3 Keys for Great Small-Group Discussions

Best strategies to incorporate small group discussion


by Alycia Horn/ October 26, 2016

Studies show that 93 percent of talk in an educational setting is “teacher talk.” Typically, educational and church settings are pretty similar. That means that 7 percent is left for “kid talk.”

Why is that a problem? Kids learn best by talking, asking questions, and interacting with each other. So one of the best strategies you can use in your ministry is to incorporate small-group discussion

Here are a few tips for facilitating a small-group discussion:

1. Embrace the crickets.

Research has shown that the average “wait time” in a classroom after a teacher asks a question is less than one secondregardless of age level. That typically means a teacher will ask a question, wait a second, and because of the uncomfortable silence, elaborate or answer his/her own question.

The next time you ask a question, embrace the crickets, and remember the kids are thinking! By increasing your “wait time” to five seconds, it has a positive effective on the quality of student responses. Then wait another five seconds after the student’s initial response before your reaction. Many times I’ve found if I want to react, another kid will chime in and elaborate, and then the conversation starts rolling.

2. Give the gift of going first.

If you want kids to be transparent and candid, then go first. I’ve learned that when working with older kids and discussing intimate things, I must give the gift of going first. By making myself vulnerable and being the first to answer in a candid way, I’m not only modeling that behavior but also sending an unstated message that it’s okay to struggle. This makes a safe environment for kids to engage. By sharing our own struggles, admitting our challenges, and confessing our imperfections, we become relatable. Remember, people are most drawn to our imperfections, not our perfection!

3. Don’t stress if you don’t have the answer.

If a child asks a question that you don't have an answer for, don’t make up an answer just to look like you know what you’re talking about. First say, “That’s a really great question.” Then throw the question back to the group. Ask if anyone has any thoughts. I’ve been rescued many times by a kid’s response!

Last, be honest. Tell them you don’t know but now they've got you curious and that’s something you will go research. It’s good for kids to hear adults confess they don’t have all the answers.

One final thought: I encourage you before your small-group discussion to pray that God gives you wisdom to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading. We know that without Him, even our very best efforts are just not as effective as the Holy Spirit working in the lives of kids’ hearts.