6 golden nuggets for great small group discussions

Published by Brian Hershey on

Small group discussions can be the catalyst for transformational growth in the lives of young people – if they are led well.

Since one of my passions is empowering leaders to pursue their God-given calling with greater effectiveness, I want to pass along six golden nuggets that have consistently met with success.

Whether you’re a volunteer leading a Sunday School class or a more seasoned veteran preparing a team of volunteers for an upcoming retreat, you’re bound to glean something helpful from the following list:

1.  Be the first one there.

Show up early whenever possible. This will allow you a few sacred moments to collect your thoughts, get focused, and pray. It will also allow you to arrange the room in such a way to facilitate a great discussion. Circles or semi-circles are best as it encourages face-to-face interaction. Nothing will kill discussion quicker than a classroom style arrangement.

2.  Know when your meeting begins!

Small group begins the moment a teen walks through the door. It does not begin when the clock says it’s supposed to. Good facilitators make kids feel welcome and comfortable from the second they arrive. I’ve seen so many small groups get off to a rough start because the facilitator failed to recognize when the small group begins.

3.  Initiate the conversation.

The person asking the questions controls the conversation. Therefore, take the initiative and find out how your kids are doing. Ask them about their day or week. The danger here is that such questions can come across as cliché. But when asked sincerely and followed-up with more questions, you will be amazed at how teens will begin to relax and open up. Showing a genuine interest goes a long way.

4.  Create a safe place…

…physically, emotionally, and spiritually. The last two are probably as important, if not more important, than the first. If you want teens to open up, then they must get the intuitive sense that they are entering a safe zone. It’s a place where they will not be cut up, torn down, or criticized and where unconditional relationships prevail. We want to challenge them for sure, but in the process don’t want to resurrect unnecessary barriers that will stifle the dialogue (see added bonus below).

5.  Know exactly what you want to say.

Another way of putting it is begin with the end in mind. This entails advanced prep work. You’ve probably heard the old proverb: if you don’t know where you’re going, then you’re never going to get there. The benefit of this nugget is that it keeps the conversation a little more focused. I’ve been bit in the rear end more than once because I was not able to reel in a wild comment. Once you know your final destination, then you can ask questions that will take you where you want to go.

6.  Create tension, then resolve it.

All learning begins at the point of tension. Therefore, at the beginning of your time together, seek to create a little bit of disequilibrium. This will “jam” their thinking and stimulate a little bit of debate among the teens. Then, when the time comes to read from Scripture, you’ve already “primed the pump”, which sets you up with a more purposeful reading of the text. But don’t leave that tension unresolved. By the end of the discussion, be sure to tie up all the loose ends.

A free bonus!

Pay attention to your leader to student ratio. The most ideal ratios for great small group discussions are 1:6. A little more or less will still generate a nice dialogue. But even the most gifted small group leader will not be able to overcome a 1:1 leader to student ratio (one-on-one meetings exempted). The reason is because the balance of power has shifted too far in the leader’s direction thereby jeopardizing emotional safety (see nugget #4). Students will understandably become more hesitant in sharing honestly out of a fear of giving the “wrong” answer.

Don’t try to apply all the nuggets at once. Instead, pick one or two. Experiment with them, and see how it revolutionizes your small group times!

Got other tips or suggestions? Please share by commenting below.

Brian Hershey

Brian Hershey currently serves as the Campus Life Military Senior Advisor for the Greater Omaha Youth For Christ chapter in Omaha, NE. He holds an undergraduate degree in education, a Masters in Theology from Dallas Seminary, and 20 years of youth ministry experience. He and his wife, Bonnie, have been serving military teens and families since 2001 in Bad Aibiling, Wurzburg, Heidelberg, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, and Kaiserslautern, Germany as well as Naples, Italy.


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