As a small group leader you may feel like the lecture is the most important part of your meeting, and you may dread the silence that results from asking questions. As a small group participant you may feel like there’s too much lecture and not enough discussion time, or maybe you dread being asked questions?
Melissa Kruger, contributor for The Gospel Coalition, shares four types of questions every small group should avoid in order to have a more meaningful time of learning together. You can read her full article, Four Types of Questions Not to Ask in Your Small Group Bible Study, on TheGospelCoalition.org. She writes,
“When people are gathered around the Word, discussing it together, there's an opportunity for a wealth of learning—both from the leader and also from one another.
Yet we've all experienced the awkward moment when small groups go silent. Teachers may have done their homework. They may know all the ins and outs of the theological landscape of the passage being studied. Yet something is missing.
What can make or break a small group time together often has less to do with what teachers know and more to do with what they ask.”
I couldn’t agree more. While it may be easier for a leader/teacher to spend the majority of the time lecturing, usually for fear of heretical theology or getting blank stares in response to questions, it’s better for the group as a whole to work through questions together. By asking and answering questions, it ensures that the group is growing not just in head knowledge but also in practical application.
The following four types of questions are guaranteed to stifle any small group discussion. As a leader make sure these don’t make the cut when coming up with study questions for this week’s small group session. As a participant, if you find that your small group suffers through these questions weekly, find a way to lovingly suggest a new format for discussion.
Here are four types of questions to avoid, as summarized from Melissa Kruger's blog:
1. Avoid questions that Captain Obvious can answer.
Captain obvious questions may be easy to formulate and answer, but they leave much to be desired. There’s certainly a time and a place for obvious questions, especially in personal Bible study, but your small group is probably not the best venue.
Whether in Sunday School, small group, or a larger Bible study you’ve likely heard a “captain obvious” question. They tend to be marked by long stretches of silence and averted eyes staring down at handouts. No one likes to state the obvious, especially if everyone already has the answer in front of them. There’s also a chance your audience may be wondering if this is a trick question, since the answer seems too obvious.
Another reason not to ask obvious questions of your small group is that it leaves very little room for discussion. Kruger provides an example:
Instead of asking, "Who are the three people Paul interacted with in the city of Philippi in Acts 16?" (limited answer: Lydia, a slave girl, and a jailer), it'll garner more discussion to ask, "Describe the three people Paul interacted with in the city of Philippi. What does the text us about their jobs, nationalities, and positions in society? Do you notice anything significant about their similarities or differences?"
2. Avoid questions with one-word answers…they only serve to disappoint.
Is there anyone in your life you’d like God to save? Here’s an example of a combo one-word/captain obvious question. First off the obvious answer is yes, unless you want everyone to stare at you rather than their handout, and secondly having one or more people respond “yes” doesn’t really further a discussion or allow room for application.
Instead of asking, "Are there people in your life that you consider beyond hope for coming to faith?" (limited answer: yes or no), perhaps ask, "What type of people do we often think might not be receptive to the good news? How does having that mindset affect your interactions?"
Questions that cause the participants to think first will open up the discussion and allow the audience to apply what you just read or taught.
3. Avoid questions that require scholarly answers—know the makeup of your small group.
If you’re expecting scholarly answers from the average small group attendee, you may be setting the bar a bit high.
What was the most common architectural housing style of the Ancient Near East? Please give me the definition in Greek. Point to Corinth on a map. What kind of battle gear did the Romans wear? Name all of the Jewish feasts in alphabetical order…
Remember that you’re teaching a small group, not a college survey of the Old or New Testament. Kruger explains,
For instance, while studying Acts 16 you may hear the crickets chirping when you ask, "What was the culture like in the city of Philippi?" Most people aren’t familiar with first-century Roman culture, and they probably can’t find the city of Philippi on a map. You'll invite a more interesting discussion if you go ahead and describe the cultural distinctions of Philippi and then ask, "In what ways is their culture similar or different than ours?"
Most participants will expect to learn biblical context and history from their teacher/leader, but once you explain the information you can ask a question that allows the audience to relate or compare something they do know.
4. Avoid questions that allow opportunities for TMI (Too Much Information) answers.
TMI answers can take your limited lesson time and send it far past the expiration mark; this usually means that you’ll end up keeping people longer or that you’ll only get to discuss one verse vs. one chapter. This may even cause some people not to return for fear that the 1-hour lesson will turn into 3 hours every time.
It may also mean that you’ll get an answer that leaves everyone feeling awkward rather than uplifted. Kruger relays,
Asking a question like, "Where are you struggling with sexual sin like David?" might lead to awkward silence or even more awkwardly, too many words (that can never be unheard). A more general way to think through an application on the same point is a question that acknowledges the struggle, and seeks to work through it: "In the church today, many are struggling with sexual temptation. What practices and habits can we put into place to help us to fight temptation?"
A good small group leader knows how to get the group back on track, and they know how to politely and lovingly cut into someone’s personal story that is not appropriate for the current discussion. A small group leader needs to be cognizant of whether a question is appropriate for mixed settings or not. If you notice lingering awkward silence, redirect the group with another question, and reevaluate next week’s questions.
For more on questions that invite the right kind of discussion check out Melissa Kruger’s blog on TheGospelCoalition.org, next week!
Crosswalk contributor Janet Thompson expresses,
“Sometimes members with difficult issues can dominate the entire meeting and that might be appropriate if someone is in an immediate crisis. But if this becomes a pattern, the leader/facilitator gently suggests that the member might benefit from speaking with pastors at the church or offer to talk privately and pray with him or her after the group.”
What types of questions do you find helpful or harmful as a leader or participant in a small group?
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Image courtesy: ©Thinkstock/DesignPics
Publication date: September 13, 2017
Liz Kanoy is an editor for Crosswalk.com.