10 ways to encourage discussion in your small group

Image: 10 ways to encourage discussion in your small group

How to help your small group come alive

Are you part of a small group where no one really says anything?

Perhaps it's the sort of group where every answer is a one word sentence - either "God", "Jesus", or "Bible"?

It’s not always easy to engage with people and encourage discussion. Here are 10 tips to help your small group thrive!

1. A positive enviroment—Try to provide a comfortable and casual atmosphere. Is there adequate and comfortable seating? Is the room warm – but not too warm zzzzzzz! Are there any distractions? Are you building in the right amount of social time and using it effectively to make connections and build relationships?

2. Break the ice—One of the best icebreakers I know is food! Providing and sharing snacks before your study time is a simple and natural way to break the ice with young people. Or, what about a meal or a barbecue? Simple icebreakers and games can also get things moving and encourage interaction. They can help provide positive momentum for small group study and discussion by,

  • Helping new members to integrate into a group.
  • Helping young people feel comfortable together.
  • Encouraging cooperation.
  • Encouraging listening to others.
  • Creating a good atmosphere for learning and participation.

Use icebreakers which encourage everyone in the group to talk or share non-threatening information about themselves.

3. It's okay to talk—Perhaps an obvious point, but clearly explain that your study time is meant to be a discussion. Some young people need ‘permission’ to talk! Encourage every group member to participate.

4. Use open ended questions—Use open ended questions and non-threatening questions. Are you designing questions which avoid simple ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answers? 
For example, instead of asking, ‘does Jesus show love?’ Ask, ‘how does Jesus show love?’
The best questions allow young people to express their own ideas, views and opinions. Help them to discover and apply what the Bible says for themselves.

5. Listen—Avoid answering your own questions! If necessary, rephrase them until they are clearly understood. An eager group quickly becomes passive and silent if they think you will do most of the talking. Don’t expect every answer to be addressed to you. As the group becomes more at ease, they will broaden their interaction with each other. This is a sign of a healthy discussion.

6. Be inclusive—Include everyone in the discussion whenever possible. Don’t allow one person to monopolise the conversation. Don’t be content with just one answer. Ask what others in the group think, until several people have had an opportunity to give answers to the question.

7. Be creative—Instead of starting with a question use a role play or case study to bring about a response. Use a group survey to provide a platform for further discussion.

8. Be affirming—Acknowledge all contributions. Avoid any put-downs. Affirm young people for what they are saying. Allow young people the right to pass and not share.

9. The sound of silence—Don’t be afraid of silence. Young people need time to think about the question, phrase their answer in their own mind first, before expressing their thoughts out loud and in public. Embrace the awkward!

10. Summarise—From time to time summarise what the group has said about the question or bible passage. Clarify and add any teaching points. This helps to draw various ideas together, gives continuity to the study and keeps the discussion on track.

Ultimately, our goal is point people to Christ. The goal is not to run a ‘smooth’ study… but it can help us in our goal. 

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