You probably have a mental picture of what it will look like to facilitate a small group discussion—what you’ll say and how group members will respond. Before you get too far into planning, there are some things you should know about facilitating a small group discussion.
It’s easy to assume that a group meeting lives or dies based on the quality of your ideas. That’s not true. It’s the ideas of everyone in the group that make a small group meeting successful. Your role is to create an environment in which people feel safe to share their thoughts. That’s how relationships will grow and thrive in your group.
Here’s a basic truth about spiritual growth within the context of community: the study materials aren’t as important as the relationships through which those materials take practical shape in the lives of the group members. The more meaningful the relationships, the more meaningful the study. The best materials in the world won’t change lives in a sterile environment.
Point to the material.
A good host or hostess creates an environment where people can connect relationally. He or she knows when to help guests connect and when to stay out of the way when those connections are happening organically. As a facilitator, sometimes you’ll simply read a discussion question and invite everyone to respond. The conversation will take care of itself. At other times, you may need to encourage group members to share their ideas. Remember, some of the best insights will come from the people in your group. Go with the flow, but be ready to nudge the conversation in the right direction when necessary.
Depart from the material.
Just because a study is designed for small groups doesn’t mean you should stick rigidly to the materials. Knowing when to depart from them is more art than science, but no one knows more about your group than you do.
The stories, questions, and exercises are here to provide a framework for exploration. But different groups have different chemistries and different motivations. Sometimes the best way to start a small group discussion is to ask, “Does anyone have a personal insight you’d like to share from this week’s material?” Then sit back and listen.
Stay on track.
This is the flip side of the previous point. There’s an art to facilitating an engaging conversation. While you want to leave space for the group to think through the discussion, you also need to keep your objectives in mind. Make sure the discussion is contributing to the bottom line for the week. Don’t let the discussion veer off into tangents. Interject politely in order to refocus the group.
This is the most important thing you can do as a facilitator. The best facilitators get out of God’s way and let him communicate through them. Remember: books don’t teach God’s Word; neither do sermons or discussion groups. God speaks into the hearts of men and women. Prayer is a vital part of communicating with him. Pray that God is not only present at your group meetings, but is directing them.