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These pages are designed to aid study or investigation for Christian discipleship through individual Bible study, Cell groups, Home groups, or meeting one to one. The questions could be used alone allowing each person to use their own Bible.
How can you lead a discussion? How do you handle difficult group members with tact? How do you guide a group through an issue to a conclusion? Helping group members relate with each other? How do you handle silence in a group? Anyone who has led a group for any length of time will be familiar with these age old questions.
Good discussions only happen by themselves when there is considerable maturity in the group. Developing a good group dynamic is a skill, and provides an opportunity to serve in many contexts. Here are some key factors that it is worth being aware of -
Computer people talk of Garbage in Garbage out. If the information coming into a computer is garbage, so will the output be garbage. If no one in the group has any knowledge of what is being discussed, then it does not matter how good the discussion, there will still be no real knowledge at the end.
Encouraging some research by each group member before coming together makes a staggering difference to the quality of discussion.
A group who know the material will merely need a coordinator to throw in one or two questions, move the discussion on so that the material is covered and draw things to an end at the appropriate time.
A group where the leader knows much more than the group will be guided much more strongly, and will occasionally need the leader to come in and teach the group in order to make up for their lack of knowledge.
Leading a discussion is done through questions. There are two types of questions that the leader needs.
First there are questions that are specific to the subject at hand. These come through preparing the material, both as a normal group member, and then a second time as a discussion leader. There is a page specifically for working out these questions - Crafting Questions.
Secondly there are questions that are appropriate for any discussion. This bank of questions is built up over time and with experience. These questions are for stimulating people to speak, tactfully silencing the more vocal and drawing in the silent, broadening the discussion, and so on. These questions are called Guiding Questions.
If you don’t know where you are going you will frustrate most people. In preparing to lead a discussion it is good to think through what questions need answers? The role of the leader is to divide up the time appropriately such that the key issues can be handled. Crafting Questions will go into how questions can be used strategically to take you through the issues. For the sake of this page, suffice to say that in each sub discussion a subject is
There are a number of times during a discussion when guiding questions are needed. Here are some -
When someone has been speaking for some time, the group often needs help to allow other opinions. Questions for this purpose include -
Groups notoriously change direction and get off track. Too strong a leadership here can stifle discussion, but after a couple of minutes it is good to bring the discussion back to the matter at hand. Some ways of doing this would be -
Silent members are often deeply thoughtful. It is good to wait till many have spoken and then ask them directly if they have anything to add. Over time it will become clear how they feel about this, and whether they in fact have anything to add. If it becomes clear that they are deeply embarrassed to open their mouths at all it may be better to deal with those kind of issues outside the group. In that case allow their silence to persist.
Silence is something many group leaders find difficult. What one has to remember is that the group leader has already thought through the answers before the question is asked. While the rest of the group is reflecting on the excellent question, the group leader is waiting and wondering with every second if anyone has understood. An inexperienced leader will become so nervous that they jump in before people have had enough time to think.
My solution to this problem is to literally count, or look at the seconds on my watch in order to gauge whether the group has had enough time. If after the time set - maybe 30 seconds - no one has spoken, then I will clarify the question. It is important to wait a long time before actually answering the question yourself. That is a precedent you do not want to set!
How do you handle group members who dominate? This could be one person who is always the first to speak, and then goes on and on. It could be a small sub group who hold a dialogue between each other leaving everyone else out.
Sometimes those who dominate are in their own opinion more advanced in some way than everyone else. You might not hold to their opinion! One can however ask such a group or person to help you by serving the group. They could -
As they seek to serve, they could become a valuable ally in making the group work.
Others who dominate are those who speak in order to think, or just love speaking. This is a greater challenge. They desperately need to express themselves, and will fill all the space. How you handle such people can depend on how secure they are. One way is to allow them to start, but have a question ready along the lines of ‘What does everyone else think.’
Can you make eye contact? It is really hard having a discussion with someone you cannot see. It is good to arrive early and make sure that the seating is setup so that everyone will be in a ring and will be able to see each others faces. This is especially true for the leader.
One of the biggest issues for a discussion group leader is keeping time. There are two constraints here. The first is that people usually want to cover the material. The second is that many people have worked out before they began what time they want it to stop. The Leader is responsible for helping them to achieve these ends.
There are three key elements to keeping to time.
Over time issues become apparent. It is good to take note of how people behave in a group. Look for patterns and as they emerge invite the different members to meet and discuss how they see the group working or not for them. Asking some questions privately can be very illuminating! One could also ask some questions about the behaviour that you see. Usually one has got completely the wrong understanding of why they are like this. Sometimes it can be illuminating all round, and you can help them work through the issues.