One of the biggest challenges of leading small groups is keeping the discussions interactive. If that doesn't happen—if people don't interact with the material and with each other—then the group simply becomes a class focused on you as the teacher, and people can easily lose interest. But when a discussion is interactive, it can leave everyone wanting to come back for more because the members get to be involved, the discussion applies to their specific lives, and it's just more fun.
The good news is that the key to interactive discussions has very little to do with you as the leader having lots of knowledge and answers. Instead, it simply revolves around the skill of asking good questions—a skill you can develop as a leader.
Two Types of Questions
There are basically 2 types of questions: closed and open-ended. Can you guess which one leads to more discussion? Closed questions have a right or a wrong answer—usually a very short one. They often lead to the uncomfortable "so who's going to answer this?" feeling within the group. You've probably seen several closed questions if you use traditional Bible study guides.
To make sure you've got a handle on the difference, let's try a little activity. First, read this passage from Philippians 4:4–9:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
Now write down three closed questions that relate to this text.
As a contrast, open-ended questions don't require a specific right or wrong answer. Instead, they invite people to think and process out loud—to share their perspectives and to relate the text to their lives.
Again looking at the above passage from Philippians, write down three open-ended questions that you believe could lead to a good discussion.
Here are some generic examples of good open-ended questions that can be asked in almost any discussion to help keep it going, and to challenge your group members to dig beyond the surface.
- What do you think the author was feeling when he/she wrote that?
- Why do you think God chose to include that, of everything else, in his Word that would be passed on forever?
- So what does that have to do with me today?
- What's your first response when you read that? How do you think your non-Christian neighbors would respond to that?
- What can you do differently in your life this week to apply this?
- What would you say to someone who disagrees with this?
Eric Metcalf is the Adult Ministry Champion for Community Christian Church and NewThing.