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Small Group Artists: Turning a Question into a Discussion

Small group study guides make it look so simple. All a small group leader needs to do is read a question and automatically a lively discussion will result. Right? Some groups might function like this, but not all. If a group is at this point, it’s probably because the leader has learned the art of turning a question into a discussion.

Wise small group leaders know three types of questions NOT to ask.

  • No yes/no questions. Questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no” do not lead toward discussion. In fact, they inhibit it.
  • No obvious questions. People hesitate to answer questions with an obvious answer because they may appear to be trick questions. These questions don’t honor people’s thinking abilities and quite frankly, are boring.
  • No long-winded questions. Keep your questions clear and simple. Don’t string several questions together.

Wise small group leaders know some tricks to creating a discussion friendly environment.

  • Be willing to wait for an answer. Be comfortable with silence. Most likely when there is silence, people are thinking. Allow time for the Holy Spirit to work. When you think you need to jump in, wait 5 seconds.
  • Notice non-verbals. Body language and facial expressions say a lot. If brows are wrinkled, you may need to re-phrase the question. If a person is leaning forward, she may be eager to respond. Follow-up on non-verbal responses with appropriate questions such as; “You look confused. How can we help clear up that confusion?” “You look eager to respond, please do!”
  • Follow-up on first responses. Ask questions such as; “Can you tell me more about that?” “That’s interesting. What leads you to that conclusion?” “Does any one on the other side of the table have a thought on that?”
  • Give plenty of affirmation. Say things like; “I never thought of that. What do the rest of you think?” “Thanks for sharing that.” “We had a great discussion tonight. Thanks to all of you for contributing.”

Remember that turning a question into a discussion is an art that takes lots of practice. Take time after each small group session to reflect on the quality of the discussion and plan how to make adjustments the next time you lead. Before long, you’ll be a small group artist!

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