Leading Effective Discussions – Pt 1

I’ve been leading small group ministries within different local fellowships for about the past 7 years now, and I must admit: there is nothing more challenging and difficult in the context of the local church than executing true Biblical fellowship among small groups.  Most churches begin small groups three times before they ever “stick.” What makes or breaks small group ministry? One word: leadership.

One of the primary roles of a small group leader is to lead an effective discussion. Now one thing that makes doing this a bit easier is when the small group is leading from a common book or sermon that the whole group has been exposed to or has listened to. The goal of a small group is a Gospel-centered community. Thus, the books, articles, and sermons must lead the group back to Scripture. The Bible is our source. To lead an effective dicussion a leader must ask good questions and help his/her group to grapple with those questions and the answers that the GROUP comes up with as a WHOLE! This is so vital. The small group leader’s role is to keep the discussion Cross-centered and grace-filled, helping the group move toward hope in the character of God and the promises of God found in Scripture. The goal is to engage the group with the material that they’ve heard, read, or studied so they can experience and understand the Gospel and have the faith that God wants them to grow.

It is the small group leader’s role to help the people apply the teaching of Scripture to their everyday lives. The leader’s method primarily in discussions is to ask questions, not to teach. We train our small group leaders to be facilitators of discussion rather than imparters of knowledge. The most effective discussion leaders are not those who take extended time to teach but those who lead effective discussions. How does one do that?

I encourage small group leaders to limit the amount of time in extended teaching. I do not ask my small group leaders to teach but rather to lead an effective discussion. The goal of discussion is not to get new information to our people or simply stimulate conversation; we want the discussions to move from gaining a basic understanding of the material to allowing group members to apply the material to their hearts and lives.

I want to propose that every small group leader needs to think about two simple steps when preparing to lead a discussion. Number one, review. And number two, apply. First, let’s look at review.

There are two steps a leader must take to understand the material well enough that he/she can lead their group to make sure they understand the material as well.

1)   Make sure the group understands the material so as you (the leader) review and prepare, ask yourself, “What is the speaker’s (writer’s) main point?” If you can answer that in one or two sentences, you can then ask that same question to your group in discussion. Sadly, most people who listen to sermons cannot ever even arrive at a clear answer to this question.

2)   How does the author accomplish this purpose? How are their thoughts organized? And then as you grasp that, ask the group, “Why do you think the speaker is making this point? Why is he/she so concerned about this subject?” In this way, you can highlight specific points that the speaker/writer has made. Questions like these encouraged participants to put the speaker’s main points IN THEIR OWN LANGUAGE. THIS IS A KEY COMPONENT OF THE LEARNING PROCESS! We are not wanting those we lead to simply be parrots of the preacher; we are wanting God’s truth to be formulated and integrated into their own lives.

This is step one of discussion, review. As leaders, we need to make sure that we have gotten all of the points accurately. This also helps you know if people in the group have understood the material at a basic level.

Don’t ever forget. Those we lead cannot begin to apply until they have first clearly understood.

Now , in my opinion, the review portion should be briefer in the actual small group gathering than the application part. As a leader, it is important for you to really listen to the responses to see if those you are leading have properly understood.

Great! Step one is clear. Now to step two next time, application!