How to Develop Small Group Curriculum

Manouchka Charles

April 15, 2021
5 min read

At VOUS, we like to say we are not a church that has small groups, we are a church made up of small groups. What we mean is that we don’t want small groups to be one of the things we offer if that’s what you’re into. VOUS Crews are not just an extra-curricular option for us. We believe that the real community of our church is found in small groups. Our goal is not to gather a big crowd, it’s to create an authentic community of people who know one another and do life together. Commitment lasts better in community. That’s where lasting life change happens.

Over the past six years (we launched our small groups a year before we launched weekly Sunday services) we have worked to refine and improve our VOUS Crew experience. First and foremost, Crews are built on our Crew leaders. Along with our team leaders, Crew leaders are the pastors of our church. They are the people who have made themselves available as a resource, friend, and leader for those who take the time to attend their Crew. Crews rise and fall on the health and contribution of our Crew leaders.

The next part of the equation for us has been providing our leaders with a clear and comprehensive guide for their Crew. The big-picture version of this guidance is our Crew Essentials Booklet. This handbook provides Crew leaders with an overview of what it means to take on this role in our community, expectations for their leadership, and helpful tips and principles on how to play their part well. The specific, week-to-week resource we provide is our Crew Study Guide. This guide is a breakdown of the flow of Crew, based on the most recent sermon preached in church and designed to get conversation going.

In this article, I want to give you a look into how we develop our study guides each week and how a typical Crew gathering flows.

1. Review Sermon Notes

Our Crews don’t exist in a vacuum; they are part of the life of our church. Rather than creating Crew conversations that stand alone, we aim to continue the conversations our pastors and team initiate each Sunday. The goal is always for people to keep thinking about, processing, and applying sermons to their daily life long after a Sunday service ends. Crew is a systematic way of ensuring that happens.

The first step for our team in developing a small group study guide is to review the sermon notes. Since we develop content in real time, this helps our team get ahead of the upcoming Crew week. Before we even get to a Sunday service, our servant leaders receive sermon notes from whoever is preaching on the weekend so they can familiarize themselves with the content. By knowing the topic, text, and trajectory of a sermon, they are able to walk into Sunday ready to receive and process the message.

2. Attend Sunday Service

Once they have reviewed the sermon notes and started formulating their own questions and ideas, we ask our team to attend the first service on Sunday. For us, this currently happens at 10:00am. Why the first service? Because our first Crew gatherings happen on Monday night. So every hour counts on Sunday as we develop, review, and finalize content. During the service, our team takes detailed notes and jots down ideas. When service ends, they huddle to determine who will take on each part of the study guide.

3. Create New Content

The team typically consists of four people working together to create the finished product. These servant leaders are drawn from our Communications Team, which is part of our Creative Department. Each person works on their specific portion of the flow, then the team comes together to review and edit before submitting their content to our Crew Director—that’s me—for review. The final content is a combination of written summaries of the sermon, quotes, exercises, questions, and a call to action.

We have two main goals for the guide. Firstly, we want it to make sense even if you didn’t hear the sermon preached. It shouldn’t be a vague summary; it should be a clear and concise distillation of the message. Regardless of the structure of the sermon, we either select or create two main points, each with three subpoints and an accompanying question. (Crew leaders receive a separate guide that includes 3-4 additional questions, just in case people don’t respond to the first question.) This helps us to accomplish our second goal, which is to stimulate meaningful conversation. Crew leaders aren’t there to re-preach a sermon. They are there to get people talking to each other, processing the message out loud, and looking for specific applications of the ideas to their personal lives.

Our Crews meet every other week and last 90 minutes. We take three months off each year—April, August, and December. (For a detailed explanation of our church’s yearly rhythm, read Why We Operate in Seasons as an Organization.)


Here is our standard VOUS Crew flow:

— Icebreaker (10 minutes)

— Reflection (5 minutes)

— Scripture (3 minutes)

— Main Idea (5 minutes)

— Point 1 (5 minutes)

     — Subpoint 1

     — Subpoint 2

     — Subpoint 3

— Discussion (20 minutes)

— Point 2 (5 minutes)

     — Subpoint 1

     — Subpoint 2

     — Subpoint 3

— Discussion (20 minutes)

— Call To Action (3 minutes)

— Prayer Request & Praise Reports (10 minutes)

— Announcements (4 minutes)

I hope that this breakdown of our Crew process and flow has been helpful to you. It certainly isn’t the only way to do it. We have learned, grown, and changed a lot of the years. And we plan to continue to do the same in the future! The best thing you can do is lean into your team’s unique gifts, talents, and abilities and trust God’s empowerment and guidance as you work to develop the small group culture God is leading you to create in your community. We believe it is absolutely essential to the life and health of your church. It’s a Crew that turns a crowd into a community. Our prayer is that God would use our small groups to form genuine relationships that lead to lasting life change. And we’re praying the same for you!

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