Expert Advice for Small-Group Facilitators

Why obedience and a caring heart are all you really need
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But you can use the strengths and weaknesses of both types of people in order to help your group. The best way I know of to make the ground level for a quiet person is to use what we call sub-grouping. Whenever you have more than seven people, or whenever you have a meeting where everyone can't get a chance to talk, that's a sign you need to sub-group.

Sub-grouping is just breaking up into smaller units within the home, or within the lunchroom if you're doing a workplace group. Sometimes the quiet person is simply intimidated by the number of people looking at them when they express their opinion. But, when you make the group smaller, the quiet person can feel safe enough with fewer people that they open up. A good facilitator can also help by giving the quiet person an opportunity to answer easy questions so they can experience the victory of having people agree with them.

Tactically, something you can do with dominant people is to seat them right next to you. This takes them out of direct line of sight. When they get eye contact, they often take that as a green light to talk. So having them on your right and left side minimizes that. And it helps you direct the conversation to the quiet people by giving them eye contact. Also, it gives you a chance to lean over in a quiet moment and say to the dominant person, "Hey, help me get some other people involved."

A lot of the group discussions I've participated in have stayed pretty shallow. Do you have any suggestions for moving things deeper?

In real estate, it's all about location, location, location, right? Well in small groups, it's all about relationships, relationships, relationships. So if you want to move the group deeper, it's going to take relationships. If you want to hold people accountable, it's going to take relationships.

Don't be afraid to do relationship-building activities at the front end of a group. Fellowship is one of the things God has wired us for, and we tend to do it quite well. Building friends builds trust and trust allows people to be vulnerable with others. Vulnerability is the prerequisite to getting past shallow issues and getting deeper as a group. One caveat—groups can get stuck there and not move into deeper waters. Once you've built the relationship capital, you can start going deeper.

Tactically, you can start with the curriculum you study and the tools you use. Americans tend to know more of God's Word than they actually apply. So if you want to take your group deeper, the issue generally isn't how to get more biblical knowledge into them; it's how to get them to act on it.

What are the practical skills that are necessary for a person to facilitate a small-group discussion?

Often it's practical application of the Great Commandment. Love others as yourself. Treat people as you would like to be treated. If you have a heart for people, and can help everyone to get involved, you can facilitate a group. This is especially true in today's age, where video curriculum is so prominent. You don't have to be a master teacher to use DVD curriculum. But if you care for people, you can succeed.

One of the things I like about video curriculum is that it's great for starting a group. I think many, if not most, groups can grow beyond that, and they should. But in a society where people are practically trying to outrun the clock by scheduling their lives full, it's great to have already prepared lessons presented by effective and biblically sound teachers, so that you can concentrate on what you love to do. And when I facilitate my group, what I love to do is be with the people and love on them and challenge them.

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