SBC Church Uses Sermon Based Small Groups in Sunday School

When I did my research on sermon based small group churches and how they used the approach of resurfacing the sermon in the small group, I found a unique church. Immanuel Baptist Church’s model is below. What do you think of it?

Immanuel Baptist Church

Immanuel Baptist Church (IBC) in Glasgow, Kentucky, uses the SBSG model effectively. Tony Cecil, Senior Pastor leads the church. IBC averages three hundred in worship attendance.[1]  The church uses an on-campus Sunday School model for assimilating members. One exceptional quality about this church is its website. Pastor Cecil’s messages are available online via mp3 download or immediate streaming audio. The SBSG curriculum is available also for learners to download. IBC’s website makes it easy for anyone wanting to stay connected to the pastor’s preaching and their own personal preparation in Bible study. Everything is accessible from the church’s home page.

Pastor Tony Cecil’s responses in his survey are revealing. Pastor Cecil writes the SBSG curriculum at IBC.[2]  The curriculum is entitled “Coordinates.” IBC does not force members to be in a SBSG. Cecil states, “We give our people the option.”[3] Other groups at IBC are only allowed to use previously approved curriculum. Cecil also says the curriculum, “contains substantially more information that I am not able to include in my Sunday morning message.”[4] I confirmed this when I listened to Pastor Cecil’s message online.[5] I read the SBSG lesson[6] and listened to his message afterward. Pastor Cecil’s SBSG curriculum “would better be classified as a more in-depth version”[7] of his message. Cecil’s style of preaching is highly expository and didactic. The sermon I listened to was deductive in form. He does use a “main proposition…[that matches] the main proposition of Coordinates.”[8]

The SBSG curriculum IBC uses is quality. The material looks good. It is appealing to the eye without being too overbearing with graphics. Volume and edition number, and date organizes each lesson. Cecil uses core competencies to help students as a guide to spiritual growth. One of the best features of the curriculum involves the church’s vision statement.[9] It is on every week’s lesson. The vision is also highly visible on the church’s website. The people who use the SBSG curriculum are able to have a sense of connection to the church’s mission in the world through the vision statement.

The curriculum is well written and follows a process. Cecil has good exegesis and references using footnotes. Scripture references are printed in the material. Most of the material is doctrinal at the expense of being practical. When I first read Cecil’s SBSG lesson, I picked up quickly that he was from the reformed tradition. When asked to “describe the process you use in developing your curriculum or questions. What type of questions do you ask? (Knowledge, understanding, application),” here is how Cecil responded:

When I began writing Coordinates (over 2 ½ years ago), I tried to include all three types of questions.  In terms of the knowledge questions, most of what I asked encouraged readers to slow down and observe what the text actually said.  Most questions I asked could be easily answered simply by re-reading the passage.  The “understanding” questions were asked more from a subjective point of view.  For example, “What do you think Paul means . . . .”  Usually after the subjective questions, I answered the question by telling the readers what it was that Paul actually meant.  At the end of the study, I usually asked 3-5 application questions/activities.  These were by far the most difficult to write.  I found many of these in other studies/sermons that I read as I prepared during the week.[10]  

 Cecil’s response reveals he used structure in preparing his material. What I found intriguing was his truthfulness regarding application questions. They were the hardest to produce. Cecil did not state why it was so challenging to produce application questions. I would conclude his approach to preaching might give insight to the challenge. When asked which he focused on more, “knowledge of the passage or application of the passage”[11] Cecil said, “Of course, I try…both. But the majority of my focus surrounds knowledge and understanding. My goal is to correct erroneous thinking surrounding the gospel….”[12] Cecil admitted that he stopped writing and using the discussion questions.[13]

I believe that to be a mistake. Pastor Cecil is a good preacher who provides good doctrine and content. I believe he could have less content in the small groups and could focus on discussion questions alone.

Pastor Cecil and IBC use the SBSG model in a way that most SBSG churches do not. In responding to question seven, “How does this process [SBSG] influence your leadership in equipping small group leaders? What do you see as the small group leader’s function?” he said this:

Our schedule on Sunday mornings is 8:15 Bible Fellowship Groups, 9:30 worship, and 11:00 Bible Fellowship Groups.  All those using Coordinates as their curriculum are in the second hour (11:00 a.m.).  The hope is that people have studied the Coordinates (during the week), heard a message on the passage (9:30 a.m.), and are now ready to interact with the passage as a group.  There is a lot more discussion this way.  At our church we do both Bible Study Fellowships and small groups.  BSFs are lead by teachers.  Small groups are lead by a group leader (not necessarily a teacher).  Small groups, for us anyway, are where our people come together and serve one another through the execution of spiritual gifts.  A BSF is a teaching environment.  I stay in constant contact with the teachers who use Coordinates as their curriculum. I’m aware of any problems they are personally experiencing, and make an effort to equip them on an individual basis.[14] 

 The process for IBC is different because the groups that choose to use SBSG curriculum read the material before the Sunday morning worship experience. Participants then listen to the sermon knowing much of what is coming. Then they discuss the message. Their simple approach is to read it, hear it, and discuss it. Cecil’s approach is to take his members deep with the curriculum before they ever reach the IBC campus.

Pastor Cecil’s leadership with his Bible Study Fellowship leaders is important. He sets the example of modeling the importance of participating in a small group by participating in one himself.[15] He also leads his leaders. He said, “I stay in constant contact with the teachers who use Coordinates as their curriculum. I’m aware of any problems they are personally experiencing, or make an effort to equip them on an individual basis.”[16] As a pastor of a church without a minister of education, Cecil has to lead the Bible Fellowship Leaders so the groups remain healthy. I especially appreciate his mentioning personal involvement with leaders. Cecil also stated leaders will need help in learning how to guide a discussion.[17] At IBC, people immediately go from hearing the sermon to discussing it. This is one reason Cecil says the SBSG model works well with “on campus groups.”[18]

Pastor Cecil sees a great spiritual benefit in using the SBSG model. Pastor Cecil was asked, “How does this process [using the SBSG model] impact the small groups in your church?” Cecil replied, “I’m probably biased, but I see a noticeable difference in the spiritual growth of those who use the process and those who do not…if a person wants to grow spiritually, the process we have developed does a much better job at equipping them than the alternative method that other groups use (study independent from message).”[19] When people participate in the SBSG model, they end up with a “better understanding of the gospel…[and a] greater understanding of the text.”[20] Cecil even provided feedback from a participant in a SBSG. In a letter to Pastor Cecil during pastor appreciation month 2007 a congregant said, “I am finding a total newness in study of the Bible with using Coordinates. You do such a great job typing the subject verses together in a workable learning experience.”[21] Cecil followed up the comment by saying of the man, “He’s doing more than just listening to a message; he’s also studying it himself.”[22]

The SBSG model does have challenges at IBC and for Pastor Cecil. He mentioned three times in the survey that time is a problem for him.[23] Serving a small to medium size church without staff could be a challenge. It is a challenge that can be overcome by good sermon preparation retreats that work months ahead. When asked, “What advice would you give to someone who wants to learn this model?” Cecil was clear. He said, “It’s very difficult to pull off. If you [are] not willing to invest a great deal of time and effort to this task, don’t attempt it.”[24] A second challenge is related to repetition. Cecil says, “Some people hate repetition.”[25] Obviously, some people will not immediately gravitate to the SBSG model.

Pastor Tony Cecil is a scholarly pastor. He knows his business when it comes to the SBSG model. I do believe he points out one of the best results of using the SBSG model. He said the SBSG model allows a pastor “to speak directly to the spiritual needs of the congregation.”[26] Since the pastor’s message is the main message of the church, I tend to agree with Cecil. A pastor should have a venue that speaks into the life of the congregation.

 


[1] Thom S. Rainer and Eric Geiger, Simple Church: Returning to God’s Process for Making Disciples (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2006), 87.

[2] Tony Cecil, interview by Alan Stoddard, Glasgow, KY, October 7, 2007, question 1.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Tony Cecil, A Glorious Destiny, Immanuel Baptist Church, December 9, 2007, http://www.ibcglasgow.org (accessed September 29, 2008). Go to the “Message Resources” link on the home page.

[6] Tony Cecil, Coordinates: A Glorious Destiny, Immanuel Baptist Church, December 3, 2007, http://www.ibcglasgow.org/ibc/coordinates/120907.pdf (accessed September 29, 2008).

[7] Tony Cecil, interview, question 1.

[8] Ibid.

[9] The church vision statement is “Helping People Become Fully Devoted Followers of Jesus Christ.”

[10] Tony Cecil, interview, question 2.

[11] Ibid., question 3.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid., question 7.

[15] Ibid., question 8.

[16] Ibid., question 7.

[17] Ibid., question 12.

[18] Ibid., question 10.

[19] Ibid., question 9.

[20] Ibid., question 4.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid., questions 2, 5, and 12.

[24] Ibid., question 12.

[25] Ibid., question 5.

[26] Ibid., question 12.

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One Comment on “SBC Church Uses Sermon Based Small Groups in Sunday School”


  1. I read over your material. Your blog is good. Howeer, I could not get the number hyperlinks to work. I looked at the links in the source code, they seem to be made correctly. I tried two browsers. IEExplorer and Firefox.

    Maybe you need to have your webmaster take a look at the links.

    These don’t work >”[4] I confirmed this when I listened to Pastor Cecil’s message online.[5] I read the SBSG lesson[6] and listened to his message afterward. Pastor Cecil’s SBSG curriculum “would better be classified as a more in-depth version”[7] of his message. Cecil’s style of preaching is highly expository and didactic. The sermon I listened to was deductive in form. He does use a “main proposition…[that matches] the main proposition of Coordinates.”[8]


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