Where can a church begin looking for the right Bible study materials? For some, it may be within the church itself.
With help from a new web-based tool offered by LifeWay Christian Resources, a congregation can now have easier access to customizable content that accompanies a sermon series or undergirds a special church-wide campaign.
"Up until now," said Michael Kelley, director of Groups Ministry at LifeWay and executive editor of HomeLife magazine, "if a church needed curriculum written specifically for them, the only real option was to invest a significant amount of time and money in producing it themselves."
Even for churches that may have the resources to manage a project of this size, the work often suffers, Kelley said, "because the church is simply too pressed for time in all their areas of ministry."
To solve that problem, Kelley and others at LifeWay developed SmallGroup.com. "With SmallGroup.com, a church can have customized content and still devote their energy to other areas of ministry," Kelley said.
The site has more than 1,200 searchable studies on 400 topics from all 66 books of the Bible. If a passage or topic isn't available, one of the best features of SmallGroup.com, Kelley noted, is that users can request a specific study at no additional charge and a LifeWay curriculum specialist will contact them within 48 hours. Users can also add church-specific logos and terminology to their Bible study templates.
Jorge Molina, small groups pastor at Christ Fellowship in Miami, said SmallGroup.com offers an advantage to churches that take time to hear from their people about what is needed for Bible study and create materials to reflect those needs.
Any church can benefit from the church-based curriculum, Molina said. "This system lets you customize the material to what you feel is best for the people you lead," he said.
Kelley pointed to three specific small group approaches that were part of the development of SmallGroup.com.
The first approach involved developing a helpful approach to churches that prefer sermon-based content.
Chris Surratt, a ministry consultant who used the website at Cross Point Church in Nashville, said he appreciates premade studies, but customizable options allow leaders to adjust the content to fit their church. "You have the foundation of a great study with the ability to tweak it to the specific language of your pastor's message," he said.
Churches can create simple, six-week campaigns to coincide with the weekend sermons. "You can set up your studies with the themes ahead of time and tweak them to fit the messages as you go through the series," Surratt said.
The second type of approach considered in developing SmallGroup.com was the long-range planning church. With static curriculum, churches are limited in how far ahead they can see the small group material. With a customizable approach, Kelley said, "a church could plan months and months of Bible studies according to their own ministry trajectory."
Churches who want to empower their group leaders were the third type of church discussed when planning the resource. "At SmallGroup.com, a church can give every group leader access to the tool," Kelley said, "allowing each group to have their own custom approach to Bible study. All the while, the church staff can see exactly what each group is studying at a given time."
For churches interested in SmallGroup.com, there is a two-week free trial. Multiple leaders and staff members can sign up for their own trial, so several people within a church can experience it for themselves, Kelley said.
He said subscriptions are intentionally designed to be affordable—starting at less than $20 per month. The pricing scale is set by how many group members are using the content from SmallGroup.com, not the total number of members or attendees at the church, Kelley said.