Leading Dynamic Discussions:
How to Keep Your Group on the Edge of Their Seats 3
Create A Climate for Growth
Teacher or Facilitator?
When many people think about a Bible study they automatically assume that they need a person well-versed in biblical knowledge who can stand in the front of the room and pontificate on the Scriptures. They think they need a teacher. This causes many people to hesitate or refuse to lead a Bible study because they feel unqualified.
I don’t believe this is necessary, or even healthy. I believe that almost any Christian can lead a small group with just a little training. They do this by facilitating rather than teaching.
A facilitator is one who may select the materials and who directs the discussion. He or she may ask questions from a prepared study guide or if participants have prepared by reading or studying the material in advance may simply throw the discussion open to the group. A facilitator should know the material well enough to know if group members are presenting unbiblical positions. Other than that, the facilitator is primarily responsible for keeping the meeting moving, making sure everyone has a chance to participate, and watching the time. This approach allows almost anyone to lead a small group and the resources that follow will help you be successful.
Keys to Success by Guarding Group Standards:
One of the most important responsibilities of a facilitator is to create a climate where people can grow. There are several factors that facilitate this.
Much of the success of your group will depend on regular attendance. We know that people are busy and have choices. The question is, will your group be one of those choices? Will members make it a priority? If the group is considered to be a drop-in group, attendance will be sporadic, and continuity will be non-existent. If there isn’t an expectation for people to show up every week, they won’t. That’s just human nature. Something better comes along, and they choose that. The problem is that for a group to truly gel and become effective, you need consistent attendance. You need everyone there every week. You want an absence to be strongly felt. You want the group could be so close that when Joe is missing there’s a hole in the group.
Easier said than done…
Regular attendance also provides continuity in both study content and relationships. When a person misses a group meeting, they lose continuity of community; they don’t know what’s going on in the lives of their co-members. You can’t have a dynamic discussion if Sally is only there half the time, so is trying to catch up by asking inappropriate questions at the wrong time. As the leader, you’ll want to encourage regular attendance, either through a group covenant or regular discussion.
My best groups have been those where attendance is mandatory. Members agree when signing up to do their very best to attend every session. That way there is an expectation that the group takes priority over most other options on Tuesday evening. Even then, of course, there will be absences. But it’s much easier to address those if the group has already agreed in advance that attendance is critical.
I know this sounds harsh, and it can be. The things that make this work are deep relationships and life-changing studies.
In my opinion, confidentiality is the most important aspect of an effective group. Without it, people won’t share, be held accountable, or grow. Every member needs to know and agree that whatever is shared in the group belongs to the person who shared it and that no one else has the right to mention it outside of the group. Once a prayer request or shared comment is spread, even with the best of intentions, you’ll find it almost impossible to get members to open up and share deeply after that.
During your discussion avoid just going around the circle and having one person after another answer the next question. That begins to feel sing-songy because it isn’t a normal manner of conversation. Allow the discussion to flow back and forth casually, even while making sure that the talkative person doesn’t dominate, and the quiet person isn’t ignored. I prefer to avoid calling on people. That makes it feel a bit more like school than a conversation. But if everyone is quiet and you can’t get anyone to talk, then go ahead and call on someone you know will be able to answer without being embarrassed or feeling picked on.
Have a Goal:
When you begin leading a discussion it’s a good idea to know what you want to accomplish in the time available. If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there. if you have unlimited time both in terms of weekly meeting time and time allotted for the study, you can cover every question and meander through the material. But that is a rare luxury. We usually have an hour or less in each meeting to cover more questions than could be covered in two hours. One way to make sure that I cover the most important items is to use a lesson plan. That allows me to focus on what I’ve decided are key points and sub-points and then prioritize those on paper. Once a discussion gets started, it’s easy to get off track. Susie mentions something vaguely related. Esther takes that off in another direction. And before you know it you’re nowhere near where you wanted to go. A lesson plan reminds you of your goals and helps you get back on track.
This usually isn’t a problem, but on occasion, you’ll have one or more members who simply don’t get along. Had each known that the other would be in the group, he certainly would not have joined. But now, here you are with catty remarks, sniping, and outright rudeness. This will quickly destroy your group and your discussions. Or you may have members who have strong political opinions that are totally unrelated to the subject at hand but which they feel obligated to share on a regular basis.
This is becoming an increasing problem today where woke and cancel culture seems to rule. Many people have lost any filter they might once have had as the news and social media have made such behaviors acceptable. You simply cannot allow this to occur in your group. This is a place where you need to step in quickly and firmly and insist that such behavior is not acceptable. Period.
The most important remedy to this problem is to remind each person that every person in the group is made in the image of God. That the imago dei resides within each one of them. They need to learn to see and honor that imago despite differences of opinion or even values.
Pray that God will fill you with love for each member of your group, even those who disagree with you. And pray that he will fill each member of your group with love for one another, even those they disagree with. Ask God what He is doing in each life and work to partner with him in bringing each member to maturity.
Deal with challenging people:
In addition to the uncivil members mentioned above, you might face any number of other challenging people. There will be the person who talks too much and the person who talks too little. The person who runs off on a rabbit trail and the person who’s always argumentative. You might even have a person who is mentally ill or on the autism spectrum. You’ll need to learn to deal with each of these lovingly and graciously. Why Didn’t You Warn Me? How to Deal with Challenging Group Members is a great resource to help you.
If you’re as conflict-avoidant as most of us, it will be hard for you. Perhaps one of the hardest jobs you face as a leader. But it’s also one of the most critical jobs you need to do. If you don’t deal with challenging people quickly and lovingly, the rest of your group will decide this isn’t the place for them and they will leave.
Next let’s discover how to ask good questions.