How to Stimulate Better Discussions

Here are five keys that every group leader should be aware of.

One of the best ways to aid discussion in small groups is to reduce the amount of pressure we have placed on group leaders. That's why two of my core assumptions are 1) if I want to make it possible for everyone to be part of a group, I need to lower the bar for leaders (and raise the bar for coaches and coaching), and 2) part of lowering the bar for leaders is that I need to provide material that almost leads itself.

That said, here is how I train leaders to stimulate better discussions in their groups.

Think Ahead

First, think ahead of time about where your members need to go. You don't need to spend a lot of time on this, but it does help to think about the individual needs of your members as you're looking over the upcoming session. Although this is a challenge in a newer group, it gets easier the longer a group has been together and the more you know about your members.

One way you can speed up the process is to have each of your group members take the Purpose Driven Health Assessment and develop a Health Plan (both options provided by Saddleback Church).

Also, it's important that you tailor the standard-issue questions in your upcoming group session to fit the needs of your group—meaning, make a few edits instead of reading questions straight off the page. This is not as hard to do as it might seem; it's simply a matter of being aware of the needs of your members.

Be a Guide

Second, learn to use guiding statements to keep the session headed in the right direction. Guiding statements are simple modifications that can be dropped in right after the question. For example:

  • "Let's each take 30 seconds to respond to this question."
  • "What one word summarizes your feelings?"
  • "What does this verse say to you? Boil your response down to one sentence."
  • "This is a good warm-up question. How about two of you giving us your answer on this one."


Third, rephrase the question and ask it again. If the discussion drifts off topic, it can be redirected by rephrasing and taking a second pass.


Fourth, use redirecting statements as necessary. You may feel a little awkward, but your members will appreciate your help keeping things on topic. For example:

  • "That sounds like something we should discuss another time."
  • "Let's keep working on this question. We may have time for that one later."


Fifth, recognize and celebrate each baby-step along the way. Affirm your members when they take a risk or make progress on the steps they need to take. For example:

  • "That's great! Thank you for sharing that."
  • "That is a really important step to share your feelings with the group."
  • "We've taken some steps as a group tonight. I think all of us have acknowledged that we need to have a regular quiet time and we're ready to give it a try."

—Mark Howell is Community Life Pastor at Parkview Christian Church. Article excerpted with permission from

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