By Chris Surratt
A core component of leading a small group meeting will be facilitating the conversation through the Bible study. Even though you may not be teaching a lesson, there are still little things you can do and watch for that will help guide the group to a spiritually impactful discussion.
1. Good Questions
The leader’s main role during the discussion time is to ask questions. Asked in the right way, those questions will lead to a thought-provoking discussion that forces the group to dive deeper into the Scripture behind that week’s focus.
If you study the ministry of Jesus, you notice He asks lots of questions. Here are just a few:
- “Can any of you add one moment to his life span by worrying?” (Matthew 6:27) “Why do you look at the splinter in your brother’s eye but don’t notice the beam of wood in your own eye?” (Matt. 7:3)
- “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” (Matthew 8:26)
- “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31)
- “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16:13)
- “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and don’t do the things I say?” (Luke 6:46)
Jesus asked questions because He wanted His listeners to go beyond hearing and start thinking. He knew the answers—He is God, after all—but people needed to learn to think for themselves. This style of teaching brought everyone into the narrative.
In the same way, we want our group members to bring themselves into the study by answering three types of questions: What? Now what? So what?
What (does the Bible say?) questions force us to look at what the Scripture says first. A well-written topical study will give the facilitator multiple Scriptures for a complete perspective on a subject. Beware of studies based on just one Scripture or pieces of Scripture.
We want our group to know what the whole Bible says to us. A more in-depth exegetical study of a book of the Bible should be accompanied by a Bible commentary for more perspective.
Now what (should I believe?) questions cause us to examine what type of heart change we need to make considering the Scriptures we studied. All of us come to discussions with preexisting beliefs or suppositions. Our conclusions should always line up with the message of the cross.
The gospel is the only way to heart change. Help your group wade through these “now what” questions with the truth of the gospel as the measuring stick.
So what (difference should that make in how I live?) questions lead to immediate application of what has been studied. The group members should never walk away from the discussion without clear points on how to live out the gospel in their daily lives.
James 1:22 tells us to “be doers of the word and not hearers only.” The ultimate success of the study is the action taken because of it.
Good questions should also be open-ended. If a question asks for a “yes” or “no” or some other one-word answer, rephrase the question or skip it. You can also follow it up with, “Why did you answer that way?”
Don’t feel obligated to ask every question in the study. You may find that certain questions need more time for in-depth discussion, or some questions can be skipped to keep the meeting on track. There are no prizes for finishing every question.
Use an icebreaker question at the beginning of the discussion to help everyone feel more comfortable using their voices. A good icebreaker will be easy to answer and reveal something interesting about the person.
Icebreaker questions should stay light and broad for the first few meetings and then focus more as the group is more established.
We are afraid of silence, especially as small group leaders. If there is silence in the room, that means no one is talking, and if no one is talking, then we are surely failing as facilitators. Right?
I believe we are missing out on an effective tool if we are so afraid of silence that we completely eliminate it from a group meeting. There is something powerful about creating intentional space in a group meeting. In fact, there are examples throughout the Bible where silence and solitude are commended:
- After the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was a voice, a soft whisper. (1 Kings 19:12)
- A time to tear and a time to sew; a time to be silent and a time to speak. (Eccl. 3:7)
- My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger. (James 1:19)
- I am at rest in God alone; my salvation comes from Him. (Ps. 62:1 hcsb)
So how do we plan for and best use the power of silence in our small groups? Here are three ways to take advantage of silence in your group:
Use silence to encourage group members to speak.
It seems like an oxymoron to use silence as a tool for participation, but it works. An effective facilitator should only talk 30 percent of the time. Remember that you have read the questions ahead of time.
It will take everyone else a few moments to process the material before they are ready to answer. It’s uncomfortable to let a question sit there for a few beats, but if you can let the awkwardness go, someone will break the silence. You can miss a great conversation by speaking too soon.
Use silence to allow a moment to sink in.
There will be moments during a Bible study where the group needs a few seconds to take in what was just read or said. Effective speakers use pauses in their speeches to make important points resonate.
The same principle applies to group discussions. The next time a powerful verse is read or someone makes a thought-provoking comment, pause a second or two before moving on. Those two seconds of silence will make the moment’s impact last.
Use silence to meditate on Scripture.
Before launching right into prayer time at the end of the discussion, take a few moments to allow the group to meditate on the Scripture from the Bible study.
Ask someone to read a key verse or two aloud and then be silent as you allow God’s Word to prepare your hearts for prayer.
This time doesn’t have to be long—maybe two to three minutes—but fight the temptation to break in too soon. Meditation can help lead to application.
CHRIS SURRATT (@ChrisSurratt) is a ministry consultant and coach with more than twenty years of experience. He served on church staffs prior to becoming the discipleship and small groups specialist for LifeWay Christian Resources. He is the author of Leading Small Groups: How to Gather, Launch, Lead, and Multiply Your Small Group, from which this is excerpted and adapted with permission from B&H Publishing Group. You can follow his blog at ChrisSurratt.com.