When you start a small group Bible study, your goal is to create a healthy, secure space where open and honest conversation flows and everyone feels equally free to contribute. Guiding a Bible study discussion requires a delicate balance of planning, listening, and adapting. Some groups find their groove from the word “go,” while others move toward each other at a slower pace.
The following five tips will help you to encourage deep, free-flowing conversation:
Allow for some quiet time at the beginning of your gathering. Creating space for personal reflection can help everyone in the room set aside distractions. You may be surprised: it could be the only space in someone's day to check in with their heart and mind.
Try this helpful exercise to gain the group's focus:
- Ask everyone to grab a blank piece of paper and a pen.
- Set a timer for 5 minutes of writing time.
- Put your stream of consciousness on paper – without stopping!
Write down anxieties, distractions, expectations of the evening, plans for tomorrow, and anything else that comes to mind. Getting our mind-clutter out and onto the page frees us to focus on one another. The result is a group of people who are present and able to make meaningful contributions.
When your group is just getting to know one another, try breaking up into twos or threes. Splitting up into sub-groups can encourage participation and clear the air as Group Members voice any nervousness, skepticism, or questions. Talk about your experiences with small group Bible study. These discussions help people discover shared struggles and areas of common ground.
If you get to know one another's experiences before unpacking the study, you're more likely to have a healthy, mutual understanding across the group. By the time you shift into the evening's Scripture, you've already planted the seeds for connected conversation.
Continue to encourage connected discussion by having thoughtful questions at the ready. Depending on your group, your questions can range from light-hearted chat to more intense sharing.
Consider these ideas to jumpstart conversation:
- If you had to cook for guests, what would you make?
- What does your name mean?
- If you could try a different job for a day, which would you choose?
- If you could give your ten-year-old self advice, what would it be?
- If you condensed your strengths into one word, what would it be?
- How would you like to feel at the end of this year?
- What do you hope to learn during this Bible study?
Once you've started the conversation, it's time to steer it. As the Group Guide, you have the role of navigator. Your Group Members will want to stop along the way, but it's up to you to guide from start to finish. Begin by outlining where you want to go, then stay on course until you get there. It takes courage to re-orient a conversation that's veered off-topic and wisdom to know when to jump in.
Consider the following navigation strategies:
Find the balance – Be careful not to dominate the conversation. If you take over, there's less space for others to be heard. But if you don't redirect the flow of discussion when needed, you give control to the group's most opinionated members.
Listen and reflect – Pay close attention to people's subtext: pick up body language and ask intentional questions. Reflect on what you hear or summarize ideas people share; let your personal opinions take a back seat and let the group shine. You'll gain a clearer understanding of the material and one another!
Practice discussion techniques – Familiarize yourself with phrases you can gently interject with when someone begins to derail or dominate the discussion.
- Thanks for that perspective; I'd love to come back to that sometime. However, we're focusing more on…
- Perhaps we could continue this conversation over coffee?
- It's important to hear different perspectives on this. Would anyone like to disagree?
- We could talk about this all night. But let's stop there and move on to…
At first, you may feel awkward steering the conversation: None of us want to discourage or feel like we are cutting people off. But try these different strategies when opportunities arise. With practice, confidence grows!
Just as there is always room to grow in God's Word, there is room for everyone to grow in group Bible study. Decide together to commit to growth, and by the end of your time together, you will all look back and see how far you've come. So consider two practical ways you might lovingly spur each other forward today:
Encourage feedback – If you sense underlying relational frustrations in your group, encourage Group Members to be open about it. You can discuss issues without naming names. As Group Guide, it's not your responsibility to fix interpersonal disputes, but you can create a safe forum to address problems. Your courage in this area can inspire others to be courageous too.
Be gracious to one another – Some evenings, the conversation will flow, and other times it might be more of a struggle. Remind yourself that good group communication doesn't rest on your shoulders alone; it's everyone's responsibility to contribute! Rejoice in God's grace for you, and always encourage the group to show grace to one another.
Remember, you can support group Bible study discussion by:
...clearing the air
...breaking the ice
...and growing together!
Looking for more? Our in-app “How to be a Guide” audio training and WordGo journal articles walk Group Guides through the essentials for impactful group Bible study. Discover how to: get your group off to a great start; create the atmosphere for discussion; prepare for discussion times, manage group dynamics; and support connected conversation.