Getting Your Group Discussion Moving

I met with one of our small group leaders yesterday who felt his group had got a little flat of late. I’m sure many of us can identify with his feeling. Attendance had got patchy, people were turning up 20 minutes late, and discussion rambled on unenthusiastically. We talked about how to address his situation. Part of it is a little bit of ‘stick’ to encourage them to be there, and be there on time, but we talked more about ‘carrot’ – how to make their times together enjoyable to the point of being unmissable. Here’s what I suggested in a nutshell:

1. Start on time (and let people know you’ll be starting on time). For those that are a bit particular about time (like me!) you don’t want to turn up on time and sit around waiting for 20 mins. You want to get in and get on with it.

2. Keep your opening icebreaker/devotional brief. It’s a 3-4 minute slot to get everyone focused on what you’ll be doing. If it drags out to 15 mins people will get frustrated that you haven’t really got into what you’re there for yet.

3. Keep the discussion moving. I’m not a great fan of the long list of closed questions Bible study. I think often the answers are so obvious that people are too embarrassed to answer them – it just creates an awkward dynamic. Further they can turn into an opportunity for clever people to look clever and less clever people to feel stupid. Not good! Instead think of your discussion like a train journey. You know where you’re starting, and where you’ll finish, and the stops you want to make along the way. You want a bit of structure with flexibility built in. And keep it going. However long your groups give to discussion stick to it. If you let discussion run on and on some will love it and some really won’t. You’ll also end up squeezing out your prayer time into a rushed five minutes at the end.

4. Leave good space at the end to share and pray together, and be sure to finish on time. Again, the time nerds will greatly appreciate it, as will the people who have to be up early.

I’m aware this may sound a bit mechanical. I’m certainly not saying that your groups ‘hang’ time is incidental or unimportant. I actually think those times are really important and can actually get unhelpfully squeezed out by long rambly ‘formal’ discussion time. But I do think that for many people, who turn up tired (and often unmotivated) you need to keep things moving – good energy, good pace, starting and finishing on time – it just helps put a bit of zip back into your small group meetings.

What do you think?

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4 thoughts on “Getting Your Group Discussion Moving

  1. Agree. Closed questions are the death of small group discussion. I would also say make a good proportion of the questions application focussed, ask people where they struggle to put “x” into action. This then leads to some more pointed prayer points later on rather than praying for “granny’s poorly knee” – (not that the knee isn’t important – but it’s less so than the person who has always struggled to forgive…

  2. A few thoughts from someone with probably a rather different home group (in Kenya), but facing some of the same challenges:

    Completely agree regarding making questions application-focused. Where I am, the church produces guides – several closed-answer ‘observation’ questions, a few ‘interpretation’ questions and one ‘application’ question. This usually means we spend most time on interpretation (since observation is quick), rather than thinking through how I need to change in light of this. If this only leaves us with knowledge it has fallen short of the whole purpose. Then the prayer is usually disconnected from the study – which should *not* be the case. If the church actively produces guides, they should think and pray through very carefully how to put the focus in the right place, keep the whole thing unified in purpose.

    I think people often have a difficulty of opening up about their struggles – maybe wanting to keep up a certain image. This means our discussions rarely get to such a deep level – I don’t know whether this one is universal. And then, even if this happens – does follow-up. Yes, we discussed how Bob has difficulty with ABC, but in three weeks, how will this group be trying to help him? I know some of this is responsibility of individuals – but can we promote structures that help it to happen?

    One other thing I’m an advocate for is singing at the start – which has a way of touching people and lifting them up, regardless of how their day was. I know that sometimes the musical quality is not all that, but I do think it’s something that encourages prompt attendance (at least, it would from me). Obviously, this works best if there can be someone with a guitar/piano/keyboard in the group, or a confident singing leader.

    Hope it’s helpful rather than TLDR.

  3. Doesn’t it depend a little on the group’s needs/expectations as a whole. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a stickler for time keeping too! However, I’m also learning to accept that some groups can run quite well with that sense of informality because it can even begin to create the natural feel of friends/family coming and going, conversations starting and stopping and at some point in the evening there being time when everything comes together for a single focus. We’re even building in for that in our larger, more formal gatherings. Our 11:15 service benefits for time keeping because people are coming in for coffee/tea before hand. Sunday night has a formal teaching session at 7pm but from 6pm-7pm our “Community Life” section is encouraging a “drop in” feel. Everyone is there for 7pm but not for 6pm! The secret of that is that if there’s meant to be a formal start time then don’t drop that time later to allow people to drift in -go earlier in terms of when people are encouraged to start arriving informally.

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