I do a lot of reading. Sometimes I pick up a book that others praise highly, but I find I get almost nothing out of it. But then, sometimes I’ll pick up one little nugget that is worth the price of the book. I had this experience not too long ago with the book titled Sticky Church by Larry Osborne. The book is on the small group ministry of North Coast Church, the church Osborne pastors in northern San Diego County of California. His approach to small group ministry is quite different from what I would use. He uses small groups to “close the back door” so to speak, whereas I would see small groups as the front door as Steve Murrell does in WikiChurch. He has one main purpose of small groups, and that is relationships. From his perspective, if they accomplish any more than that it is a bonus. I see a deeper spiritual value to small groups. His groups are sermon based. I think small groups should be about getting people into the Word on their own. However, it has 55 reviews on Amazon with an average score of 4.5 out of 5 stars, so a lot of people must like this book better than I did.
But he had one little thing to say that I thought was brilliant. I’ll give the extensive quote here.
To improve the quality of the discussion, we work hard to make sure that everyone comes with their answers to the study questions already filled out. One of the most effective ways we do this is by having our leaders periodically ask people to read what they’ve written down, especially if it appears that someone is deviating from their original answer. It follows the old adage “Inspect what you expect.” If a leader doesn’t stay on top of this issue, it’s not long until people show up without having even looked at the questions ahead of time, much less having written down an answer. And that’s guaranteed to cut the breadth of the study and turn the study into a platform for those who like to think out loud. We don’t want anyone to be forced to think on their feet. So all the questions are provided in the worship bulletin beforehand (and posted on our website for those who miss the service or listen online). This has two huge advantages. First, it keeps extroverts and those who like to shoot from the hip from dominating the meeting. Second, it undercuts the natural tendency we all have to let the first person who speaks set the tone and framework for everyone else’s answer. You’ve probably had it happen to you. A teacher or leader asks a question, and the first person who answers takes it in a totally different direction than you have in mind. If you’re like most of us, you simply shift gears and answer in a way that fits with or builds on whatever the first person said. While that’s an understandable response, it’s an idea and discussion killer.
This little tip all by itself was worth the price of the book. Require everyone to read their answer to the question. This keeps the discussion focused. It keeps people from rambling. It encourages people to do at least a little preparation. It levels the playing field between extroverts and introverts, between those who can think on their feet and those who can’t.
“If they [church leaders] could do only one thing to help people at all levels of spiritual maturity grow in their relationship with Christ, their choice would be equally clear. They would inspire, encourage, and equip their people to read the Bible—specifically, to reflect on Scripture for meaning in their lives.”
from Move: What 1,000 Churches Reveal about Spiritual Growth by Greg Hawkins & Cally Parkinson