Imagine a small group leader asking a group for their opinions. Imagine the people giving their various answers. And then, imagine the group leader reacting to their opinions by saying, “No … that’s not what I’m looking for … any other thoughts?” How many “other thoughts” do you think would be offered? Not many.
In case you are wondering, I didn’t make up this scenario. I actually saw a discussion leader ask a question, receive an answer and then say, “No … that’s not what I’m looking for.” He continued to give this response to several answers, and I watched the group become quieter and quieter. In fact, after a while, only those with the courage to guess what he was “looking for” continued to respond until, finally, we all stopped, because it was clear to us that these were not really discussion questions. They were test questions.
In a small group, turning our discussion questions into test questions usually shuts down participation. Tests put people on the defensive. They are afraid they might give the “wrong” answer and look foolish. And so, they become silent.
How different is a relaxed, open environment, where people feel free to explore, to think out loud, to share their opinions, doubts and even their confusion. This kind of atmosphere encourages people to consider new ideas, to examine their own lives, and even consider changes in their life-style.
And so, in addition to the factual questions from the biblical text, be sure to also ask the group members a completely different kind of question:
What do you think? (Only they know their thoughts)
How does this make you feel? (Only they know their emotions)
What would you do? (And you must really want to know)
With which part of the story do you identify?
What do you think this story teaches?
In all of these questions, you are asking for something you genuinely did not know before the group session began. And you ask these questions, not to pass or fail a “student,” but to hear and understand the thoughts, insights, and emotions of your fellow group members.