Getting people to talk in Bible study or small group sessions is easier than you might think. If you’re genuinely eager to know more about people and you’re welcoming, members of a Bible study or small group are generally excited about talking and sharing their stories. But most people need the right openings to get started.
I’ll show you how to give prompts that get people talking freely. Here’s what and how to ask:
Ask three simple questions
This technique involves reading a short passage from the Bible and asking a few simple questions. Here are the questions:
- What does this passage tell us about God?
- What does this passage tell us about humans?
- How can we apply this passage to our daily lives?
These prompts allow people to talk without requiring them to divulge much about themselves. Interestingly, though, the responses often reveal great insight and deep relationship with Jesus. But even simplistic responses are relevant as they may help translate concepts into action items.
This method can be especially useful when you need a brief lesson to kick off an activity like a group run, fellowship outing, or service project. What I like about this approach is that not only do you get people to talk about things that matter, you train people (and remind yourself) to ask simple questions when doing Bible study at home.
Ask people to share experiences
People like to talk about themselves and their experiences, even if they’re otherwise hesitant to jump into a conversation during a Bible study or church activity. In a small group setting, questions about personal experiences as related to a scripture passage or lesson can give people opportunities and reasons to talk.
Let’s say you’re studying how the apostles in the early church encouraged each other. A few questions that could prompt people to share experiences are:
- Can you recall and describe a time when you were encouraged by a fellow Christian?
- Do you remember a time when you needed encouragement but didn’t receive it? Tell us about that.
- Do you seek people out to encourage?
Christians strive to integrate Biblical wisdom into their daily lives. This approach invites relevant discussion while also allowing people to connect their experiences with God’s work in their lives.
Ask open-ended questions that are easy to answer
Open-ended questions give people the opportunity to offer a variety of responses. Some questions are easier to answer for some folks than others, depending on what’s top of mind.
Questions like “Where do you need to honor God more in your life?” or “How can you be more like Jesus?” are excellent, open-ended, thought-provoking, spiritually-renewing ones. But unless you’ve been thinking about these for a while and feel very safe with group members, the answers may not be obvious immediately or sharable comfortably.
Don’t back away from hard questions. But consider starting with easy-to-answer questions. Responses can then lead people to consider weightier matters from an encouraging, hopeful, and inspired perspective.
For example, here are questions about trust in the early church (scripture references are Acts 9:1-31, Acts 11:1-18, and Acts 28:11-16):
- When the early Christians were prompted to take actions requiring trust, what did they do?
- How were they persuaded to trust each other?
These questions are relatively easy to answer. They’re also likely to stimulate thought about trusting God and trusting fellow Christians in ways that please God. This approach can allow group members to identify practical ways to trust God, which translates into honoring God. So, you may identify ways to honor God through “easy” conversations, rather than difficult ones.
Pose quirky questions
What scares you about leading a small group? What annoys you? What encourages you? What frustrates you? What do you think you’re doing right when you get people together? What makes you think you’re missing something?
Can you answer any of these questions? I’m sure you can. You may be eager to talk right now. If so, contact me at jr (at) working to live (dot) com.
Similarly, posing quirky questions within your small group or Sunday school class invites ready responses. Here are a few questions to ask about a passage from scripture or a lesson:
- What surprises you?
- What encourages you?
- What scares you?
- What do you find uncomfortable?
- What comforts you?
This approach shows you’re serious about having a genuine conversation that inspires honest discussion, fruitful exchanges of ideas, collaborations, reassurance, and encouragement.
Know your group members
If you know your group members, you can call on them for specific questions. The purpose of knowing people is to love them. But you can show your love and appreciation at the same time you get them more involved in conversations. What might be intriguing about someone:
- volunteer experiences
- knowledge of foreign cultures
- familiarity with church and community organizations
- knowledge of popular culture
- understanding of ancient cultures
You don”t have to put someone on the spot for a difficult, complex, or personal question. But they’ll likely welcome your curiosity about their expertise. Young, old, or in-between, we all have some great experiences or expertise to share (as learned from Two Old Women).
Show you’re listening
When group members feel heard, they’ll talk. Show you’re listening to get them going.
A common reason to get distracted from relationship-building may be expectations relating to covering specific content or ending a session on time. Reasonably, you may want to control the conversations and the length of discussions. But this stance can work against free-flowing conversations, particularly if group members think you’re paying more attention to the book or clock than to them. In these types of situations, you may need to extend conversations over multiple sessions, allowing you to maintain your schedule and focus while encouraging talk.
Show that you’re interested in cultivating relationships and following Jesus in community. People tend to respond in kind, wanting to share their lives with you and fellow group members.
This technique is appropriate and useful when group members aren’t saying anything. After asking a question or opening the discussion, wait a moment before jumping in. Then wait a few more moments and look at each of your group members individually. Notice whether anyone is starting to speak; if so, let him or her go first.
Then, if no one offers thoughts, go. Share your thoughts, your perspectives, your doubts, your hopes, your experiences, and your reflections related to the discussion prompt or question. Be honest and welcoming of further discussion. Phrases such as “what about you?” or “tell me about how you’ve dealt with this issue” can get others to follow your lead.
For more thoughts on going first, read my I”ll Go First articles.
Get People Talking Now
Try one or more of these suggestions at your next gathering to get people talking. Let me know how it goes — email me at jr (at) working to live (dot) com. I look forward to hearing from you.