The goal of any lesson or study is to discover what God’s Word says, to understand what it means, and learn how to apply it to our life.
The measure of an effective lesson for the learner is not in how much they learned, but how what they learned will change their life.
Many church goers are well educated in matters of scripture, but the mark of a Christian is transformation
Teachers do well to remember that all we can do is teach, and offer practical application action steps, but we can not make the learner change. A teacher may do very well in their role, but the learner may refuse to apply what they have learned all the same. This may have nothing to do with the quality of teaching.
Many great study materials and lesson plans are available, some at a cost, and many for free. However, a good teacher realizes that the best content on earth is lost when it is presented poorly, while a good teacher may not need any workbooks or videos, and can work with just a Bible alone.
This is to say that the materials are only a fraction of the matter. The quality of teaching will directly determine the students ability to engage. But, as I said, the best teacher can not force an unwilling student to learn.
That said, I would like to provide you with some tips and guidelines for how to lead a small group well.
- The leader is not going to do all the talking. A teacher may find themselves talking as little as %20 of the time. Leading a small group is not an opportunity to start preaching. The leader should not be dominating the discussion.
People learn well by answering questions. A good teacher will engage the people with questions, and let them draw conclusions. A good teacher may also let others in the group answer questions that other students asked, instead of answering them himself. The idea is to activate the minds of the people by engaging them in dialog.
A teacher who dominates the discussion time is not doing any justice to the group. That said, I have lead youth group studies where the group of kids desire to offer very little to the discussion, and therefore I come prepared to fill the time with teaching. Even then, I am able to get the youth to engage with questions. I end each of my youth teachings with these two questions. 1) What did you learn today?, and 2) What are you going to do about it? This is enough to get them actively thinking about the teaching, and how they can apply it to their own life when they leave.
- Maintain good eye contact by looking around the group and not focusing too much on any one person. In any group, there will be those who have more to ad then others. The teachers goal is to engage the whole group as equally as possible. However, it is fine for a newcomer to sit and listen, and we wont want them to feel pressured into speaking.
- Be prepared. Take the time to study the material yourself before the group time starts. Know what questions you want to ask. Know what applications you desire the students to implement. Become familiar with the text. If you decide to wing it in class, the students will notice, and it will communicate to them that you are not fully invested in honoring their time.
- Be on time. Start when you say you are going to start. If somebody is running late, let them come in late and disrupt the class that has already begun. It is important to communicate to those who are on time that you value their time enough to respect it, because if you start late often enough, people will stop coming to your group. This also communicates to the late comer that they are disrespecting the group members by being disruptive when they fail to responsibly plan their time of leaving for group. We all know that unavoidable issues can come up that make us undesirably late, so of course we do not judge the late comer. But we must not let them decide when we will begin our group time.
As for ending the group, this can be more flexible. However you must communicate that flexibility to your group. If you desire your group to last one hour, I encourage you to communicate that your group will go from 1 – 1.5 hours, to give you a flexible stop time that your group will plan for. If you find yourself needing to go later then the stop time you have communicated, you will want to pause at the scheduled stop time and say something like “at this point we will take a break and let anybody who has to leave go ahead, while the rest of us stay behind and finish up”. This communicates that you respect and value the time of the group members. People with children in their families, or busy business schedules require a group leader to respect their time by starting and stopping on time. If you do not respect the start and stop times, you will not attract people who budget their time.
- Ask questions. We touched on this earlier, but let me elaborate here. Science has shown us that our brain is most engaged when we are solving a problem, answering a question, or hearing a story. A good teacher will use this to their advantage.
Ask questions like “what do others here think about this?”, or “OK, what else?”. If there is a long pause without anybody stepping up to answer, then ask something like “does everybody understand?”, and if not, review the content again.
The teacher should not have all the answers, and it is OK to let the silence grow so uncomfortable that it forces a reaction from one of the group.
NOTE: The teacher does not need to add a comment after each member of the group speaks.
A good question would not be answered with a one word “yes” or “no”. It may have several replies, will be easily understood, and is short, or to the point.
- Let the group share answers or dialog freely in a spontaneous pattern. Avoid calling on specific people by name or going around in a circle for answers. There is a time and a place when that method can be effective, but to avoid it by default is ideal because it creates an easy going atmosphere.
- Stick to the topic. It is not uncommon for a member of the group to move the dialog off topic, but if you are going to be a respecter of time, you have to manage this common phenomenon.
At some point, you may have to interject yourself into the dialog and say something like “Let’s explore that more later. For now, let’s take a look at our study”, and then repeat your question or most recent statements.
You might also say something like “I think that would be a very interesting study for when we have more time” and then redirect back to the topic.
If it gets really bad, or happens often enough, it is OK to be direct and just say simply “I think we have gotten off track, so let’s come back to the question”
- There will be those members who tend to dominate the discussion by talking too much, but we must remember that we desire that the whole group gets to share equally. When you are dealing with this issue, to set the pace, you might wait until they are finished and then say something like “what does someone else think about this?” If this same person becomes a repeat offender, you might try saying something in a light hearted way along the lines of “can you briefly answer me this question?”
- If there is to be a change in your group schedule, it is important to notify your supervisor. That may be your Sr Pastor, or maybe your Pastor has appointed a small group leader coach of some kind. Either way, it is important to keep the network at large aware of any unexpected changes
In the same way, these people should be aware of the success and struggles you are facing in your group. Don’t lead alone.
To that same end, it is important that every group has a back up leader. So the primary leader can travel, get sick, or take a day off. No group should ever be dependent on one person. One measure of the health of a group is that it is sustainable without YOU.
- Determining the vision and intention of the group is important before it even begins. Every group has a purpose, and if that is not clearly identified, it is easy to get lost. Ask yourself, “why should this group exist?” and “what do I want to see this group accomplish?”
Anything you do that is outside of the answers to those questions should be done outside of that group. A good leader will stay focused on accomplishing the primary point of the groups purpose.
- Encourage diversity, and discourage dependency. What I mean is this. We want to encourage a diverse range of backgrounds in our groups as much as possible. Sure, you may have a “new believers” group that gives a common ground. But in any case, there could be a mix of new and mature believers to offer additional insights. This also can discourage dependency on you as the leader, so that other mature Christians are available to share.
- In our church, I desire to evaluate each church program about every 6 months or so. The goal of any group should be outlined and clearly communicated, and accomplished at each meeting. In the evaluation time, we are looking to see if this group is successful by those metrics. If it is not, it is OK to make a change.
Maybe it is as simple as changing the vision for the group. Did it start as a Bible study, but turned into a discipleship class with workbooks and videos instead? That is fine. It is OK to change, revise, or even cut a program if it is not accomplishing its goals.
- Each group should have an element of outreach. For some church programs, this may not apply, but in the average, it is a good practice. It is well understood that it is easier to grow a small group then it is to grow a church. One will be more likely to accept an invitation to a small group, especially if it is in a person’s home, then they are to accept an invitation to an organized church. But if we can grow a small group, the overflow is potential church growth.
Once the group is established and considered viable, there should be an outreach strategy. That strategy might look different for every group. My youth group does a very different outreach then my discipleship class filled with adults. But there is regular outreach all the same. Your group, and its vision will determine how and when your outreach happens.
- If somebody does not seem to be understanding the content presented, there are a few solutions. Of course you can offer to counsel the individual after group. You might also ask the group to share their insights. For example, if a person gives the wrong answer to a question, you might let the group continue to comment, or ask a more mature Christian to answer the same question.
- When people seem unengaged or lacking involvement, we have a few solutions. You might ask a question and say “this is just for those who have not said anything yet”. Or you might have to take a moment to privately encourage them, if the situation and your relationship allows.
- The setting is important. Ideally for most groups, a person’s home is best because it is casual and personal. The space should accommodate 6-12 comfortably. When the group grows larger than the space can fill, we create another group out of it. We take a mature Christian from the original group, and we multiply the group into two. The new group goes to meet at another space, with a leader from the original group who they already know and are comfortable with. Then both groups can grow to outsize their space and start the multiplication over again.
When you can include an element of food, it is always welcomed. Refreshments and food should be served after the group so that those who need to leave on time can. Also, the after group fellowship allows for deeper reflection on the topic, and generally speaking, this time is when some very deep discussions and relationships are had.
If you can designate a person who would be in charge of handling disturbances, like doorbells or children, that is always helpful too.
- Prayer should be the opening and closing element of each group. At the end of the group, if possible, try to leave time for an opportunity to ask each member what their prayer requests are. By taking prayer requests of each member, you learn something about what is going on in their lives, and how they can be ministered to. By praying for each members needs at the end of each group, you make the time personal and welcoming.
If you have any questions, or would like more information on any of these points, please reach out to Pastor CJ, and it will be my pleasure to assist. It is my goal to equip every leader for excellence.