We have all likely experienced a small group discussion that fell flat. Whether it was an over-talkative small group leader or a discussion that wandered in circles, these are the moments when ceiling tiles are counted and daydreamers drift.
As a small group leader, how do you keep your group engaged in the discussion?
The solution can be pretty simple.
Think of the differences between a lecture and a guided discussion. During a lecture, people are presented information and facts – hopefully in an organized and interesting way. Lectures have their time and place – but that place is not during a small group discussion. People do not come to a small group for a lecture.
Discussion is much different. A well-planned guided discussion helps people discover God’s truth (and gives them the satisfaction of finding on their own!) This is a skill that can be learned with some simple tools and practice.
Questions have immense power. Guided Discussion is a thought-out series of questions that helps lead a group of people through a topic or passage of scripture. Usually the intent is to reach a specific understanding or application. Group participation and interaction is vital. Some information and facts will often be relayed by the facilitator; but not in a way that hampers discussion.
Here are three examples that may help to shed some light: The Plyers, The Screwdriver, and The Hammer
Example 1: Lecture – The Plyers
Imagine a small group leader presenting the following information to the group:
- They are usually made from forged or cast metal.
- They often contain a rubber coated handle.
- They get their strength by creating a lever with handles on one side of the fulcrum and short jaws on the other side.
- They are usually used for gripping, holding, squeezing, crimping, and bending.
Example 2: Guided Discussion Questions – The Screwdriver
Imagine a small group leader asking the group to discuss the following questions:
- What is the basic intended purpose of a screwdriver?
- What different kinds of screwdrivers can you think of?
- Why are there different types of screw heads?
- Why not just make all screws all the same?
- What does “Righty tighty lefty loosey” mean?
- What are some other creative uses for a screwdriver (other than its originally intended purpose?
If you were sitting a small group learning about tools, which one of these examples would you find more interesting, the plyers (lecture) or the screwdriver (guided discussion)? For this illustration, we are considering some basic everyday objects. But what about digging through the truths found in God’s Word. It gets a little more difficult to just rely on opinions and discussion in order to “rightly divide” or “correctly explain” the Bible (see 2 Timothy 2:15). (I’ll provide more tools in an upcoming post that will help small group leaders balance the difference between “shared ignorance” and “joint discovery.”)
Here’s one more example:
Example 3: Ineffective Questions – The Hammer
Imagine a small group leader asking the group the following questions:
- Although there are hammers made of plastic, rubber, and wood, what is the most common material that hammers are made of?
- What does a carpenter usually use a hammer for?
- Sometimes there is a claw at the opposite end. It is usually used for pulling out what? Nails, right?
- How long do you think the hammer has been around?
- True or false, the jack hammer is often used to break apart concrete.
In the hammer example, there were plenty of questions; but they are not likely to provoke much discussion or interest. Just because a question was asked doesn’t necessarily mean the participants were encouraged to discuss and learn. These questions were sloppily planned and poorly executed.
There is an art to asking questions. Although everyone is a little different in their approach and style, this is a skill that can be learned …and developed …and honed …and strengthened.
A little effort goes a long way.
Take some time to think through and organize your questions in a way that encourages generous amounts of discussion and guides the participants to an accurate understanding of the truths found in God’s Word.
Note: I’ve used the Plyers, Screwdriver, and Hammer illustration in several small group leader training sessions. Without fail, the following week the participants remember more of what was discussed about the screwdriver than the other tools.
By Eddie Zdanio
2 Timothy 2:15b “Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth.” (NLT)