Skill Training: How to Stimulate Better Discussions

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Several of my core assumptions about small group ministry come into play when I share this skill training. Most importantly, I believe the optimal environment for life change is a small group.

At the same time, I also believe that in order for any small group to actually be an environment that produces life change, there are some essential ingredients that must be in place. And one of the most important essential ingredients is good two way conversation. A healthy dialogue. See also, Groups of All Kinds and the Essential Ingredients of Life-Change.

The truth is, the skills that produce a more stimulating discussion are not difficult to learn. And once you learn them, it just comes naturally.

Five Keys to Stimulating Better Discussions

First, think ahead of time about where your members need to go...

You don't need to spend a lot of time on this, but it does help to think about the individual needs of your members as you're looking over the upcoming session. Although this is a challenge in a newer group, it gets easier the longer a group has been together and the more you know about your members. One way you can speed up the process is to have each of your members take the Spiritual Health Assessment and develop a Health Plan.

...and tailor the standard-issue questions in your upcoming session to fit the needs of your group. Not as hard to do as it might seem. Often it's simply a matter of being aware of the needs of your members.

Second, learn to use guiding statements to keep the session headed in the right direction.

Guiding statements are simple modifications that can be dropped in right after the question. Learning to use guiding statements will help more members participate. This skill will also help control more talkative participants and coax participation from more reserved members.

Here are four examples:

  1. “Let’s each take 30 seconds to respond to this question.”
  2. “What one word summarizes your feelings.”
  3. “What does this verse say to you?  Boil your response down to one sentence.”
  4. “This is a good warm-up question.  How about 2 of you giving us your answer.”

Third, rephrase the question and ask it again.

Rephrasing the question helps when the discussion is slow developing. It also helps when the discussion drifts off topic, it can be redirected by rephrasing and taking a second pass.

Fourth, use redirecting statements as necessary.

You may feel a little awkward, but your members will appreciate your help keeping things on topic.  For example:

  • “That sounds like something we should discuss another time.”
  • “Let’s keep working on this question.  We may have time for that one later.”

Fifth, recognize and celebrate each baby step along the way.

Affirm your members when they take a risk or make progress on the steps they need to take.  For example:

  • “That’s great!  Thank you for sharing that.”
  • “That is a really important step to share your feelings with the group!”
  • “We’ve taken some steps as a group tonight.  I think all of us have acknowledged that we need to have a regular quiet time and we’re ready to give it a try.”

Learning this skill (or continuing to develop this skill) will go along way towards encouraging a dynamic discussion and producing authentic life-change.

You'll find the rest of my skill training articles right here.

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