Small group discussion is a powerfully effective tool for ministry. Students retain up to 70% of what they discuss compared to less than 10% of what they only hear. But because small groups are made up of people with unique personalities and problems, there are many ways for a group to get off course. So how can you get the most of your dialogue with students? Remember the following when you want to DISCUSS:
Develop questions naturally
Asking, “What’s your biggest sin?” will neither elicit a response, nor set a positive tone. Start with a student’s observations before asking for an opinion. For example, first ask, “What do students at your school think about . . . ” and then ask, “What do you think about . . . “
Invest in the individual
This is hard, but the most rewarding. You will see a day and night difference in your small groups if you get to know and encourage students outside the group. Invest 30 minutes a week to call some students to say “hi” or mail a few of their favorite candy bar with a short note.
Surprise your students
Routine will likely kill your small group. Take a risk and try new ways to lead a discussion. Have students debate the topic, act it out, draw their response, discuss with a partner, etc.
Confidence is key
Remind students each time you meet that anything shared in your group stays in the group. The more secure your group feels with one another, the more readily they’ll be willing to share openly and honestly.
Use open-ended questions
An open-ended question is one that cannot be answered in one or two words. The best kinds ask for students’ opinions, experiences, or feelings. Try starting a question with: “Tell me about . . . ” or “What would you have done if . . . ” or “What are the benefits of . . .”
Share your answers
Set the tone by answering your own questions, particularly the more reflective and personal ones. Don’t dominate, but do get things started if necessary.
Support all responses
Find something to affirm in every answer. Students need to know that when they take a risk and share their thoughts, they will be received. You may need to get creative with the obscure comments!