Small Group Leader Tip: Writing a Study Guide for your group in 4 Steps.

Depending on your group dynamics and the book your group is studying, a study guide can help keep the group discussion focused. Sometimes kind strangers on the internet have already done the work for you, posting insightful and life-transforming questions online. But if a quick search doesn’t turn up any helpful resources, here is one approach to developing your own.

Step 1: Read the book in advance. This may sound obvious...because it is. There are two basic ways to do this. Either read the entire book (doing the rest of the steps below as you go), or read “one step ahead” of your group, going chapter by chapter. If you choose this second option, it is often helpful to read the book’s introduction and concluding paragraph(s) so you know the basic trajectory of the author’s thought.

Step 2: Summarize the author’s main point and key supporting details. Identify the main point of the chapter and the main points of the chapter paragraphs. It is not always necessary to talk about everything. Leave room for other group members to bring up things that struck them as important. Write a short summary of the main idea and/or bullet list of supporting ideas.

Step 3: Identify key quotes or anecdotes. If an author has made an especially powerful or controversial statement, or if an illustration or story has been used to make a point, include that in your notes as a great conversation starter. Example: The author (Christopher Ash) writes, “Surprisingly, the key to a good marriage isn’t to pursue a good marriage, but to pursue the honor of God.” How does that statement strike you? Have you seen this be true in the lives of Christian couples you know? How would this change your marriage?

Step 4: Make “stepping stones” of open-ended questions. The workhorses of good discussion, open-ended questions can be arranged to move through the key points of the section or chapter being considered. Question types can help your group to:

  • reflect on a specific statement in the book,

  • develop a consensus understanding of key ideas,

  • scrutinize of the author’s intent or word choices,

  • make a personal assessment in light of the text, and

  • develop personal application.

Avoid closed questions that have short, simple answers and leading questions that presuppose a correct answer. Questions can also elicit personal experiences that illustrate or parallel the ideas being discussed. (“Would anyone be willing to share their experiences with ____________?”)

A discussion guide is just that. It doesn’t need to be comprehensive; it only needs to focus the discussion on the key issues and allow for personal sharing that builds fellowship and equips the individuals of the group to grow in their maturity as disciples.

If you don’t have the time or inclination to develop a study guide, what a great opportunity to enlist a co-leader or potential leader who has a gifting or interest in this area. Additionally, if you formalize a collection of chapter questions for a particular book, please send us a copy ( We would love to be able to multiply your efforts by sharing them with other group leaders in the future.

Shawn Hoelsch