Small Groups online leaders' training: session 4

Please email Pastor Jim Doyle to let him know you’re beginning session 4…Thank you!

I. Studying the Bible

Initial Thoughts Leading to Formulating a Study

a. Your personal study time

Begin with prayer, invoking the Lord’s presence as you open up the Word and for His wisdom and understanding. Read the section of Scripture several times, making notes of key words or phrases (look at several versions). Ask yourself questions, such as Why is the author saying “this” to his audience “at this time”? or Why is this word(s) repeated? Jot down some of your first impression (feeling, thoughts, reactions).

b. Moving to Study Resources

Use a Bible dictionary to understand the geography, culture, philosophy, definitions of certain words and much more. Formulate a main point of the section you’re studying, which will help you formulate questions for your group study. Consider what the Lord is saying to you through the text, which will lead to application questions. Check out some commentaries to compare and contrast your notes.

c. Formulating questions

As you begin formulating questions, here are some questions for you to consider:
Can your questions be understood by all of your group members?
Do your questions grab the group members’ attention?
Have you asked one question at a time?
Do you questions lead to more than one answer? (they should)
Are your questions open-ended enough for your group members to express themselves?
Do your question avoid embarrassing any of your group members?
Are your questions relevant to your main point?
Will your group members have enough understanding to respond to your questions?
Are your questions guiding your group members to an understanding of the passage?
Do you have enough time for people to respond to your questions?

Let’s keep this going. Because questions can potentially make or break the study portion of your group time, we feel we need to stay on this point a bit longer, by focusing on creating healthy dialog and asking good questions.

II. Creating healthy dialog

For many small-group leaders, one of the more intimidating things we do is facilitating a group discussion. Very few of us feel like we’ll have all the right answers, or that we can handle whatever curve balls will be thrown our way (and there will be some!). To make matters worse, it’s even challenging to gauge whether we’re doing a good job or not. But here’s the good news: that’s not what facilitating a group discussion is really about. We don’t have to have all of the right answers. We don’t have to lead the perfect discussion every time. We don’t even have to get through all of the material in each meeting! When we’re facilitating in our small group, our main goal is to create discussion. We want to challenge people to think about the topic at hand, and to create a safe environment for people to share their thoughts—to help everyone feel valued about the input they’ve offered.

That’s all we’ve got to do. Thankfully, there are some established practices and principles that can help us accomplish those goals.

III. Asking Good Questions

One of the most important skills in small-group facilitation is not having all of the right answers, but asking the right questions. Here are a few approaches to good question-asking:

a. Ask open-ended questions

Avoid the yes/no, true/false, multiple-choice questions—“Is Jesus the sheep or the shepherd in this parable?” Similarly, avoid questions that let people off the hook with a simple Sunday-school answer—“Why did Jesus die on the cross?” You want to ask questions that require people to share some actual thoughts and feelings.

b. Ask follow-up questions

Many people default to staying pretty surface-level with their answers to your questions, so get in the habit of not letting them off the hook. Ask more questions that follow up on their response. Here are some examples of good follow-up questions for the short/simple answers that people often give:
• What makes you say that?
• How do you feel about that?
• How do you think that would’ve affected you if you had been living in the time of Jesus?
• How would you explain your answer to a non-Christian friend or neighbor?

c. Regarding observation questions

Observation questions (or opening statements) provide your groups members with the opportunity to begin looking at the passage.
Describe the people or characters in the passage
What do you observe them doing?
What words or phrases seem to jump out at you?
Identify any choices that were made or any consequences that occurred

d. Regarding Understanding Questions

Understanding questions lead your group members into a deeper understanding of the passage.
What can we learn from the actions of the characters?
How do you feel about…?
What do you suppose the implications are regarding…?
Imagine yourself being in _________shoes. How would you act/respond?

e. Regarding Application Questions

Application questions encourage your group members to integrate the passage into their own lives.
How would you live this out?
Take a moment to demonstrate how your life will be changed now
If this would really happen to you, how are you going to respond?
What is Christ teaching you?
How is the Lord speaking to you?


You may be thinking how to ask certain questions, here are some methods of discussion to consider:
–  To access knowledge, ask questions that begin with compare, describe, tell, list, or identify.
–  To help analyze problems, ask questions that begin with compare, contrast, explain the relationship or how do you know.
–  To lead the group to explore values, ask questions that begin with why do you feel that way, what is important, or why do you prefer/like.
–  To promote creative thinking, ask questions that begin with how else, what if, suppose, create a new, or design an original.
–  To help evaluate situations, ask questions that begin with judge the following, select, evaluate the result, or rate as good or bad.
–  To compare and contrast, ask questions that begin with what do you think the difference is, or how are “these” alike or different.
–  To show how to apply knowledge, ask questions that begin with demonstrate, show how to solve, construct, or use this information to.
–  To assess examples of truth, ask questions that begin with what are some examples of “serving” that you’ve seen in your everyday life? Or what are some ways a person trusting in God might respond to trials?

Now you can move from your preparation to actually facilitating your study, keeping in mind that sometimes we can ask too many questions, which leads to the same few people in your group responding. Also, the group discussion tends to be more on the surface, and it takes too long, not allowing time for other components of the group’s gathering, such as prayer. Therefore, think about how you will transition your prep work into the following four key questions to present to your group members, knowing that when you offer fewer questions, your group members have more time to think and reflect on the passage and more time to share which leads to deeper growth in the Lord and with each other.

IV. A Method for Facilitating Your Bible Study

(Taken in part from Jim Egli, Leadership Pastor at The Vineyard Church, East Central, Illinois, 2013 Christianity Today)

a. Words or Phrases

What words or phrases jump out at you, or appeal to you, in this passage? Whether you have new or non-believers in the group or Bible scholars, anyone will be able to respond to this question. The objective is to have your group members looking at the passage, allowing the Holy Spirit to speak to them, whether they understand it to be from Him or not, and listen to each other’s responses. You don’t have to feel rushed. Allow people time to digest the passage.Even if your group members struggle with the passage, don’t feel you need to be the Bible answer person. The primary goal is not about having all the “right” answers, but establishing an atmosphere in which your group members feel safe enough to ask questions, share their struggles, or express their thoughts.

b. The main point

What do you think the author wants us to know from this passage? (Main Point) Allow the group time to wrestle with this question and draw conclusions that lead to life application. If your group members seem to be getting off track, first appreciate the dialog, but then draw them back in with the same question, stated differently. For example: What is at the heart of this passage?

c. Relating it to Life

How does your main point relate to your own life? Once the key idea has been established, it’s time to make it personal by discussion how the passage impacts or ties in with your group members’ everyday lives. By this question, you are building a bridge or bond between the truth of Scripture and your lives in today’s culture. It’s about making it real.

D. Bringing it to Jesus

What do you need to talk to Jesus about? or How is the Lord speaking to you at this moment?  You don’t want to walk away from the passage without a personal response to the Lord, and a question, like this, makes it personal and brings a balance of God’s Word and God, Himself. At this point, if you have a larger group, you could move into small units for more intimate prayer together.

V. Conflicts With Biblical/Theological Perspectives

 A question on the Bible or theology will inevitably come up that rubs you the wrong way or you don’t feel you have a good or adequate response. Here are some possible responses for you to consider:

Great Question/Comment

“Great question/comment!” “However, my response may open up a dialog that will take too much time. So can we table it for now?” Since you will most likely have only 45 minutes to an hour for the Bible study portion of your small group time, this is often the best approach. But be sure to let the group member know that you will get back to him/her yourself and/or have a group discussion at your next group’s gathering.

I don't know

You can say, “I don’t know…” This is again followed by letting the group member know that you’ll find out and bet back to him/her.

A brief Answer

Provide a brief answer before getting the group back on track. This is particularly helpful when you feel you can respond in a concise manner and it will be beneficial to the rest of the group. To voice this option, be sure, as a leader, that you are sufficiently confident in the subject matter in question.

The holy Spirit

Be aware that the Holy Spirit may be nudging you to change course and have the group enter into a new dialog. This comes with relying on the Spirit and experience with your group members to get a sense that they would like to change the discussion. Usually this works best with more spiritually mature believers. (We’ll talk more about this in a latter session.)

Meet with the group member

Ask to meet with the group member in private (as long as he/she is of the same gender). You may read from their facial expression or have a sense from their tone of voice that there’s something deeper going on than just the questions/statement that interrupted the group’s current Bible study discussion. This is when it’s wise to talk privately being sure your group is the right fit for this person.

To finish this session and before moving on to Session Five, please click on this Reading Response link, followed by clicking the submit button, which will provide Pastor Jim with your responses.

Session FIVE
Sessions One, Two, Three
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