Peter, a member of my small group, recently accepted my challenge to lead four consecutive lessons. Two of them were as dry as a bone, while the others stirred exciting discussion. What was the difference? Peter's questions. In all four lessons, he listened intently, called individual members by name, and was careful not to dominate. On only two occasions, however, did he use questions that stimulated participation.
But this principle doesn't apply only to Peter. Often the difference between effective group discussions and the type that fizzles into embarrassed silence has to do with the type of questions the leader asks. As you train your mind to identify and prepare stimulating, open-ended questions, your small group will soar. The people will leave edified and will make plans to return next week.
Closed Questions vs. Open Questions
During the two sub-par meetings, Peter focused entirely on the Bible passage. We covered the book of Jonah, so Peter asked, "Where did Jonah flee?" "To a ship bound for Tarshish," a member replied. "Great answer," said Peter. "Anyone else?" Silence. "Why did Jonah flee?" asked Peter. "Because he was disobedient," said another member. Peter tried to get more people to talk. "Would anyone else like to share?" A few mumbled a variation of the same answer, but when all was said and done, there was only one answer: Jonah was disobedient.
Peter listened well, gave positive feedback, and did everything right. What more could the group say? There was basically only one answer to give. Jonah fled because he was disobedient. Someone might have added a few more adjectives like, "Jonah was gravely disobedient," but why ...