Good discussion in small group Bible study is all about momentum. Established groups can be like dropping a small pebble on a snow-capped peak which starts an avalanche. In other groups discussion can feel as if you’re pushing a boulder up that same mountain.
Tips for getting discussion started and keeping it going:
Acknowledge – an audible but non-committal grunt recognises contributions without closing discussion. For the correct sound think teenage-boy-responding-to-parents.
Bring in others – These are the four most important words for a Bible study leader to learn: “What do others think?”
Calmness – silence is golden. Give people time to respond. Never give up and say the correct answer yourself. Answering your own questions is a sign of madness.
Direct question – “What do you think, Jess?”
Eye-Contact – Locate the person not awkwardly looking at the ground.
Follow-up question – “Thanks Dave, are you saying….? How does that fit with what Jerry said?” “What makes you think that?” “Which verse are you getting that from?”
Grouping members – Get in pairs or threes to discuss. Then get each group to share what they discussed.
Heresy – Use this sparingly but sometimes giving a wrong answer can inspire people to correct you. If everyone wrongly agrees with you (d’oh!) then get everyone back on course with a sudden epiphany. “Gah, actually what I said can’t be right; look at verse 6.”
Introduction question – try to get everyone to have spoken as early as possible because our first word can be the hardest.
Jesus – the best discussion in Bible study comes when Jesus is at work in the lives of individuals. It is Christian maturity not sociability which leads group members to contribute constructively. So even if discussion feels like drawing blood from the stone, it is the work of regularly speaking the word of the gospel from the Bible into people’s lives which over time produces people who speak to serve. However maturity takes time so it may well be a different group in years to come which reaps the benefit.
It feels a little too convenient to end with J for Jesus, but this is no token gesture. Those who embody the gospel of grace contribute in order to serve others. These are the people who will speak if no one else will, who hold their tongue to allow others to speak, who gently correct, who know the answer but ask it as a question to invite others to participate. These are the people who won’t let a preferential learning style prevent them from entering discussion.
And if you are blessed with a small group Bible study full of these kinds of people you’ll simply need to drop a pebble and watch the avalanche.