By Bill Search
Leading a great discussion involves asking good questions. Let me give you some tips on asking good questions that will lead to a good discussion.
Be familiar with the discussion guide.
This is the first thing you do; you read through all the material and all the questions. You ask the questions out loud even by yourself so that you can hear how they sound. You look through them and edit them if necessary. Not all questions are great even if they're in a booklet so you might need to choose the questions that stay and the questions that go. Get familiar with the material.
Ask open ended questions.
And not close ended ones. A close ended question would be, "Is God good?" It's a yes or no answer. An open ended question would be, "If God is good, why is there so much evil in the world and why is the world so broken?" That's a question that could last for hours if not days, maybe even a lifetime. A good open ended question is like that, so ask open ended questions.
For those of us who've been weird on inductive bible study technique, we're also going to need to resist the temptation to ask observation questions. An observation question would be like this: in the text where it’s recorded that Jesus wept, you would ask, "Who wept?” Jesus. Or "What did Jesus do?" He wept. That's a good question for home inductive bible study type of stuff by yourself, but if you're trying to lead a discussion that way, it's going to be really slow going and awkward.
Don’t fish for the “right answer.”
We've all been in groups like that. Maybe it was in a classroom where the teacher asked a question and while everybody replied, he or she just nodded along, until Betty Sue replied and then balloons were released, the whistle was blown and there was a great celebration because she got the right answer. What did that communicate? It communicated that the other answers were wrong, and nobody likes to give the wrong answer.
If you go fishing for the right answer and you celebrate when someone says what you think should be said, what will end up happening? Everybody else will stop participating in the discussion. So don't go fishing for the right answer and instead welcome all as an opportunity to continue the learning and discussion.
Don’t answer your own questions.
As you ask a question, if there's a pause and it seems awkward, then ask the question again or ask it in a slightly different way. It will be tempting to want to fill the silence with your own thoughts, but don’t do it. Now in church, the pastor might ask a question, but we don't actually get a chance to respond. But in a group that's very different, yet people have been trained to think, "In church I don't respond, so I'll just wait for the right answer here too." So when you don’t answer your own question, what you're saying by waiting through the silence is, "I'm not going to answer this." The whole point of this discussion is to ask questions and then have everyone interact with it. Resist that temptation to answer your own question and if you do, you will open up an opportunity for a great discussion.
*This is the fifteenth post in a series of 27 Tips for Small Group Leaders
BILL SEARCH is the author of Simple Small Groups. He has served in ministry for nearly 20 years. Bill loves spending time with his family, drinking great coffee, listening to jazz, and enjoying the great outdoors.