Showing items filed under “Small Group Discussion”

Walking the Line of Unity in our Discussions

In 1956, Johnny Cash wrote what would become his first number one hit on the Billboard charts. The song was called "I Walk the Line" and it described how Cash attempted to balance all of the conflicting responsibilities in his life against a backdrop of temptation. The phrase 'walk the line' predates Cash and his song by many years, but it a perfect way to describe what we often do as Small Group leaders. 

We often say that the 'heart' of the Small Group meeting is the discussion time. This is for good reason--for it is here that people are able to share and debate what they have learned from their experience and study. The challenge for the leader or group facilitator is that sometimes the discussion crossed over into areas of the Bible that are a bit murky or opinions on it can become very personal. The question becomes how do you allow for healthy, god-honoring discussion time in your Small Group, while at that same protecting people's feelings and being true to scriptural teaching? Here are a couple of guidelines to help you:

  • Know What We Believe and Teach at Parkway

Every week at Parkway, people attend our church from a wide range of faith traditions and belief systems. We as a church have adapted a policy of unity around what we believe are the essential beliefs of our faith about God, Jesus Christ, The Holy Spirit, the Bible, human beings, salvation, eternal security, and eternity. These beliefs are available on our website by clicking here. While this list of beliefs is not exhaustive, we believe it represents the things on which we can agree and have unity.

  •  Protect Unity by Maintaining a Neutral Position

We want to promote unity at our church above anything else. In order to do this we have to make sure that we always look to take the high road of any discussion by extending grace and maintaining a moderate position. Some discussions will inevitably wonder into a place where it is very easy to take a hard and fast position on a doctrine. Among Biblical scholars there are a wide range of opinions on many doctrines and all of them have good arguments why they are right. Rather than pass judgement on them all, it is best to be respectful and take a neutral position to protect unity. In the end we want to protect relationships and the unity of our church, over 'winning the argument'. This can be difficult to do in our age of 'calling people out' and 'making your point'. But Christ's dying wish in John 17 was that his church would be 'one' and we must do everything in our power to protect unity.

  • Chose Relationships over Arguments

We join a Small Group to grow deeper in our faith through study, but we also join them to be around and learn from other Christ-Followers. Small Groups are first and foremost about people! We can't sacrifice the people and relationships that God has entrusted to us, for the sake of getting the last word in the discussion or converting people to our side. The discussion time of the group is designed to help people grow in their faith by giving them a safe place to talk about their beliefs and experiences. It is not the place to debate or argue with them about how their beliefs are wrong. At the end of the day, no one will remember the topic of discussion but they will remember if you loved them and are their friend. 

  • Avoid Certain Topics and Doctrines

If your group is finding itself continually pulled into a sidebar discussion each week, then as a group make an agreement that you are not going to 'go there'. Many Small Groups utilize a Small Group Covenant to help them put some guardrails in place for how the group is going to operate. Making a covenant with your group about what topics you might need to avoid or table for 'offline' discussion is a great way to help take the pressure of the leader in this area. You can download a sample covenant by clicking here to help get you started.

Walking this line as a leader is hard! Pray and ask for wisdom if you are struggling to balance this in your group. Reach out and ask for help from our Small Groups team. Remember that the end goal is growth, but not at the expense of unity and the fracturing of relationships.

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Driving your Small Group Discussion to Life Application

As leaders, we understand that the discussion is at the heart of the Small Group meeting. It's where we open the Bible and really delve into what it says about ____. The challenge often becomes we are so fixated on 'I learned this new insight' or 'I now know this key piece of Biblical knowledge from this passage' that we neglect to then ask how to apply it. 

Starting this week, we would like to challenge you to really drive home the application portion of your discussion time. If you use the James or Ezra-Nehemiah Bible based curriculum, we have made it really easy for you as there is a section on the discussion guide for application. Here are some ways that you can maximize that section:

  • Consider 'cutting out' some questions in earlier sections in order to leave sufficient time for the application section. This can be challenging as it is toward the end of the guide and can be quickly 'glossed over' as you are wrapping up. Planning to allot the proper time for reflection and sharing with the group can maximize it's impact and retention.
  • Challenge your group to share some specific examples of how they are are going to apply what the questions are challenging them to do. This drives the application home and makes it more meaningful and personal.
  • At next week's group meeting, take a few minutes at the beginning and ask the group how they did with applying what they said they were challenged to do. This will not only build accountability in the group, but can also help younger believers start to see the importance of applying scripture to their lives and not just learn it.

Focusing on the application of scripture to our daily lives can be very daunting and a bit challenging at first. But the reward is the impact that it can have on our spiritual lives. Plus, it is a huge part of why we have Small Groups! Isn't it much easier to apply the Bible's truth to your life when you are walking with others who are trying to do the same thing? Our prayer is that God will use this experience to really make an impact in the lives of the people who attend our Small Group and ultimately our world.

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7 Types of Questions to Ask in Group, Part 2

By Mark Shull, Director of Men's Groups at Buckhead Church

The following is part two of a a two-part series of posts from the group leader blog of North Point Ministries.

4. Summarizing
These questions draw the rest of the group into discussion after a member answers a question or expresses an opinion. Summarizing questions can also help a group go deeper by consolidating the ideas they’ve been discussing.

Example: Do you see some common threads between what you’ve said and what Ellen was saying?

5. Applying
These questions help the group make a connection between the material you’re discussing and their lives. Because growth is driven by the application of information and not information alone, applying questions are crucial in encouraging your group members to make the most of what they’re learning and discovering.

Example: Based on what we’ve talked about, what are some things you can do to resolve your conflict with your brother?

6. Reversing
Reversing questions pose a question back to the person who originally asked it. You don’t want to overuse reversing questions because they may become irritating or seem condescending. But used correctly and sparingly, reversing questions can help a group member think through a question rather than just rely on your answer. The more people think through a problem and come to their own conclusions, the more they own those conclusions. And people are more likely to apply a conclusion they own than those they’ve been told.

Example: That’s a great question. I don’t have a quick answer. What are your thoughts?

7. Relaying
Use relaying questions to turn a question you’ve been asked over to the group or to a specific group member. Relaying questions help a group to work through an issue rather than rely on you to provide answers. Again, they help build ownership among the group members. Relaying questions can also be used (carefully) to draw specific group members into the discussion.

Example: That’s a great question. I don’t know. What do you guys think?

Asking great questions is one of the most useful skills you can add to your leadership toolbox. It’s both strategically smart and relationally powerful. Most of us don’t do it well naturally, but it’s like a muscle: if you commit to exercising your question asking skills on a regular basis, it will get stronger

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7 Types of Questions to Ask in Group, Part 1

By Mark Shull, Director of Men's Groups at Buckhead Church

The following two-part article is from the Group Leader Blog of North Point Ministriesand it's all about the different ways that we can use questions to help our group members think about, process, and own their faith journeys.

The idea of asking questions instead of always offering answers seems simple, right? It’s easy to understand, but challenging to practice . . . especially when something difficult or controversial comes up in group. Asking good questions takes practice as well as an understanding of what makes a question good and what type of question to ask depending on what you’re trying to accomplish.

Over the next two weeks “leader tips” we’ll look at the seven types of questions you can use in your Small Group discussion. We’ll also break down when and why to use them. Here are the first three:

1. Launching
These are open questions used to kick off a discussion. They’re particularly helpful in setting the tone of a conversation and drawing all of your group members into the discussion.

Example: What are some ways other people’s words have hurt you?

2. Clarifying
These questions help guide your group toward accumulated facts by urging them to define, clarify, explain, or compare and contrast. Clarifying questions are particularly useful for bringing the group back on topic when they’ve begun to stray. They do so by prompting group members to think about the main topic in a new way.

Example: Can we back up for a second? What was going through your mind when he said that to you?

3. Follow-Up
These questions draw the entire group into a discussion after a single member has answered a question or expressed an opinion. Follow-up questions are great for helping group members connect through shared experiences or emotions.

Example: That’s really powerful. Thank you for sharing. Has anyone else ever experienced something like that?

Using launching, clarifying, and following-up questions require intentionality and a little practice. But making the effort can free your group discussions from routine and help the people you lead to grow in their relationship with Jesus.

Next week we’ll look at four more types of questions to ask in your Small Group discussion time.

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3 Reason to Value Conversational Settings

By Andrew Mason

In a content-driven information age culture, people can miss the value of sitting in a circle for the purpose of discussion. Most people don’t want to talk to a group of people or listen attentively to a handful of individuals. Others don’t care for either.

Acts 2:42 informs us that the early church was not only devoted to the Word (Apostles’ doctrine), prayer and breaking of bread; they were also devoted to fellowship or koinonia. Koinonia means, “to share.” I believe this forms the Biblical framework for group discussion. Scriptural fellowship is deeper than just a picnic or barbeque (however, informal gatherings like these can be some of the initial stepping stones towards achieving koinonia). I’ll explain this more towards the end of this post.

In order to appreciate the value of group discussion you have to understand how God uniquely blesses a dialogue in an interactive circle differently than He does a monologue in a large gathering. In light of this kingdom opportunity, conversational settings should be intimate (no more than 15 people), they should be in a fellowship-friendly environment (no loud noises or distractions) and they should always happen in the context of scripture, spiritual growth and love.

Here are 3 Reasons To Value Conversational Settings:

1. More oxygen for relationships to breathe. A conversational setting creates the opportunity for me to learn more about each person in the group. I love preaching, but I’ve always become more acquainted with someone else’s life and journey in a small group. Instead of a 30-40 minute teaching, a small group is engaged with questions. People are stretched to open up and listen attentively.

In a day of too much technology and crowded loneliness, people have placed a premium on being known. Conversational settings can make someone who is lonely into someone who is loved. In these times, to be known is to be transformed

2. Evangelism muscles are exercised. In Transformational Groups by Stetzer and Geiger, their research concluded that people who attended groups shared their faith more than people who did not attend groups. They stated the following, “…those involved in groups tend to spend more time thinking and discussing biblical and spiritual matters.”

Think about this: In a typical church service, an attendee is listening 100% of the time during the message. In a conversational setting, a participant is listening AND contributing.

The more a person engages in discussion, the more they will cultivate their language of faith. The more their faith language is exercised, the more natural it is for them to share their faith with unbelievers!

People need to be talking more about what they believe. They need to hear themselves as well as other believers who aren’t necessarily pastors or preachers.

3. Transparency is increased. Another finding from Transformational Groups was that regular group attendees are more diligent in confessing sins and wrongdoings. To put it another way, living in community with other believers brightens the light of the Holy Spirit in one’s life.

This shouldn’t be surprising because this is exactly what the Bible describes as fellowship: But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7).

Conversational settings not only create the conditions for vulnerability, I believe they unveil more light into a believer’s soul. Listening to the faith, the testimonies, the struggles and the perseverance of other Christians, allows areas of darkness to be exposed at a very close and personal level.

Obviously, there are many other benefits to conversational settings that I have not listed here, but I feel strongly that the three mentioned above – relationships, evangelism and transparency – are foundational to our motivations in group life.

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