Facilitating Conversation

In some cases, group leaders are the teacher. In other cases, group leaders facilitate conversation around pre-recorded content.  There are various benefits and challenges to either type of group.  If you are a group leader focused on facilitating conversation, here are some skills that you can build in order to create a thriving group environment.

Tone

Ensure you have the right tone.  If you are the teacher people may look to you as the authority on a subject.  If you are a facilitator, people may see you as a peer with as much to say as they have to say.  Conversation groups are generally based on a peer-peer relationship.  In this type of dynamic there is an art to keeping everyone on track and sharing as equals but also respecting the ground rules of the group.  Things like “this is what I’m learning”, “this is what I understand”, “this is what I personally believe”.  A facilitator can have a strong conviction but also be open to other perspectives that might come up.

Focus

Learn how to navigate the conversation around one topic or lesson.  In any teaching, a group could come up with several different things to talk about.  Sometimes, too much content is hard to digest or might get the conversation going in a variety of unconnected directions.  It’s important to be clear what topic you would like to discuss.  The topic becomes the boundary that you can focus on. “Hey that’s an interesting topic, why don’t we focus on that another time, tonight we’re focusing on this one.”

Encouraging Conversation 

There are several ways of promoting a good discussion environment.  

  1. Promote active listening at the beginning of the meeting by handing out questions before the lesson gets started.  
  2. Have a list of open-ended questions ready ahead of time.  These are questions that enable participants to offer an opinion that can’t be answered with a simple yes or no: “so what bothered you about that passage; how did you feel about that character; what would you have done instead?” 
  3. Ask for clarification when a person shares a short response or over generalizes. “tell me more”; “what’s an example of what you mean” ; “who do you mean by ‘they’ “
  4. Offer a different angle other than the general consensus. “Ok we see this as a command, what is the opportunity?”; “How would a person from a different perspective see this verse?” ; “A person from a different faith perspective sees it another way. Why do you think that is?”;
  5. Move to the application of your conversation by half way through the meeting. This is important and provides the inflection moment where those who like to philosophize land the plane, provides time for prayer, and conversation after. “At this time we need to move to the application portion of our discussion. What does this look like practically in my life today (work, school, etc)?”
  6. Provide vision for the group. “What would the world look like if we all aligned ourself to this passage of scripture?”

Here is a list of other questions that you can use to stimulate conversation in your group.

  • What
    • One word / phrase / person stands out to you?
    • Isn’t being said?  What don’t we know?
    • Is difficult to understand?
    • Challenges what you believe?
    • Is the one lesson you can take away?
  • How
    • Do you feel about…?
    • Would you explain your answer to a non-Christian friend?
    • Do you think it would affect you if you had been in Jesus’ day?
    • Does this inform our sense of right and wrong?
    • Does this challenge our culture?
  • Why
    • Should we care?
    • Do we know how this applies to others but not to ourselves?
    • Is the idea easier than the application?

5 Types of People 

Each group generally has different personalities. Leaders grow to learn how to identify a person’s personality and draws out the best for each person and the group by learning how to manage these personalities. Here are strategies for each type of person.

  • Talker: Talkers talk. All the time. Every time. Learn to manage a talker by learning to CLOSE “that’s a great point (talker) what do you think (quiet person)”
  • Quiet: The quiet person often has great things to say but for whatever reason (cultural, personal, pain) decides not to contribute. In these cases the leader can ENCOURAGE this person by creating space and a quiet moment. The leader must be ok if the person doesn’t want to share.
  • Tangent: Every group has one person who comes to the meeting with an agenda about what they want to talk about. Some people try to redirect everything to one topic. Some people try to redirect the group to something they were thinking about on the way to the meeting. Leaders must learn to REDIRECT in these moments. “That’s an interesting question…but really for another time…”
  • Insensitive: Some people are too blunt. They are unaware or have no issue publicly confronting a person, pushing a personal opinion as if its gospel, and trying to take over. Leaders much learn to create a BOUNDARY for that person and the group in general. “We don’t talk that way here” / “I’d be happy to talk about your opinion after but this is not the place.” If you as a leader do not set this boundary its likely that people will not come back to your group because it is deemed unsafe.
  • Contributing: As you meet, you will notice individuals who have the potential to lead their own group. You will see that they are spiritually mature, have a good balance in their approach, and are keen to help. It’s important that you as a leader are SELF AWARE. It’s your role to provide opportunities for leadership in the group and beyond.

Close WellFinish on time

A lively discussion is always life giving. So is ending on time. Leave the group hungry for more good discussion next week. Respect people’s time and don’t over spiritualize your desire to go longer. Stop the convo so it can restart the next week. “Each one of us can go from this place with the one lesson that you have learned – lets commit that to God. ”

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