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Bonnie Lee on Sermon-based Small Groups

A conversation with Bonnie Lee on Sermon-based Small Groups

Bonnie Lee leads the team that writes curriculum for sermon-based small groups (SBSGs) at Northwest Baptist Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Here, Bonnie Lee describes the logistics of aligning sermons with small groups so that members grow together to be more like Christ.

Bonnie Lee

The SBSG idea comes from Larry Osborne’s book Sticky Church. Who read this book in your church?

Osborne's model is foundational to our efforts to produce the best materials for our small group participants. Four of us read Sticky Church while writing a worship renewal grant—Fred Oaks, associate pastor; Tom Harrington, senior pastor; Matt Lee, worship leader; and myself. After receiving word that we had been awarded a grant, we gave it to members who agreed to join the SBSG curriculum writing team. For Christmas, we gave every LIFE Group and Care Group leader [see group descriptions below] a Sticky Church book.  

Who writes your SBSG leader and participant guides? How much time does that take, and who pays for it?    

Our curriculum writing team has expanded to five writers and four readers, on rotation. The writers, besides myself, are Brian Dixon, minister of families; Ryan Soderberg, youth director; Donna Soderberg, a local public school teacher; and Carlene Silva, a worship team vocal leader who also leads the women’s ministry team.

When I began writing SBSG guides, the entire process took seven to eight hours to prepare both participant and leader guides to the point that they were ready for photocopying. Now it is closer to half that time. I believe this is representative of the rest of the team. Aside from the expense of photocopying guides in the church office, there is no cost associated with the SBSG model. Also, we keep our photocopying costs down by uploading the guides to our church website.

How far ahead must your pastor plan his sermon for you to be able to write and distribute SBSG discussion guides each week?

We have arrived at a process that works well for our pastor and writers, taking into consideration everyone's busy schedules and assuring a seamless commitment to offering worthy material every week of our 10-week cycle. If our pastor provides us with sermon projection, selected sermon text(s), and theme six weeks in advance, we are able to work through the process of writing, editing, rewriting, copyediting, and printing. The guides are then printed and uploaded to the church website the Thursday prior to Sunday's service.

Please describe the small groups that have the option of using SBSG curriculum.

People in our Care Groups and LIFE Groups may use it. Care Groups are a subset of small groups that refer to Sunday morning Bible study groups for adults, from college-aged on up. (On Sunday mornings, children through youth have their own Sunday morning Bible study classes.) LIFE Groups are the small group subset that meets off campus, mid-week. Unlike Care Groups, LIFE Groups are available to those as young as youth group students (seventh to twelfth graders). Our youth leaders have found SBSG guides very effective in engaging youth in meaningful dialogue.  

How do you engage children in the sermons? 

Children are greatly engaged through Children's Church, a program for first through sixth graders which meets every other week during the worship service. Occasionally the preacher will do a short children's sermon during the corporate worship service. The more intentional, collaboratively created thematic visuals (picture and video), dramas, and music have all done a great job of engaging youth and children, both as part of the worship service and during the actual sermon. For example, instead of just mentioning work scenarios, Pastor Harrington often mentions from the pulpit situations that children or youth encounter, such as school or sports situations.

 Northwest Baptist includes black and white members, men and women, and a range of ages. Do SBSGs appeal to everyone or more to a specific demographic?

Small groups in general, and SBSGs in particular, have been embraced by all groups within our congregation, representing the beautiful diversity found at NWBC. It seems that SBSGs are equally attractive to all demographics within our congregation. Since the implementation of our SBSGs, there has been a noticeable uptick in the attentiveness of congregants during the sermon. For instance, many who had not previously taken notes now do. It seems as if they want to be prepared when they get together with their SBSGs.

Curriculum Writing Team’s SBSG Curriculum Creation Process

  1. 6 weeks prior – Sermon sent to writer
  2. 4 weeks prior – Draft 1 of Participant Guide sent to preacher for initial review
  3. 2 ½ weeks prior – Revised draft of Participant Guide, Draft 2, and Leader Guide sent to all writers and readers
  4. ½ week prior (by Wed. 8:00 AM) – Finalized versions of Participant and Leader Guides go to Tom and Bonnie H.
  5. ½ week prior (by Wed. afternoon) – Bonnie H. sends Tom’s edits to Joe. N.
  6. ½ week prior (by Thursday) – Joe N. “typesets” guides, and sends guides to Bonnie H. to photocopy and upload to web. 
  7. Day zero – Tom or other preacher gives sermon.


Read about how Northwest Baptist Church and another congregation learn worship through book groups.