Here are 9 ingredients for a group that feels safe for discussion and discovery.
(But first!) A helpful rule of thumb . . .
Have a mindset of eliminating any causes for embarrassment for anyone in your group. In groups that I'm facilitating, I find it’s helpful to ask myself, “Who is the most vulnerable here?” and then facilitate the group discussion with that person in mind. When the group is safe even for that person, everyone relaxes and can focus on the discussion at hand rather than feeling on edge, uncomfortable, or defensive. And now, those 9 ingredients . . .
1. The group is not for experts.
From the beginning, demonstrate that the group is for discussion and discovery. Rather than immediately giving answers, affirm the questions and help the group discuss them.
2. Everyone is welcome. Everyone welcomes.
The way that you engage with everyone will set the tone for the group. Show that this isn’t an exclusive club. When you have a triad of Christians facilitating the group together, your welcoming interactions are more likely to easily permeate the group.
3. The group is informal.
Model casual dress, simple refreshments, relaxed hospitality, and sharing ideas honestly and openly.
4. Participation is voluntary.
You never know if someone may have difficulty reading, or has a hard time praying out loud, or is simply having a hard day. In most cases, especially when a group first starts, adults are very uncomfortable being put on the spot to give an answer.
Instead of going around in a circle, ask for volunteers to read out loud, respond to questions, be the “question-asker” (the one asking the questions from a Bible study guide), or pray. (And assure everyone that the question-asker is not responsible to pray.)
5. Seating is conducive for discussion.
Arrange chairs so that everyone is comfortable and can easily see and hear each other.
6. Group size is around 7 to 12.
In larger groups, the outgoing people talk more, and quieter folks feel less comfortable to share. Everyone in the group needs time and space to talk, and when you are discussing the Bible, processing out loud is crucial for people to discover truth. So when your group gets large, look for a good way to multiply.
7. Silence is o.k.
After a question is asked, allow people time to think. Notice if a quieter person looks like he or she is about to talk but is getting cut off by other group members. Ask that person, “Were you going to say something?”
8. The group has guidelines.
Giving the ground rules for your group will help everyone work together to keep the group safe. For more on this, see How do you keep group discussions safe?
9. The group remains focused on the chapter or topic under consideration.
This keeps the group on track to finish what you all came to do. If you let tangents get out of hand and end up going late, people get restless and frustrated—and may not come back. For more on this, see Keeping Discussions on Track.
(And one more bonus tip!)
Pray! As you follow all of these tips, remember how important it is to hold your group members up in prayer. Before and after your meetings, pray for them; and throughout your time together, follow God's lead to help everyone feel welcomed, relaxed, and ready to get in on the conversation!
Q Place Blog Editor