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.