How to Facilitate a Group at the Last Minute
By Scott Hughes
I told you curriculum was overrated!
You have likely been in the following situation: the teacher for one of your adult classes or small groups is late. No one from the group can get in touch with him or her. No one else feels comfortable leading the group. That leader also has the leader’s guide. In desperation, all eyes of the class are fixed on you. What do you do? Cancel the class? Go out to eat? Start sharing the latest gossip? (Don’t do that!)
What if I told you that it is easier to facilitate a meaningful conversation than you realize? There are several tricks or techniques that will not only help you manage this situation but will also give you tools to guide the group well. In fact, I think this will demonstrate just how overrated curriculum is.
Three Guiding Questions
My go-to in this situation was developed by Dick Murray decades ago. The core of this technique involves three simple questions that you can easily expand. I really like the focus of the questions, which keep the conversation from descending into “What does this passage mean to me?” which is not helpful for the group.
- Step 1: Pick a passage of scripture. While any passage might do, it’s best to pick a scripture passage that was used in worship recently or will be used in an upcoming worship service. Another option is to pick a passage related to the current topic the class is studying. A great benefit of this technique is that any passage of scripture will work.
- Step 2: Read the passage at least once. One option is to have the passage read by each person silently before having the passage read for the whole group. Another option is to have several readers read the passage from different translations.
- Step 3: Ask the group, "What do we learn about God from this passage?"
- Step 4: Ask the group, "What do we learn about us/humanity from this passage?"
- Step 5: Ask the group, "What do we learn about our relationship with God from this passage?"
Allow all the participants an opportunity to respond to each question. Ask probing questions about how they arrived at their responses. The facilitator can also add a fourth question, "Where do you feel God guiding you (or us as a group) based on this passage?" Additional questions might include: "Where do you see yourself in this scripture? What about this scripture challenges you?"
Another option would be to lead the group in a lectio divina style of reading scripture. A few words of wisdom before choosing this option: Unfortunately, because of the way most people are familiar with reading scripture (focused on the meaning of the passage), using a lectio divina style of reading scripture can seem weird, over-spiritualized, or even wrong. It is worth explaining that this way of reading scripture is not new, that is has been used by Christians for many generations, and it is used by Christians from a wide range of denominations. This way of reading is not in contrast to other ways of reading Scripture but builds on them. This way of reading might make readers uncomfortable because it asks readers to listen for God’s voice for them (instead of the familiar question, "What does this mean?").
There are lots of resources that explore this method of engaging scripture. Some resources for additional exploration:
- "Lectio Divina: Praying the Scriptures" – clear, short, easy-to-follow information from the Upper Room
- Companions in Christ: The Way of Scripture
- Creating a Life with God: The Call of Ancient Prayer Practices by Daniel Wolpert
- Gathered in the Word: Praying Scripture in Small Groups by Norvene Vest
- Praying the Scriptures: An Introduction to the History and Practice of Lectio Divina by Chris Barbieri
Visual Faith Cards
Another option is to use visual faith cards (this has changed some since I used this method). I have used these images in a variety of settings, from trainings, to meetings, to grief groups, and traditional Bible studies. Since the images tap into more of our imagination, conversations shift from content-focused to more personal and subjective conversations (in a good way). You can find a lot more information on how to use these cards on the visual faith website.
Here are some of the ways I have used the cards. One of the best features is that the system is easy to use and customizable. The Visual Faith Project provides the images, the scripture, and the reflection questions. These can be used as one-offs or as a series.
- Step 1: Have participants choose one of the images.
- Step 2: Read the passage of scripture at least once.
- Step 3: Use one or more of the questions to guide the conversations.
(I have been known to switch steps 1 and 2.)
One best practice is to have the facilitator or leader go first to model how long responses should be.
Click here for more information on the use of visuals.
Click here to see a sample or to purchase the 52 Visual Faith Experiences.
What other techniques would you offer if you had to lead a group without the guidance of a curriculum resource?
Scott Hughes is the Executive Director of Congregational Vitality & Intentional Discipleship, Elder in the North Georgia Conference, M.Div. Asbury Theological Seminary, D. Min. Southern Methodist University, co-host of the Small Groups in the Wesleyan Way podcast, creator of the Courageous Conversations project, and facilitator of the How to Start Small Groups teaching series.