10 Tips for Writing Small Group Lessons

Over the last five years I have written somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 small group lessons. Some have been good and others lacking. Hopefully after reflecting on the process of lesson writing and also seeing the lessons several of you have recently sent me for the Archive some of this information will be helpful:

  1. Lessons must be teachable – That means they need flow, organization, and the ability to communicate very clearly what the point of the lesson is and how it is to be applied. Ideally small group leaders will be prepared every time. But in the real world we know there are going to be weeks that a leader just has to grab the lesson and go. Let’s not make the lessons so hard that someone cannot pick it up and go.
  2. Lessons should be short – usually no more than 2 pages for the section that is actually to be taught. You can figure about 15 minutes per page depending on the material. If you are aiming for a 30-45 minute discussion then 2 pages is plenty. Less is typically more. When small group discussions run over an hour they often become counter productive. What is more, leaders typically lengthen lessons rather than shorten them. Group members also tend to chase rabbits if it is permitted. That being said, the group is already going to take a short lesson and make it long. How long will they make a long lesson? It can go on for a very long time.
  3. Communicate one main point – I stole this from Andy Stanley’s Communicating for a Change: Seven Keys to Irresistible Communication. If you are following a text this may not always work out. However, people should generally walk away remembering at least one main point. If the lesson writer doesn’t know what that is then neither will the leader. If the leader doesn’t know what that point is neither will those in the group. Write the lesson with one point in mind and make sure that someone would get that point loud and clear through the content of the lesson.
  4. The point comes from the text – People like to hijack texts. They have a point they want to make and then they string totally unconnected scriptures together to construct their point. The point comes from the text to us, not the other way around. Ask yourself, “Is the point I am making really in this text or am I twisting it to make it say what I want it to say?” How to figure this out comes through careful exegesis and the questions asked in the next two tips.
  5. Key question #1 – When writing a lesson never forget to ask, “What is this text trying to tell me?” You take the answer to that question and begin unpacking it for the group. This takes time and skill. It doesn’t mean you have to do a word study, dive into the Greek, and unpack every word in the text. It does mean you need to understand the gist of the text and how to make that come alive through the lesson to the group.
  6. Key question #2 – “What does this text require of me?” If we don’t know why the text is relevant then the text will do little more than rattle around in our brains. This question gets the rubber meeting the road. Each group member should be faced with this question in some form in the lesson. Another way to put this is, “If these things are true, now what?” This doesn’t always mean we have to run out and do some big service project or change the world. The answer may be as simple as being grateful.
  7. Empower your group leaders – This point is a little different because it doesn’t have anything to do with how you write the lesson. This means you let your leader know two things in advance. 1 – They know their group better than you do. 2 – They have the liberty to add to or take away from the lesson things they find helpful or unhelpful. Lessons are written one time for a wide audience. It needs to be filtered through each group leader to make the most appropriate fit of the lesson to the group. That means some lessons will need modified and they need to know they have the liberty to not cover the whole lesson or to change things up a bit.
  8. Avoid distractions and rabbit trails – There are so many interesting historical facts and tidbits that can be brought up in a lesson that are more like trivia than they are teachable points. If they don’t advance the main point of the lesson then leave them alone. Groups will chase enough rabbits without the lesson adding to the chase by going off course.
  9. Avoid overuse of Greek and Hebrew – Original languages can be really helpful to understand particular points but 98% of the time the English translation is sufficient. Most small group leaders aren’t equipped to handle making points from the original languages very well. So only use these if it is crucial to the central point of the lesson.
  10. Proofread – There is nothing more distracting than errors in curriculum. Maybe it is just me but no matter how well a lesson is constructed, errors in the text make the lesson see msubpar (see what I mean?)

0 Responses to 10 Tips for Writing Small Group Lessons

  1. Kevin Walker says:

    Really great post! Thanks! I’ll definitely be putting this information to good use.

  2. lanewidick says:

    Do you have a link to your lessons that you have written? Are they all online somewhere? I would love to read over some of the ones you’ve done. I get stuck every week writing these.

  3. Ryan says:

    Hey, thank you for posting this. I am also looking for an outline that would be a good starting point for writing a small group lesson. I know I could imitate other small group lessons but was hoping to find an example or two of an outline people use to write lessons and how they would look when it’s all finished.

    • mattdabbs says:

      Ryan,

      The best thing you can do is find lessons you think are good, understand what makes them good, and incorporate some of those components into the lessons you are writing. Poke around in the Bible Lessons link and drop down links at the top of this blog to see different lesson formats.

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