Tag: discussion

Did that go how you thought it was going to go?

Ever start a discussion in small group, and find out 5 minutes into it that it’s headed a different direction than you intended it to go?

I have.  And part of me stresses out when this happens.  I could easily find a home in asking every single question in the book, getting the “right” answer, and movin on.  Not that I don’t value off-topic discussion, and discussions that take a while to work through, but I’m comfortable when things are neat and tidy.  Chaos and messiness are not where I thrive, though I would quickly acknowledge that those are a healthy part of a small group.  Creating, and not completely dispelling, tension, and leaving a bit of un-resolve in discussion is something I’m beginning to enjoy (and greatly value).

What do you do when your group veers off from your intended goal for the night?

A skilled small group leader knows:

1. When to follow the rabbit trail. Not all trails are bad.  Sometimes, meaningful discussion happens when the group goes off-script.  That rabbit trail could be exactly what God wanted you to talk about.  Knowing when to follow the trail is an on-the-fly skill that’s developed as you get to know your group at a personal, spiritual level, and as you spend time seeking the Lord on a consistent basis.

2. When to reign the discussion back in. Staying on a rabbit trail too long can cause frustration, and can cause the group to feel stalled out.  Some trails aren’t helpful, and need to be squashed before they become a hindrance to the group.

3. How to ask questions to help move the group forward. Understanding the heart behind a person’s somewhat off-topic question can help you, as the group leader, to know the right kind of questions and statements you need to make so that the group centers back on biblical truth.  Listening well, knowing people’s faith stories, and understanding the struggles and victories of group members will help you know the right kinds of questions to ask that will keep the discussion from stalling out.

4. How to find answers. Group leaders don’t have to have every single answer to every single question asked in small group.  But they do need to know how to find the answers, and how to utilizing people, books, websites, and other resources.   For questions that are singularly focused, humbly saying, “I don’t know the answer, but I’ll find it out” can be a great way to move the discussion forward.

5. How to involve the whole group in the discussion. Rabbit trails can often be so laser-pointed focused that the rest of the group feels alienated through the discussion.  A good group leader knows how to rephrase the question (or ask appropriate follow-ups) so that it resonates with the rest of the group, and gives them a chance to join in the discussion.

Do you have a person in your small group that seems to always bring up off-topic discussions?  How do you handle it?

What’s the funniest rabbit trail your group has gone down?

I’m a big Will Farrell fan.  Watch, and laugh, as he leads Mark Wahlberg down a path he didn’t intend.


Matt Chandler & Philippians

I’ve recently picked up a copy of Matt Chandler’s new small group study on the book of Philippians.  It’s published by The Hub (formerly song of solomon).

I have to admit: I’m a Matt Chandler fan.  I stumbled onto his podcast a few years back, and have really connected with his preaching.  He’s easy to follow, funny, and engaging.  And to top it all off…his sermons are biblically saturated.  He preaches expositionally in a way that isn’t boring, and if you’ve spent much time under an expository preacher, you know that I’ve just given a huge compliment to Chandler.  For some reason, I feel like I connect with Matt’s style better than I do other big-name preachers.  Needless to say, I was intrigued by this study.

But great sermons and great preachers don’t always translate well into small groups.


1. Chandler uses the same style of preaching in this video as he does on Sunday mornings. Like I said above, I have found it easy to connect with his preaching style.

2. There are very few questions. One of my critiques of Abide was that there were too many questions.  It’s easy to throw a plethora of questions into each week’s discussion.  The difficult part for writers (and editors) is choosing the best questions that draw out the most thoughtful, heart-searching answers.  They have limited themselves to a 10-question max, and the questions that they’ve presented are really on-point.

3. There’s very little required homework. I try to consistently encourage those in my small group to spend time daily with the Lord.  This curriculum gives them a natural place to start each day.  But the next week’s questions aren’t built upon the prior week’s homework…and that’s a good thing.  If you happen to miss a week, or get busy and don’t have time to look over the Scripture passage, you can just show up and immediately jump into the discussion.

4. “Diving deeper.” There’s a section each week that gives people the opportunity to go “deeper” in their own personal study of the passage.  I like when a curriculum gives flexibility to differing levels of spiritual maturity.

5. The memory verse. I’m not great at memorizing Scripture.  Ok…that’s a lie…let me try again.  I don’t try very hard to memorize Scripture.  But this study takes a verse from the passage that Chandler is preaching about, and encourages the group to memorize it.  I love how this study integrates the discipline of Scripture memory.

6. The Scripture passages are right there in the book. I like to take notes when I hear sermons, and having the Scripture passages right there in the book allows me to take notes right alongside the discussion questions that the group will be talking about.


1. The sermons are 30 minutes long. I’m not opposed to 30 minute sermons, but the problem that groups run into is that sermons of this length can eat into discussion times.

2. This curriculum is 12 weeks long. In my opinion, that’s too long.  If it doesn’t connect with your group, you could be stuck with it for quite a while.  But wait, you say…if my group doesn’t like it, couldn’t we just tank it and pick up another study??  Well… (see below)

3. It’s really expensive. The DVD set alone (3 DVDs) is $149.95.  That’s Beth-Moore-expensive.  I get it…Chandler and the team put a lot of time and effort into this series.  And it’s probably worth every penny.  But this price point keeps it out of a lot of people’s hands.

All-in-all, this is a great study.  I’ve gone back and read (in my personal study time) the book of Philippians, and have found a greater depth and richness to my study after having gone through this series.  This is really a 12-week immersion in the Bible.  You hear it preached.  You read it.  You memorize it.  You learn how to interpret/understand it a little better.  You discuss it.  You’re challenged to live it out.

Your small group needs to pick this study up.


Convergence, a review

Photo taken from http://www.allthingsconverge.com

I’ve just recently finished going through a new small group study called Convergence, published by Creative Trust.

This series of 7 studies is DVD-driven, with each study standing alone.  Here are the DVD studies available now:

Breaking the Ice: Learning to Share our Stories

Parenting: Helping Your Kids to Become Adults

Frustrations and False Gods: Living in a Fallen World

Heaven: Understanding God’s Plan and Our Hope

Marriage: Life after I Do

Personal Growth: Learning to Meet Life’s Demands

Each DVD features Donald Miller (author of Blue Like Jazz) facilitating a conversation with well-known, respected Christian authors or speakers about the challenges that Christians face while trying to integrate faith with real life.  Each DVD is a 3-4 week study.

There are some real strengths in these studies.


1. The videos are only 20 minutes long.  When DVD-based curriculum gets longer than that, it begins to infringe on discussion time.  20 minutes works.  It gives enough information to communicate an idea, but not so much that the group leader feels the need to squeeze discussion time.

2. There’s no cost to the group member. The only cost incurred is the DVD itself (which is a mere $15).

3.  Both the leader’s guide and the participant’s discussion guide can be found online for each study (by clicking HERE).  All you have to do is print it off, and you’re good to go.

3. There’s no real homework to be done from week to week. Instead of needing to spend hours pouring over the specific material (which can, by some, be seen as busy work), group members can show up and immediately jump into the conversation.  Don’t take this to mean that the studies aren’t challenging, or don’t require any work.  It just means that you won’t feel like an outsider in the discussion if you haven’t “done your homework.”  And though a homework-heavy study may be the right call for your group in some seasons, a homework-light study can be incredibly refreshing.

4. The questions are short, and elicit discussion. Some curriculum writers feel the need to control the answers of group members.  Their goal is not necessarily group discussion.  Rather, they want group members to parrot back a certain answer, which makes group discussion much cleaner and simpler.  But not necessarily more helpful.  Phrasing questions in a way that spurs discussion is incredibly difficult, and often leads to messier discussions, but I’ve had much greater fruit in those types of discussions than in the ones in which, realistically, there was only one “right” answer.

5. Don Miller is really good at interviewing/conversing. I picked up a copy of Free Market Jesus a while back, hoping that Don Miller’s sermons would be as impactful as his books.  [insert long, awkward pause] Don’s gotten much better in front of a camera.  He represents the “everyday Christian” really well, and seems to ask the “right” questions to spur the dialog with the person(s) he’s interviewing.

6. There’s a specific Scripture connected with each lesson. I’ll expand more in the following section.

Though there are great things about this curriculum, I’ve got a couple of cautions/suggestions.


1. They’re quite academic, which may keep some people on the outside. Though I’m a fan of Tremper Longman, I found the DVD’s that he’s a part of to be “heady.”  The content was solid, but if I wasn’t 100% engaged in every word, I was quickly lost.  In the future, making sure these discussions don’t spiral into a seminary-level conversation is something to look out for.

2. Scripture seems to be a secondary thought. Though I’m glad that there is a specific Scripture (sometimes 2) passage connected with each week’s study, I feel like there could be more.  If there’s a place for expansion, it’s here.  The videos each week don’t necessarily revolve around Scripture.  And I’m fine with that.  I’m not always looking for a sermon for my small group each week.  But when there’s not a passage targeted by the conversation that Don’s having, I would like (as a small group leader) to be able to draw from a deeper well of passages related to the topic at hand.

3. With a couple of the DVDs, I’m not sure how they would fit with my small group. They may be helpful for a group leader to go through on their own (e.g., “Breaking the Ice: Learning to Share our Stories).  Or they may be good for a side-discussion (e.g., “Frustrations and False Gods: Living in a Fallen World”).  I’m just not sure how well it would integrate into our small group.

Overall, I think these studies will be a great resource for small group leaders, and I’m going to recommend them to the small group leaders I shepherd.

Have you used these before?  What do you think?

Here’s a sample from one of the studies:

Convergence Promo – NEW from All Things Converge on Vimeo.


Small Group Success

I’m a small groups pastor, and part of my job is training up new small group leaders.  In addition to philosophical/theological/boring stuff that I talk about in new leader trainings, I give practical advice to help them make their small group a success (I know, I know, some of you would argue that good theology is always practical…don’t get all up in arms about my wording…you know what I mean).  Lots of this I learn because I lead a small group myself, and see group dynamics in action every week.  Part of this I learn through reading books.  Part I learn through reading blogs.  But this time, I want to learn from you.

Have you ever been in a small group?  How about a Sunday School class?  How about a Bible study with at least a few other people?  Still no?  Have you ever been a part of a group of guys from the office, just sitting around and talking?  (If you cannot answer “yes” to any of these questions, please close down your computer and get a real friend…j/k)  If so, you can help me out.

What makes a small group successful? We may all define the “win” differently based on our context and goals, but what is it that helps you to acheive the goals you are setting out to accomplish?  What can/should a small group leader do in order to be the best small group leader God is calling them to be?  Leave a comment and let me know two things that you have learned from being a part of a small group.  Your two answers won’t be comprehensive, but that’s ok.  Here are mine:

1. Make your small group “fun.”  If it’s not fun, people won’t come back.  You may have the most Biblical discussion that has ever happened in the history of the church, but if it’s boring, you’ll lose people the following week.

2. Open a discussion.  Give people a chance to voice objections, concerns, questions, and life experiences (and actually listen to their answers).  They’re a part of the story, too, you know?!?

Those are my two.  What do you think?


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