Some pros and cons to to choosing this model
Recently we learned that one of our small groups is using a book rather than a pre-formatted 6-8 week study. The leader, Becky Hess, is finding it to be a refreshing change of pace and has offered us some observations about how it is going.
The group is looking at this as a kind of "book club" experience. To carry this off well, all the members of the group need to own the idea and commit to being actively involved in the discussion planning and of course in the discussion itself.
The book that they are currently using is The Promise, by Robert Morgan (dealing with Romans 8:28). When members received their books, everyone agreed to read the first chapter and come to the next meeting with one or two questions from the material to ask others in the group. Becky is finding this a great model, as long as the group members follow through on getting their reading done and bringing their questions. It hasn't always worked out that way. When the members don't prep, discussion can be very limited. However this is providing a good coaching opportunity for Becky to help the group members see how important each of them is to the success of the experience. The side benefit: It is providing experience to everyone in leading a study as they do the reading and preparation before the meeting.
Specifically, Becky has asked the group members to come up with one of these options to bring to their meeting:
- A question that they were asking themselves about the reading.
- A question from their understanding of the material.
- An experience from the past or present in their own lives that ties into the material in the chapter.
Becky is enjoying this experience, and is communicating between meetings via text to coach the group members, which is helping build consistency and enthusiasm for the study.
Our take on this concept is that, as a leader, you provide structure for your meeting time. If you’ve chosen a book that doesn’t support your structure, this can be a challenge for you. It’s always best to use professional curriculum that have open ended questions. However, if you are brave enough to chose a book study, you will need to figure out the structure and routines that curriculum typically provides for you. Becky has done this well, putting the onus on the group to share the responsibility. The success of the group meetings doesn’t all stand or fall on her because everyone has a part of it.
We looked up this concept to get some outside opinions on how it works. Here's an excerpt from a 2012 article by Sam O'Neal from Smallgroups.com about using a book instead of curriculum for your group.
Many small groups prefer to interact with a well-known book instead of using shorter curriculum guides. These are usually the "cream of the crop" from Christian prose, including titles such as The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman or Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis. Some groups enjoy digging into controversial works—The Shack by William P. Young would be a good example. Many of these books are now accompanied by journals or workbooks designed for use in a small group.
There are several advantages to this approach. For one thing, books that have weathered the test of time usually contain genuinely life-changing material. They are great books, pure and simple, and they can have a deep impact on small-group participants. These kinds of studies are also a nice break from the "same old, same old" feel of many curriculum guides. They offer something new and a little more exciting.
The danger of taking this approach is that it can be hard to pair these books with an in-depth study of Scripture. The material in the book usually takes precedence over God's Word. That's okay for a six to eight week break every now and again, but it becomes less appealing if a group wants to study these kinds of books most of the time. At some point, things transition from a small group to a book club.
Another disadvantage of this approach is that it can be quite expensive, especially if you are asking group members to purchase both the original book and a group-based study guide.