Home Small Group Leaders Small Group Leaders How To's Creating a Small Group Curriculum Map: 7 Steps

Creating a Small Group Curriculum Map: 7 Steps

One of the most common questions I get as a small groups pastor is, “What should we study next?” It’s a good question rooted in a group leader wanting to find the most helpful, engaging, relevant study that will help his/her group grow. He wants his group to love his choice. She wants her group to fall in love with the study, having vibrant discussion.

In other words, the group leader wants to be the hero that has the answers.

And that’s not a bad thing. You want them to be the hero. And secretly, you want to be a hero, too—not from a sense of pride, but from a sense of how God has wired you as a leader. You want to be able to actually help people in their pursuit of God and in their pursuit of helping others find Him. Shepherds help their sheep find water. That’s what you’re trying to do. You’re a shepherd trying to help a shepherd lead their sheep to water.

Instead of just shooting from the hip every time, why not formulate a plan? A strategy designed not just to meet the knee-jerk reactionary needs of a group, but that helps develop them over time? It’s time to formulate a strategy that doesn’t just drip water from a bottle to sheep but that leads them to the lake where they can get all of the water they need.

Enter the curriculum map.

A curriculum map isn’t anything elaborate. It’s just a document that lays out a season-to-season plan for what a group will study. It takes into account:

  • Seasonal changes
  • A group’s big-picture growth needs
  • The value of the small groups ministry
  • Natural breaks in group life
  • Variety in study format
  • Variety in spiritual focuses

Here’s how you can start laying out a map.

1. Write down your small group system’s values.

How would you define a healthy group? How would you characterize a group that’s growing? What are they doing? How are they pursuing Jesus together?  Here are a few ideas:

  • A healthy group evangelizes together
  • A healthy group pursues community with those inside the small group
  • A healthy group grows in its intimacy with God
  • A healthy group understands and practices spiritual disciplines

Your guiding principle with this is to write down the (no more than 10) statements that, if small group members got nothing else out of their small group except these values, you’d be satisfied.

2. For each of these values, gather 3-5 resources that speak to that topic.

List each study under their corresponding value with a picture, a brief description, and the length of time the study should last. Include other details such as whether the study includes a DVD, the price, and any links that may help them decide whether this is a good study for their group. Be sure to order the values, and indicate how much time each value should take to cover. As in:

1. A healthy group evangelizes together (months 1-3)

a. (study option #1)
b. (study option #2)
c. (study option #3)

2. A healthy group pursues community with those inside the small group (months 4-9)

a. (study option #1)
b. (study option #2)
c. (study option #3)

3. A healthy group grows in its intimacy with God (months 10-12)

a. (study option #1)
b. (study option #2)
c. (study option #3)

4. A healthy group understands and practices spiritual disciplines (months 13-16)
a. (study option #1)
b. (study option #2)
c. (study option #3)

3. For each study, indicate whether it is an easy or advanced study based on the amount of extra work (reading, memorizing, etc.) involved.

You may want to come up with a system that helps groups determine what kind of study they’d need, as in:

  • Rookie groups (
  • Seasoned groups (6-12 months meeting together)
  • Veteran groups (12 months + meeting together)
  • Super veteran groups (24 months + meeting together)

Some studies lend themselves well to new groups, where relationships aren’t fully formed yet or where there is a good mix of believers and unbelievers. Others lend themselves to people and groups that have been following Jesus for many, many seasons.

4. Post the map online, or have printouts available for group leaders to pick up.

If you can set up a page on your website, that would be the best. Then when you make changes in curriculum options (when a new curriculum becomes available or when existing materials are checked out), you update the site, but the link remains the same. All leaders have the link, and they get the most updated information.

5. Build your small group library around these studies.

If you have a lending library, use your budget money to stock up on these studies so that when you share the list, you’ll have materials to lend to groups.

6. Use these values in your small group leader training.

Were you able to come up with 10 values in step #1? Perfect! You have the “bottom line” for your next 10 trainings.

7. Point small group leaders to these when they ask what to study next.

Every. Single. Time. Have that link, or the printout, available and handy at all times so that you can quickly point group leaders to the map.

If you have this map in place, you’ll be able to more easily step in and help a group figure out what to study next. And with this map, the group leader might be able to more readily determine the best course of action for their group.  

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Ben Reed is the small groups pastor at Long Hollow, a multi-site church in the Nashville, TN, area. He holds an Mdiv from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Ben is also an avid coffee drinker and CrossFitter, but not at the same time. Catch up with Ben at BenReed.net. In his book, "Starting Small: The Ultimate Small Group Blueprint," he helps leaders through the process of putting a small group ministry together and creating a place where people belong so they can become.