t waste time but uses the full hour for Bible study.  I’ve also discovered that they enjoy learning in creative ways and that transformation has no age limit; even senior adults.  Paul wrote in his letters that transformation comes by the “renewing of your minds”.  This renewing work of God’s Spirit is a life-long activity.  All adults continue to be transformed into the likeness of Christ by God through the renewing of their minds and attitudes.  We do not change the way we learn as we mature.  Our learning style doesn’t shift so much as does our reticence to change.  If we have been used to learning only by lecture, then this is the way we expect to learn when we come to Bible study.  It may not meet our primary learning style, but it’s the way “ we’ve always done it.”

    That doesn’t mean, however, that adults don’t enjoy learning in creative ways; even senior adults.  Simply check out the programs that are offered at adult centers and YMCAs, and you’ll discover that adults are some of the most involved, creative people around.  Why should Bible study be different?  Church is often the only place that adults are asked to come sit, soak, and sour.  This should not be!

    Andragogy is the art and science of adult learning and it assumes that adults come with experiences to share and if they do not share, then little or no learning takes place.  Many adults have had years of biblical study and many wonderful stories.  The leader can set up an environment in which the members can feel safe and unthreatened to share what they know or some of their experiences.  Remember, the statement, “Where there is no involvement, there is no learning” was written by Gaines Dobbins when he was in his eighties!  As an educator of adults he recognized the benefit of involving people, at all ages.

    So, teach like Jesus.  Ask your class, What’s written in God’s Word?  How do you interpret it?  What do you think? Then sit back and let them get involved in discovering for themselves biblical truths that can transform their lives.

    Phil Stone is the State Sunday School Director for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

    Sunday School in a Transformational Church

    This is article four of a ten part series. Click here to view the previous article.

    Mission Oriented


    If Sunday School is to become a transformational ministry, its mission must be to make disciples that become more like Jesus.

    But I believe that in many of our churches Sunday School has lost its purpose.   It has become simply a program that exists to sustain itself.  Today, we have a lot of people that diss a program.  There is nothing wrong with a program; it’s simply an organized way of doing something.  We’re reminded in TC:  If structure is not added to what God starts, the powerful momentum can be short lived. Tri Robinson, Revolutionary Leadership

    However, when a program is not mission-oriented it quickly loses its reason for being.  The focus is on keeping the program spinning, and consequently on Sunday morning the Sunday School Director goes to the secretary’s office and helps her count nickels and noses and if there is a vacant hole, he grabs a round person and stuffs him into that square hole just to keep the program spinning.  It exists to sustain itself, not to accomplish the mission.  Sunday School must re-discover its true identity and purpose; not as a program or a church growth strategy but a mission-oriented ministry for making disciples and transforming lives through Transformational Small Communities.

    Read Acts 8:30-35 and Listen for God’s Mission…

    Later God’s angel spoke to Philip:  ‘At noon today I want you to walk over to that desolate road that goes from Jerusalem down to Gaza.’

    He got up and went.  He met an Ethiopian eunuch coming down the road. He was riding in a chariot and reading the prophet Isaiah.

    The Spirit told Philip, ‘Climb into the chariot.’  Running up alongside, Philip heard the eunuch reading Isaiah and asked, ‘Do you understand what you’re reading?’ He answered, ‘How can I without some to help?’ and invited Philip into the chariot with him.  The eunuch said, ‘Tell me who is the prophet talking about:  himself or some other?’  Philip grabbed his chance.  Using this passage as his text, he preached Jesus to him.

    The Message

    What was God’s Mission? For Philip…For the church…For Sunday School…For your class or small group…For you…

    The Mission has not changed! Principle:  A Mission oriented Sunday School is outwardly focused and intentionally evangelistic.

    What is needed to develop a Mission-Oriented Transformational Small Communities ministry?

    A Mission-Oriented Pastor

    • To lead the church to discover its Mission.
    • To Empower the Sunday School to accomplish its purpose of making disciples.

    A Mission-Oriented Sunday School Ministry Team – Without a team, the SS Director’s hands are tied.  He can’t do this by him/herself.  With a team, a mission-oriented, transformational, disciple-making strategy can be planned.

    • Sunday School Director
    • Outreach Coordinator – Works with Class Outreach Leaders
    • Ministry Coordinator – Works with Class Care Group Leaders
    • Adult Representative – One of the Adult Teachers
    • Student/Youth Representative – One of the Youth Teachers
    • Children’s Representative – One of the Children’s Teachers
    • Preschool Representative – One of the Preschool Teachers

    Functions of the Sunday School Ministry Team:

    1. Annual Planning: to accomplish the mission of the church.  Each spring the team meets for an extended planning time to plan the year of Sunday School Ministry.  Example:  Meet Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday afternoon.  Divide the year into seasonal quarters and plan each quarters work.
    2. Monthly Coordination: Keeping track and measuring progress of Transformational Ministry.
      1. Evaluate past ministries
      2. Coordinate current ministry
      3. Plan Ahead for future ministries

    The team meets for one hour monthly to keep the ministry coordinated around the mission. 

    A Mission-Oriented Sunday School Organization with a Missionary Mentality in which each group can answer the question:  Who is your ‘People Group’?

    • Age Grading
    • Life-Stage
    • Generational Group
    • Affinity Group
    • Inter-generational
    • Ethnicity

    Organize your Sunday School based on who needs to be reached in your community. Create small groups so that each has a people group to reach.  Example:  People in a small group for 25-35 year old adults will focus on the 25-35 age group as their people group to reach.  This is a missionary mentality for developing a disciple-making culture.

    Mission – Oriented Care Groups in Adult/Student Classes

    • One Care Group Leader for every 4-6 members
    • Function:  Contact Every Member and Prospect Every Week.

    Next week’s blog post( number five of ten) will on Word Driven

    Phil Stone is the State Sunday School Director for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.