Whether you’re encouraging a group of middle schoolers to focus or trying to get high schoolers to open up, does it ever feel like having good conversations in your small group is a pipe dream? You have more control over how the discussion goes than you think. Here are three practical steps to having great discussions with your small group of students.
Create a Safe Environment
The discussion you have next week will depend on the reaction of your group this week. Students will not share in an environment where they might get picked on for what they share. As the leader, set some clear guidelines:
- When someone else is talking, we listen
- We never laugh at another person’s expense
- What is shared in a small group is not to be gossiped about outside the group
When these guidelines are established, your students will be more likely to share openly.
Facilitate; Don’t Teach
The Fifty1 Student Ministry recommends a model that includes teaching a large group and following it up with discussion in small groups. Several years ago, I was visiting a youth group and sat in on a guys’ small group. The leader proceeded to take the first 15 minutes of small group time to “add to” what had already been taught (for the previous 30 minutes). As I looked around at the 5 or 6 students in the group, they were totally unplugged from what was being said. Honestly, I was too. Your goal as a small group leader is not to re-teach the lesson in your own words; it is to facilitate a discussion about the lesson and whatever else your students are dealing with. Ask good questions, and then listen! Don’t be afraid of a little silence, and don’t answer your own questions. If no one responds, rephrase the question and ask again. Jump back in only to keep the discussion on track– but let the discussion happen.
Map Out Your Discussion
Preparation is not just for teachers; small group leaders should prep as well. Be sure to have questions prepared in advance. If you are using the Fifty1 Student Ministry, questions are provided for you. (The Multiply! app delivers these questions right to your phone!) Even when using provided questions, be sure to read over them in advance, and make them your own. Avoid questions that can be answered with a single word (yes, no, good, etc.). It is much more effective to ask students a series of questions that guide them to their own conclusions based on God’s Word. Start with broad, general questions and end with ones that focus on how each student is going to apply what you have been talking about.
Feel free to chat in the comment section about how you facilitate small group discussion, or shoot us an email with your stories of small group successes.
Brian has been in youth ministry for 23 years. He is passionate about communicating truth to young people and the leaders that work with them. Brian loves to play, watch and talk about all kinds of sports. He and his wife Lynn have three awesome teenagers and live in upstate, NY.