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Avoiding Discussion Pitfalls

One of the greatest challenges, and greatest assets, of small groups are their discussion times. They can, however, be challenging because discussions are entirely different animals than lectures or sermons. Everyone who has been in a small group for any length of time can probably relate to these two common pitfalls (with cheesy titles) that a small group discussion can fall into:

1. Lectureville: In lectureville, one person (usually the designated group leader) simply talks on the subject of the evening for 30 or 45 minutes. Maybe there is a Q & A at the end, but regardless the “discussion” is completely one sided. The problem here is that small groups are not designed to function like a lecture hall. They are designed as environments where people can interact with scripture and how it applies to their lives. Why do groups fall into this pit? Either because the leader has a bunch of stuff he/she really wants to tell the group (which isn’t a bad desire) or because the group members have not opened their mouths when the leader tried a discussion format. As a group leader, I know I get discouraged when no-one talks, so to avoid those silences I just talk more. This is a pitfall nonetheless, and one that both the group members and the group leader have to help the group avoid.

2. Opinion Land: This honestly is where I have a tendency to fall many times. In opinion land, a small group leader tosses out a question like “what does this passage mean?” Every group member then proceeds to give their opinion about the meaning. The rest of the group gives an obligatory head nod that silently says “Im not really following you and probably don’t agree, but hey that’s what you think.” The problem here is that meaning comes from what the author intended, not from what we read into it. So a discussion that affirms, even through silence, that differing opinions are ok, isn’t a healthy discussion. On the other hand, a discussion that involves people bouncing opinions off one another about in an attempt to reach the authorial intent can be quite productive. The point here: Don’t settle in opinion land when the truth is at stake!

The key to good discussion
Facilitation.
To avoid lectureville and opinion land, the fine art of discussion facilitation is needed. If the small group leader facilitates the discussion, what occurs during the meeting is a guided investigation into how scriptural truths apply to daily life. To use a college analogy, a group leader is more like a lab instructor or a TA than a lecturing professor. He or she makes sure the group has their minds and hands in the text, and is encouraging them to observe everything about it. He or she challenges them to consider the meaning and implication of what they are observing (watch out for detours to opinion land!) Then, like any good TA, the leader provides clarification & meaning of the text and connects the text to the larger picture of scripture (avoid roads to lectureville!). Is it helpful then for these facilitators to be gifted teachers? Sure it is. Is it necessary? Not at all. That’s what the lecturing professor (pastor) is there for. The only necessary qualification for group leaders is a willingness to encourage and pray for their group members on a regular basis. While your TA probably didn’t regularly pray for you, I trust you get the point.

Now, you may be self-analyzing right now. Don’t do that for too long. Learning the art of facilitation comes with both time and training. A helpful way to get out of one of these pitfalls, or to find out if you are even in one, is to ask a fellow group member or your small groups pastor for feedback. If you are a SummitLIFE leader, we have a team of people now ready to help you in this area. Take us up on our offer and get on the road to healthy small group discussion!

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Categories: Uncategorized Tags: ,
  1. February 14, 2008 at 2:54 am

    Ahh, lectureville, great name for it. Leaders should put a clock on themselves and never talk for more than a minute. Embrace the awkward silence…wait them out and they will talk.

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