How to Lead Small Groups

Two Methods:Leading Small Group MeetingsLeading a Christian Small Group

Effective group facilitation requires solid communication skills, conflict resolution techniques and organizational ability. If led correctly, small group meetings can lead to valuable input from all group members, and develop close-knit bonds in the workplace or personal life.

Many Christian churches organize "small groups," occasionally called "cell groups," to allow their congregation to discuss religious and spiritual matters in more intimate environments. While general advice on leading meetings applies, there are common styles and activities used in small church groups that may help you guide the other group members.

Method 1
Leading Small Group Meetings

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    Create a plan or agenda. Your small group may be discussing an issue, solving a problem, or sharing personal problems. Make a list of what the group wants to accomplish, and break it down into specific tasks or discussion points. If you're not sure how long each task will take, organize the discussion so the most important tasks are first on the group's agenda. Write down notes using the steps below, to help guide you through the facilitation process.
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    Choose a comfortable space if possible. The main advantage to small group discussions, as opposed to large meetings, is the chance each member has to provide detailed, high-quality input to the discussion. Encourage people to break out of formal roles by meeting in a living room, a quiet café, or a natural, outdoor area.[1]
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    Engage in brief introductions. Introduce yourself, define your role in the discussion and the objective of the group. Invite group members to introduce themselves.
    • If participants do not know each other or are acting shy, ask specific questions, such as where each participant is from and what they hope to gain from the group meeting.
    • Allow for longer introductions in special cases. If the group will explore personal problems, or if the backgrounds of group members are important to the process, allow each participant to speak for about a minute.
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    Distribute handouts to group members. When delivering information or asking group members to solve specific problems, develop informational handouts that they may refer to during the group session. The information may also be written on a board or projected on a wall for reference.
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    Encourage group participation. When group members are just getting to know one another, they may be hesitant to speak. Create a safe space for participants to contribute their ideas, suggestions and questions, by explaining that all questions are welcome. If someone is staying silent, occasionally ask her a question, or invite her to share her thoughts, but don't force her to participate.[2]
    • If necessary, break the group into smaller groups of two or three participants to allow time for greater sharing.
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    Guide participants through the discussion. Prepare a list of questions to keep the discussion moving. When participants ask for your opinion on the discussion topic, direct the question back to the group to generate their insights or feedback. Clarify and summarize each point before moving on to the next topic.
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    Avoid dominating the discussion. Successful small group facilitators refrain from speaking extensively.[3] A small group discussion is considered effective when it stimulates thought and sharing by all members. Lecturing or delivering too much information can cause inattention or lack of interest.
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    Defuse conflicts and redirect the discussion. When people express diverse views or are attached to their opinions, conflicts may ensue. Ask group members to listen to opposing views without interrupting, and to respond to the group as a whole, rather than an individual person. Model this behavior yourself by refraining from reacting negatively towards individuals whose beliefs or opinions differ from yours.
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    Keep track of time. Group discussions can have a habit of running on too long, or getting bogged down in one topic past the point where anything new is being said. Unless an agenda item needs to be dealt with for the group to continue, keep track of the time and let people know when you need to move on to the next point. If this is a recurring problem, consider using hourglasses or other timers as tools.[4]
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    Wrap up each group session with a closing statement. Briefly summarize the discussion or activities of the group, taking no more than a minute or two. Thank the group members for their participation and announce the details of the next meeting, if applicable.
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    Administer feedback forms (optional). Evaluate the experience of group members by requesting anonymous feedback. Ask participants to fill out evaluation forms and drop them off on the way out. Assigning quality ratings, making suggestions for improvements and sharing insights gained during the group process are the types of responses that may be included on a feedback form.
    • Keep in mind that it may not be appropriate to ask for "anonymous" feedback if the group is small enough to make each person's feedback easily identifiable. In these cases, it may be more effective to encourage other members of the group to arrange a one on one meeting or email correspondence.

Method 2
Leading a Christian Small Group

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    Decide on the purpose of your group. Many small groups, or "cell groups," hold open meetings available for anyone who wants to join, although regular attendance is encouraged. They discuss spirituality and Biblical passages, but typically pick a different topic each meeting so new members can easily participate. Others are formed from a close-knit group of friends or people from the same church congregation. These may only accept new members at specific times, develop intimate bonds with each other, and hold discussions that last for several meetings.[5]
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    Gather people together. Most small groups have between three and nine members, including the leader.[6] Invite friends, fellow churchgoers, and other interested people to come to your meetings, if you do not already have an existing small group.
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    Ask someone to be your co-leader. Invite someone to help your run the group, to encourage the group to shift the focus away from a single leader, and instead work together to focus on God and Christianity. If your small group expands to more than nine or so people, having two co-leaders also makes it easy to split apart into separate groups.[7]
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    Offer food and drink. A snack at the beginning of the meeting can be a great way to encourage people to relax and talk to each other. The focus of the meeting shouldn't be the food, but if someone in the group enjoys contributing by bringing food, don't discourage him.
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    Start with introductions. During your first meeting, or whenever someone new is present, ask for introductions. Even if you all know each other, ask a question or prompt to get people to know each other better. This can be religious, such as "tell us about a time you felt connected to Jesus," or just something interesting to talk about, such as "where in the world would you most like to travel?"
    • If new people are present who may not be comfortable or secure in their religion, use more generic questions. The point of the introductions is to make everyone more relaxed and start them bonding with each other, not necessarily to dive into Bible study right away.
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    Start a Bible study discussion. Select a Biblical passage in advance of the meeting each week. Come up with open-ended questions that people can discuss in detail, and relate to their own experiences and emotions. A good, open-ended question doesn't have a "yes or no" or "multiple choice" answer, and should lead to a debate, not complete agreement.[8][9][10]
    • Here are a couple examples of good questions or prompts: "What would it be like to be one of the people described in this passage?"; "Let's compare these two passages and discuss what each of them suggests."; "Does this passage make you want to change your behavior in daily life? How would you change it, or why wouldn't you?"
    • Avoid questions with simple answers or that contain your own opinion, such as "Who is Jesus talking to?" or "What do you think about the brave and faithful actions of this figure?"
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    Facilitate the discussion. As a leader of a small group, you are responsible for keeping the discussion moving and encouraging people to dig deeper. Ask follow up questions in response to other people, for instance by asking how they would tie the discussion to their own life. Politely interrupt people who are hogging the discussion, by thanking them and asking another person how he would respond. If the topic deviates from Christianity or spirituality, suggest the group gets back on topic.[11]
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    Don't act like an expert. The focus of the group should be on God and the discussion, not on any one person.[12] If people keep turning to you to settle disputes or answer Biblical questions, refer some of the questions to other members of the group. Encourage discussion and participation from all members, taking turns if necessary, rather than turning the Bible study portion of the meeting into a lecture.
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    Talk about prayer and the members' lives. In many small groups, members have a chance of a more intimate discussion after the Bible study. In this, they get to know each other, and especially about hardships and changes in the members' lives. As the leader, ask if anyone has a prayer request, and set aside time for people to talk about prayers requested at previous meetings as well. Some groups prefer to split into smaller groups of two to four people, and promise each other more focused, one-on-one prayers.
    • Small groups can be run in many different ways, so feel free to organize your own spiritual activities or discussions.
    • Many small groups end with a closing prayer, but not everyone is comfortable with praying in a group. Ask the members how they feel about it before adding a closing prayer to your meeting.
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    Encourage people to take on roles. Dividing responsibilities encourages participation and strengthens the bond between group members. As the meetings continue, ask for volunteers to help select Bible passages, keep track of the members' prayers in a notebook, or simply help set up and clean up.


  • In close-knit groups, it can be easy to fall into "buzzwords," or frequently repeated phrases or expressions. This can make it harder for a new member to join the group, and can prevent old members from thinking hard about the topic.[13] Ask for a definition of the phrase when you notice someone using it, to clarify and to open up more discussion.

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Categories: Leadership and Mentoring