Writing for Life Groups

Recently I began assisting our church’s spiritual growth team in writing small group discussion guides for many of our Life Groups.  At Journey, we place strong emphasis on the idea that your faith grows best in the context of community.  In a group setting, followers can encourage each other and speak truth.

At some point, we adopted the conversational dialogue of:

  • Introduction
  • Observation
  • Understanding
  • Application

I’m sure we didn’t come up with it on our own.  Chances are we got it from somewhere or adapted it from something.  The truth is, it can be difficult to “plan” how a conversation will go.  After all, conversation operates best when it is free flowing, from one topic to the next.  Language is organic.

At the same time, in the context of guiding everyone to a certain goal or conclusion, there has to be a map or guide to keep everyone on track together.

The Introduction:

Generally 10 minutes, the introduction serves to get everyone engaged and talking from the beginning.  It should be fun, light hearted, and can even be a game or movie clip.  In the olden days of “youth group” we called this the icebreaker.  And if discussion is an exercise (and it is sometimes) this is the warm-up.

The Observation:

I like to break this section into two parts.  After all, we could observe something from many angles.  In college, I took several courses on critical theory.  That’s a fancy way of saying everyone has an opinion and nobody thinks they are wrong.  So, in the observation section we want to talk about what people think or how they respond, and then also see what God says.  Because, Biblically speaking, there are really just two viewpoints: God’s and man’s.

  • Man’s Viewpoint:

What do people in society (not necessarily people in this group) think about a particular idea?  Why do they think that?  How has it played out in the lives of other people?  Sometimes it’s easier to determine what we think about something by observing the antithesis or confirmation of our own viewpoint.  But it’s not our viewpoint that ultimately matters.  So, that brings us to the second part of the observation.

  • God’s Viewpoint:

Opening God’s Word gives us a 100% guarantee to know what He says, right? So,  what does God say about it?  Here we look in God’s Word for context about what He has said or done.  What truth has He brought to the table?  What has He said about it in the past, and by default, the present?  A simple follow up question will often cause a “duh” reaction, but even this is important.  Do we really hear what He said, or did we filter His words through our own ideas?

The Understanding:

I think most groups can survive pretty well until they get to this point.  Now, everyone might start feeling just how uncomfortable his or her chairs are.  Someone’s looking at his watch.  She’s thinking about that one thing at work tomorrow.  This is the hurdle point.  This is where some people will either shut down or become completely alive.

Knowing what others believe or how they behave is easy.  Reading what God says is also easy, especially if you tell me what specifically to read.  Getting me to understand it, and understand it beyond the intellectual understanding, but to truly understand it in my heart—that requires, quite literally, an act of God.  Thank God for the Holy Spirit who reveals that truth to us.

Understanding is where we try to move the conversation from knowing something in our mind to believing it in our heart.  What was the truth presented there? Do I agree with God’s Word?  Have there been things in my life that makes me question that?  Does His Word confirm it for me? Has God’s Word shifted my thinking at all?  After reading what God’s Word says, does it shift my view of others, of my relationships?  What would it look like if everyone lived the way that God’s Word just described?

We might ask some hypotheticals, but really this understanding moves us to a point where it’s just me and God.  And He’s looking at my life, and I’m looking to Him.  This staring contest leads to the question that is most pivotal: What am I going to do about it now?

The Application:

We also refer to this as “My Response” because ultimately that’s what matters.  Jesus tells us that foolish people hear His words and don’t act on them.  But a wise man listens to His words and acts out the truth he just heard.  This is putting faith into action, truth into shoes, and is the Christ in us that He wants us to be.

Spiritual growth in any small group, in any individual, cannot happen outside of this response.  In Hebrews, chapter 11, we see a list of people who walked in faith, who lived out the truth they knew, and each involves an incredible action.  Noah was confronted with the truth that God was going to rescue him and Noah responded.  Moses was confronted with truth that he should lead God’s people and he responded. We see it over and over again.

So the question “what am I going to do about it now?” is the single most important question.  If I answer it, my life is forever changed.  If I ignore it, I’m deciding to be a fool.  And everyone decides at some point.  As shepherds, we have to ask the question of ourselves, and ask those in our care to ask the question of themselves as well.


So, that’s the process we use.  I’m not sure if that’s the best way to go about it or not.  For now, it seems to be working but I’m always looking for a better way.

(Disney would say, “That’s good.  Let’s plus it!” which is to say, make it better.)

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