How to Facilitate Discussion in Your Home Group
by Micah White
I have recently been reading a book on home groups called Transformational Groups. In one of the chapters on "The Right Leaders," the author shares a recent Lifeway research study that indicated the most desired characteristic of a group leader (by its members) is a person who "makes people feel comfortable sharing in the group." This was stated above other good qualities like being trustworthy, good teaching, being a good listener, being transparent or being energetic. I firmly agree with what this research has revealed. The interesting thing is that most often I find myself focusing on those things that the survey ranked less important.
How is it that we can create better group environments for people to feel comfortable sharing? Here are some ideas.
1. As the leader we can't dominate the talking. Most of us have opened a group by telling everyone how much we would like their input only to go on and take the rest of the group time talking. We have to be accountable to ourselves. A good goal as the leader is to talk less than thirty percent of the time. We must see ourselves as facilitators, not teachers within a group session. Although sometimes in the facilitating of a group an opportunity for a teaching point will certainly arise. For a leader to build a healthy environment of group sharing, the ideal situation is that group members begin to comment on each others’ thoughts and comments. We want to avoid discourse in group that follows the formula: leader question - individual response, leader question - individual response. What we want to see is leader question - individual response - individual response - individual response, leader question/comment - individual response- individual response - individual response, etc...The teaching in our home groups is a collective effort that is built around the group members feeling comfortable to share in group.
2. Have a humble attitude. We must remind ourselves that those in our group are thinking people, many of whom are equipped and able to lead discussions but have chosen just to be members. We must value the Holy Spirit's influence in their lives to share truth, challenge everyone (including the leader) and explain Scripture and other matters of faith. Sometimes if we are honest, the leader talks all the time because we think we know more, better and best. When we are humble group leaders, a genuine appreciation is expressed when others share, an authentic openness to others’ thoughts is present, and a true desire for the group to succeed in conversation is there instead of a desire to impress others as THE teacher.
3. Ask your group to further explain their answers/comments The need for thoughtful, open-ended questions is an obvious starting point to creating this type of environment. Furthermore, don't be afraid to ask a group member to elaborate on an answer that they give. Often times in the elaboration of an answer, more emotion and personal experience is shared than in the initial answer. When a group member is able to share this next level of information (past their initial answer), other group members begin to resonate from their own experience and have a far better chance of joining the conversation. I have found this to be the best way to help your group begin to string comments together and not need the group leader to step in and re-direct or ask another question. It's as simple as saying to a group member, "Is there a time in your life where this happened?" or "Is there a verse or Bible story that has taught you this idea?" "Can you explain a little more what you mean by that?" As leaders, we can't be intimidating in the way that we ask these questions because it could lead to people being afraid to speak up. But if we do it humbly and with a genuine desire to hear the person's sentiments and to create open dialogue, it can be an extremely useful tool!
In speaking with you as leaders, I know you desire for your group to feel comfortable in sharing. Maybe these three reminders can be an encouragement to you in your leadership!