Start a Bible study . . . they said. It will be easy . . . they said. Well, facilitating a small group discussion as part of a Bible study or small group is not as easy as one thinks. In this post I give you twenty-five tips that will help you become a better small group facilitator. Leading a small group discussion is difficult.
Don’t just show up and wing it. Pray, read the passage several times, and write out your answers to the questions. A great small group discussion doesn’t just happen. It takes preparation and hard work.
READ THE QUESTIONS ALOUD BEFORE THE MEETING.
Just because you can read a word and know what it means doesn’t mean you can properly pronounce it verbally during the small group. Be sure to read the questions aloud before the group meets.
TURN YOUR PHONE OFF.
Your focus needs to be on your group and guiding their discussion, so turn the phone off so you can concentrate. Furthermore, encourage others to turn theirs off too.
UTILIZE YOUR ASSISTANT.
Sometimes people make statements or ask questions and it can be hard to discern what exactly they are saying or asking. A good assistant will be assertive to step in and say, “I think what you are asking is actually _____” or “I think what she is trying to say is ____.”
ALWAYS HAVE A BIBLE WITHIN REACH.
Your small group discussions should always interact with the Bible. Be sure to have a paper Bible (not digital on a phone or iPad) within reach while you facilitate your small group.
KEEP A GOOD STUDY BIBLE NEARBY.
When you come to a difficult passage or someone has a question that you can’t answer, pull out a study Bible. The NIV Study Bible is a great resource to use.
AFFIRM WHAT PEOPLE SAY.
Let people know what they say makes sense and is a good contribution by thanking them for sharing. Statements like, “I like how you phrased that” or “Thank you for sharing” go a long way to encourage people to share their thoughts and answer the questions you ask the group.
TALK LESS THAN 25 PERCENT OF THE TIME.
Your job is to facilitate a discussion, not to preach or teach. Make sure that you talk less than 25 percent of the time in your group.
READ THE NOTES IN THE BACK OF YOUR DISCUSSION GUIDE.
Most small group discussion guides will have some “leader notes” in the back of the guide to help the facilitator know what to expect during the discussion each week and how to prepare for the discussion. Be sure to read those notes during your preparation time for your small group. 1
WATCH THE LEADER COACHING VIDEOS.
If your group is using a DVD study, often there are some coaching videos on the DVDs (or available online). In your preparation time for your small group be sure to watch those videos because they will help you be ready to facilitate a discussion.
WATCH THE STUDY SPECIFIC HOW-TO VIDEO BY CHRISTOPHER SCOTT.
I often create a brief video for each small group study. These videos are designed to help you lead a small group and facilitate discussions specific to that study (whether it be topical, in a book of the Bible, etc.).
PUT THE CHAIRS AND COUCHES IN A CIRCLE.
Nothing says “let’s talk” like a bunch of people in a circle looking at each other. A circle fosters a discussion environment. If your group watches a DVD as part of your study, you will want to start out with your group chairs facing the TV. Then after the DVD is finished, have a few people move their chairs so that you can all sit in a circle facing each other.
ENCOURAGE THE GROUP TO WORK THROUGH THE LESSON BEFORE COMING TO MEETING.
Your group will have a better discussion if they take time to work through the lesson before coming to their group meeting. Encourage them to read the passage a few times, answer the questions in the study guide, and bring their own questions to the group.
DELEGATE YOUR BUSY WEEKS OR SEASONS.
If you know that you are going to be busy for a particular week or season, ask your assistant or someone else in your group if he or she might like to facilitate the discussion for you. This is one of the reasons you must always have an assistant in your group!
SILENCE IS OKAY.
In a new group or at the beginning of your meeting there probably will be some silence. Sometimes it just takes a couple of people to start talking and then the rest of the group will start to contribute. If there is silence, that’s okay.
DON’T ANSWER YOUR OWN QUESTIONS.
If you read a question and no one answers, then read the question again. If still no one answers, then ask if the question makes sense or is confusing. If needed, slightly alter the question so people understand it, or just skip the question. But as the facilitator, do not answer your own questions unless someone else has already shared any answer. 2
BEGIN AND END ON TIME.
Success in a small group requires consistent start and end times. Make a plan for your group and keep the discussion going. There might be times that your group needs to deviate from the curriculum to focus on a need someone has. If that’s the case then put the material aside and focus on the person. But be sure that the group ends on time.
REVIEW THE COVENANT OF LOVE YEARLY.
Our church uses a Covenant of Love which is an agreement that helps guides the group and helps ensure a healthy atmosphere for discussion and spiritual growth. Be sure to review it yearly and give it to the new people that join your group. Doing this will prevent problems and headaches for you in the future. In your small group start some type of an “agreement” that everyone signs and agrees to.
ENSURE EVERYONE UNDERSTANDS THE PURPOSE OF THE GROUP FROM DAY ONE.
Each LIFEGroup has a slightly different flavor, but the purpose should always be the same: learn God’s Word, connect new people to church, enjoy fellowship with each other, and serve others. Each group needs to have those four purposes. So make sure that everyone understands that this is why your group exists.
Everyone should participate in your discussion. When people attend church on Sunday they passively sit and listen to a sermon. When they attend your small group during the week they need to actively participate in a discussion.
APPLICATION IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN COMPLETION.
Take your time working through the curriculum for your group. If you need two or three weeks to cover one lesson that’s okay as long as people are staying on topic and are applying the material to their lives.
SOAK YOUR GROUP MEMBERS AND CURRICULUM IN PRAYER.
Pray for the members of your group everyday. And pray that the curriculum you will be using will speak to your group, and help them transform their lives so that they look more like Christ.
HOLD THE SNACKS.
Nothing is more distracting (and irritating) than someone getting up to grab a snack, dropping some of the floor, munching, and talking with a mouthful during the small group discussion time. If your group has snacks try to limit those snacks to only before the group begins or after the discussion has ended.
DIVIDE AND CONQUER.
When it is time for your group to discuss more personal and sensitive issues, divide up your group. You will need to divide if you have ten or more people in your group. Pair up the men with men and women with women. Or young folks together. Or just pair people based on where they are sitting.
VISIT OTHER GROUPS TO SEE HOW OTHER FACILITATORS FACILITE.
Different facilitators have different styles and methods of facilitating their groups. Visit a couple other groups to see what you can learn from others and how you can improve the way you facilitate your group.
REMIND THE GROUP THAT IT IS OKAY TO DISAGREE.
Sometimes Christians think they have to agree with everyone in their small group. Part of the growth that people experience in a small group is enjoying fellowship with people that believe and act differently than they do. Learning to love those people and get along with them is a sign of spiritual maturity. From time to time, remind your group that it is okay to disagree.
There are no notes in the back of the Warren Wiersbe Bible study guides that I recommend, but the supplemental commentary serves as good preparation notes to help the facilitator know the answers to some of the questions the group might have about the text. ↩
- If you as the facilitator ask a question, then jump in and answer it before others talk, it discourages the group for sharing their thoughts. You only want to share your answer to a question after others have already had a chance to share. ↩