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February 2, 2015

Keys to a Great Discussion (Part 2/2)

by Matt Ulrich

discussionThe key to a great discussion does not always have to do with the actual discussion.  It is usually on point because of the environment that the leader creates that makes it memorable and good.  Here are a few tips on how to set the tone and make what can be a very bland and mundane Bible conversation into a vibrant discussion:

1. Mix It Up

Nothing is worse than having a group discussion where 15 people are present and only 3 people are talking.  What a bummer for the rest of the group!  But this is the normative course of many microchurch discussions; the leader and two other people who either just like to hear themselves talk or love to debate hog the proverbial mic, thereby giving everyone else the freedom to check out and not pay attention.  Or even if they want to jump in, they can’t sometimes!  So here’s are a few ways to create a good environment:

  • Smaller groups = Maximum interaction.  A great way to get everyone talking is to break your microchurch into smaller groups of 3-4.  Ask your most important question and then say, “Let’s break out into groups of 3-4 and answer this question.  You have five minutes!”  After five minutes is up, have everyone come back and give a one minute summary of what was said and the Scripture they used to back up what they found.  This way, everyone is interacting with the most important questions you want people to wrestle with.  (This is a great way to engage introverts!)
  • Direct your questions.  Another way to ensure that the conversation does not get dominated by a small handful of over-zealous conversationalists is to direct your questions to those who have not spoken up yet.  Saying things like, “Now let’s hear from someone who hasn’t spoken up yet” or “Let’s hear from someone on this side of the room” (i.e. the side that the talker is not on).  This helps diversify the conversation.
  • Change your venue.  Every now and then, it is good to meet in a new environment.  Be creative!  If you are reading through the Psalms and talking about the majesty of the Lord in creation, then go out and stargaze one night while having your discussion to bring the Scriptures to life.  Or if you are talking about helping the homeless in your community, have a discussion under an interstate overpass.  Changing an environment can be a powerful tool in driving home your point!

2. Keep the Outliers in Check

There are going to be difficult personalities that come through the door and make reigning the conversation in difficult, but there are ways to help waylay their attempts to highjack the discussion and keep everyone on track.  Here are a few:

  • Vision Casting: If you are blunt, then state your expectations at the beginning of the microchurch.  An example of this would be, We value people and want everyone to interact by allowing good discussion. If you love to talk, please limit your comments to five minutes or less. Be mindful of others and allow everyone a chance to speak up. We want our microchurch to be a place where everyone feels the liberty to be heard and has a chance to be.
  • The Redirect: As the leader, there are going to be times when you simply have to jump in and stop someone midstream… because there is sometimes no end in sight!  A good way to interrupt is to say, “Hey, that is a great point but what about this?”  This type of approach helps you to curb the rabbit trail and get the discussion back on track.
  • The Straight Up Approach: Sometimes you are going to need to pull them aside after microchurch and explain what they are doing and how it is affecting the group. Honestly, some people are unaware of how they controlled the discussion. Affirm them in what they are doing well and explain how you are trying to get the other people in your microchurch to open up more. Suggest that they not answer every question to allow others to speak.

Whatever you decide, make sure that you are guarding the discussion by being proactive in creating the right atmosphere as well as ensuring that everyone is actively engaged.  Trust me, it is worth the effort!

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