Top 10 Rules for Small Group Discussion

small goup
One of the things we do at our midweek youth meetings is break into small groups after the teaching time for discussion and prayer. Here is a top 10 list I put together for my youth leaders to help them make the most of small group time.
  1. The leader must facilitate. All groups have different personalities represented. It is up to the discussion leader to allow those who are quieter a chance to speak while sometimes restraining those who always dominate the conversation. If the leader doesn’t set the tone, then the most naturally outgoing people will rule the entire group.
  2. Set a comfortable atmosphere. Try to be laid back and make everyone feel safe. Use humour and get to know people’s names. Don’t force anyone to speak who doesn’t want to. Group time is especially scary for first-timers, so give them a chance to settle in and observe without having to contribute.
  3. Less talk, more listening. The worst thing a leader can do is talk too much. The leader’s job is not to recap the study time but to help the students think through how it applies to their everyday life. Draw out their thoughts and help them engage the material. The less a leader needs to talk, the better.
  4. Know when to jump in. Inevitably there will be times the leader needs to cut in. Sometimes it is to stop an overly-talkative person. Sometimes it is to get the discussion back on track. Sometimes it is to correct someone’s misunderstanding of the material. Whatever the case, the leader must know when to exercise their authority.
  5. Encourage. Letting students know they are on the right track or thinking well is a good thing. Commend their contributions and insight. Leave them feeling good for having shared positively with the group.
  6. Lead by example. Your own thoughts or examples are sometimes needed to get the ball rolling. Also, being respectful and knowing when to laugh and when to be serious will set the tone for the rest of the group.
  7. Be flexible. Sometimes the conversation will veer from the listed questions. Use discretion to let it go that way if the conversation is still helpful. Remember that the questions are a guide, but the let the conversation develop naturally.
  8. Ask open-ended questions. Questions that require a yes/no or right/wrong answer stunt conversation. Ask open-ended questions and feel free to get a student to expand on an answer for clarification.
  9. Pray simple. Avoid lengthy and wordy prayers, especially with Junior aged students. When a leader prays, the goal is for a student to hear the simplicity of it and think to themselves “I can do that!”
  10. Follow up. Some things said in group should be followed up on. It might be in the form of encouragement, instruction, inquiry, or discipline. But it is good for students to know that we care about them inside and outside of youth settings.
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