I work with small groups on a regular basis, and I always have my radar up for new and interesting Bible studies. When evaluating small group curriculum, I’m looking for a few factors:
- Simple, straightforward prep for leaders. Leaders often feel more comfortable leading a small group if they have material they can pick up, preview, and easily run with. A well-prepared leader is a key factor for a positive group experience.
- Low level of “homework”. Most small group participants will not do homework for the study (even if they say upfront they want to). Small group curriculum that comes with a set of short videos for small groups to watch together is a great alternative to requiring preparation outside of the group.
- Options for those who want to dig deeper. While most participants will not do homework, a couple of the rockstar members will want go above and beyond. These participants will gravitate towards studies that provide something to mull over during the week.
- Challenging. The best small group experience happens when people are challenged and have the freedom to explore theological and practical ideas in the context of a safe, grace-filled learning community. Too many guardrails of what’s okay or not okay to say kills a discussion and leaves participants wondering if the weekly meeting is worth their time.
Recently I’ve gotten the opportunity to take a look at the Animate series from Sparkhouse, and it has all the marks of a great study. Helpful facilitators guide. Short DVD experience. Journal for the participant. More questions than answers.
There are 3 studies in the Animate series:
Each Animate set comes with 3 elements.
Each DVD contains six 5-10 minute videos by an array of speakers. The speaker line-up on each DVD includes writers, pastors, and scholars from many walks of life. Some of the teachers you might recognize– Phyllis Tickle, Rachel Held Evans, Will Willimon, and Nadia Bolz-Weber.
The talks are designed to spark conversation. They’re short and raise more questions than answers. To get a feel for what they’re like, check out this series of clips (you can just press play, and then the videos will automatically play, one after another).
The participant’s guide is an illustrated journal with spaces to write and respond while watching the DVD. The feel of these journals is AMAZING. The covers are black, flexible, and have a really great texture. The insides are creatively written, allowing people to step outside of their normal blank-page, question and answer set-up.
Because of the nature of the topic, Animate.Practices has additional daily exercises to do and reflect upon as group members try out new practices. The other two journals have spaces for reflection and resources for further study.
The facilitators guide gives leaders ideas on starting conversations, tips on leading the group through the concepts presented, and some bonus questions for the group to work through if desired.
Who is this study for?
This study would be great for a group who is ready to do a little thinking. For those who have come out of fundamentalist or ultra-conservative traditions and are interested in thinking and exploring their faith in a different way, this would be a great curriculum to use. The content is solid, and provides space to honestly engage in topics we encounter as we live the Jesus-led life.
I can imagine that this study would work especially well in a 20/30 something group.
I REALLY love the way this study creates space for discussion and exploration of the Scriptures and how we live our lives in response to them. The conversation topics are timeless and vital to our spiritual formation- both as an individual and as a faith community.
This particular set of studies reminds me that how we are formed as a community matters… a lot. While it’s great to learn on our own and dive into Scripture as individuals, it’s all meant to be interpreted in a community of faith. We become together.
Thanks so much to Sparkhouse for allowing me to review this small group curriculum! All thoughts are 100% my own.