Tips for Facilitating a Group Discussion

Tips for Facilitating a Group Discussion

Practical advice for working toward life-change, not spectacular meetings

For many small-group leaders, one of the more intimidating things we do is facilitating a group discussion. Very few of us feel like we'll have all the right answers, or that we can handle whatever curve balls will be thrown our way (and there will be some!). To make matters worse, it's even challenging to gauge whether we're doing a good job or not.

But here's the good news: that's not what facilitating a group discussion is really about. We don't have to have all of the right answers. We don't have to lead the perfect discussion every time. We don't even have to get through all of the material in each meeting!

When we're facilitating in our small group, our main goal is to create discussion. We want to challenge people to think about the topic at hand, and to create a safe environment for people to share their thoughts—to help everyone feel valued about the input they've offered.

That's all we've got to do. Thankfully, there are some established practices and principles that can help us accomplish those goals.

Asking Good Questions

One of the most important skills in small-group facilitation is not having all of the right answers, but asking the right questions. Here are a few secrets to good question-asking:

  • Ask open-ended questions. Avoid the yes/no, true/false, multiple-choice questions—"Is Jesus the sheep or the shepherd in this parable?" Similarly, avoid questions that let people off the hook with a simple Sunday-school answer—"Why did Jesus die on the cross?" You want to ask questions that require people to share some actual thoughts and feelings.
  • Ask follow-up questions. Many people default to staying pretty surface-level with their answers to your questions, so get in the habit of not letting them off the hook. Ask more questions that follow up on their response. Here are some examples of good follow-up questions for the short/simple answers that people often give:
    • What makes you say that?
    • How do you feel about that?
    • How do you think that would've affected you if you had been living in the time of Jesus?
    • How would you explain your answer to a non-Christian friend or neighbor?

The idea is to get at the core of what people are really trying to say.

  • Start an argument. I like to tell my groups that if we always agree with each other, and with every word that every author we read says, then it makes for a pretty boring group and a somewhat pointless discussion. The point of actually discussing things is to get different perspectives and wrestle with the issues!

    Here are some examples of questions that can help create discussion by playing a little "devil's advocate":
  • Do you really agree with what the author is saying in that chapter? Why or why not?
  • Why did God design it to work that way? Why not just do (whatever else) instead?
  • What would you say to someone who disagrees with that?
  • Why do we really have to do it like that? Why can't we just go (some other route) instead?
  • Make sure the rubber hits the road. I often tell my small group that by the end of the night, we need to make sure we apply what we're discussing to our current lives. Otherwise we just leave group a little smarter, rather than with changed lives. So whatever it is you're discussing, make sure to end with some application questions.
    Here are some examples:
    • So what in the world does that have to do with our lives today?
    • How can you change your perspective from today regarding that issue?
    • What one thing can you do differently in this next week to start living that out? (Some groups will add accountability to this question—recording what members share and asking them to report back the next week.)

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