epic small group discussion, how to lead a small group

How to Lead a Small Group Discussion

By Doug Franklin May 27, 2018

Have you ever struggled leading a small group? Check out these tips for leading a small group discussion.

A large percentage of our programming time is dedicated to small groups. The point of small group discussion is to foster discipleship, but that doesn’t always happen. Blank stares, side conversations, and questions that seem to kill discussion….those seem to be more along the lines of our weekly small group experience.

So how do we get our small groups to work? What does it take to lead an epic small group discussion where students are actually learning?

How to lead a small group discussion

1. Start with relationship building

Students want to learn from people who care about them; they want to be discovered and known. Students can learn facts and figures from people they don’t know, but for something deeper like faith, it needs to come from someone willing to build a relationship. The key to discovering a student is asking questions. Begin by asking about their friends at school or their favorite sports team, and then dive into questions that get at students’ hopes, fears, struggles, and dreams. A meaningful relationship is what lays the foundation for how to lead a small group discussion.


2. Ask follow-up questions

“Right answers” kill discussion. Most times when you pose an initial question to students they’re mainly concerned with giving the “right” answer. They just want to make sure they don’t look dumb. So we can’t rely on our initial question to get a conversation going; it’s our follow-up question that counts in how to lead a small group discussion.

“We can’t rely on our initial question to get a conversation going; it’s our follow-up question that counts.”

Whether a student’s answer is wrong or right, we should immediately encourage the student with, “Good answer.” That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t correct misconceptions. But students have to feel comfortable taking risks, even if they aren’t 100-percent sure of the right answer. Then, immediately ask a follow-up question so the student can verbalize what their answer means. A few good follow-up questions are, “What does that mean to you?” “How does that look in your life?” and “How would you live that out?” They are meant to get students thinking or help students internalize their answers.

Learn more about the Secret to Asking Students Great Questions.


3. Share your story

Our personal stories are one of our greatest tools to lead a small group discussion. Our experiences—even our bad decisions and past mistakes—point to God’s mercy and forgiveness. Our stories demonstrate God’s ability to work in and through broken individuals. And it’s our vulnerability that encourages students to be vulnerable. When we share, they share. And then we’re well on our way to leading a great small group discussion.


4. Don’t Skip Applications

The rubber meets the road when we ask students for life applications, but no small group discussion can be considered epic if life change isn’t taking place. Great applications answer the questions “Who? What? Where? When? How?” The application of “I want to love my younger brother more” becomes “I will make a snack for my younger brother when he gets home from school on Wednesday.” Specific and measurable applications give students ways to put their faith into action. By taking the time to ask about students’ applications later on, we can see for ourselves if a lesson made an impact. If the student follows through, we know that transformation is taking place; if they don’t, we have another opportunity to find out why.

Small groups can (and do!) foster discipleship but only when we’re intentional. Start with relationship building. Ask follow-up questions. Be prepared to share your story, and don’t skip over the application section. You may not get everything right all at once, but don’t settle for anything less than epic.

And if you’re interested in training up your adult volunteers how to lead a small group discussion, check out the LeaderTreks Discipleship Model and Growing Small Group Leaders

About the Author

Doug Franklin

Doug Franklin is the president of LeaderTreks, an innovative leadership development organization focusing on students and youth workers. Doug and his wife, Angie, live in West Chicago, Illinois. They don’t have any kids, but they have 2 dogs that think they are children. Diesel and Penelope are Weimaraners  who never leave their side. Doug grew up in…  Read More