Small Group Facilitation Skills –

Four Facilitator Actions


A leader ACTS to facilitate discussions by


  • Acknowledging everyone who speaks during a discussion.  Even if several people speak at once, make sure to recognize each one.  Also, respond to laughter or a groan or a deep sigh – remember, 90 percent of communication is nonverbal.


  • Clarifying what is being said and felt.  Say, “Let me see if I understand what you are saying.”


  • Turning it back to the group by means of generating discussion – Don’t be the answer person.  Ask, “What do others of you think about what was just said?”


  • Summarising what has been said – Offer statements like, “So far it seems like we have been saying….” Or “Nancy, could you try to summarize the key components of the discussion so far?”





Another key to facilitating dynamic discussions is generating the right kinds of questions and offering appropriate responses.  Here are some guidelines for the kinds of questions ad responses that would help your group engage in meaningful, challenging discussions.



Opening Questions


Use an opening question to help the group warm up to each other, get to know one another better, and to let them hear their own voices. Opening questions are speculative and thought-engaging, preparing group members’ minds and hearts for the topic to be discussed.


You may want to broach the topic of discussion with a short, creative illustration or story that will answer the question, “Why do I want to discuss this topic tonight?”




“What do you look forward to as you grow older?”


“What is it that often drives us to fear intimacy with one another?  What can we do as a group to diminish this anxiety?”



Launching Questions


Knowing the goal of the discussion, the group leader prepares launching questions designed to generate group interaction and feedback.  These questions are typically designed to answer the question, “What do I know, what do I feel, what should I do?”




“What do we learn from seeing the obstacles Joseph faced and how we overcome them?”


“After hearing tonight’s discussion, we all agree that we are somewhat ‘stuck’.  What steps can we take to develop greater trust levels with each other?”


“What do you think was going through Peter’s mind at this time?”


Some questions do not necessarily launch discussion, but they do solicit responses and feedback.  There are two kinds of launching questions:  those that are leading and those that are limiting.



Leading questions usually produce a short answer.




“Would you be tempted in this situation?”


“Do you agree or disagree with this statement?”



Limiting questions indicate that you have a specific answer in mind.  They do not promote much discovery.  However, they can help clarify facts.




“What three commands do we find in this passage?”


“What two things does Paul say we must do?”



Guiding Questions


Even the most well-prepared leader will need to spontaneously guide discussion at times.




Rephrase the question:”You seem to be asking, ‘How can we develop trust as a group?’”


Personalize the questions: “How would you respond to Jesus if He asked you that question?”


Test for consensus or decision:  “Are we saying that everyone must obey this command?”



Summarising Questions


Summarising after a series of questions allows the leader to acknowledge group members’ contributions while maintaining biblical integrity and direction.




An affirming comment can be made with good eye contact and a smile by saying, “Thanks for sharing that” or “That’s a good point” or “Okay, that is a response worth considering; are there other thoughts as well?”


A summarising response might be, “So what we see in this passage is ….”



Application Questions


The goal of small group study is not just information but transformation.  The leader can help members apply what they have learned by asking application questions.




“What changes will you make this week as a result of our discussion tonight?”


“What difference does this make to you and me?”






How you and other members of the group respond to questions or statements will either foster or fizzle discussion.  Here are some tips on how to respond appropriately to questions or comments made by group members.



Affirming Responses


These responses acknowledge each person’s value.  They promote intimacy and openness.  Such responses send a strong signal to group members, telling them they have been heard, understood and respected.




“I understand this sharing is painful for you.  I am feeling very sad for the way you were treated by your boss this week.”


“Bob, I realise you want to talk, but it is important that we listen to what Steven has shared, and attempt to come alongside him during this critical time of decision for him.”



Participatory Responses


These responses invite others to join in the discussion.  They not only affirm a participant’s sharing, but also invite others to engage in the process.  Participatory responses do not isolate group members by shaming, embarrassing or lecturing them.




“How have others in the group dealt with grief you have experienced?”

“Sam, that was a terrific insight; could you share how you came to that realisation?”


“Bob has shared some deep feelings tonight.  How might others of you have responded to a similar confrontation at work?”



Paraphrasing or “Going Deeper” Responses


Para phrasing allows you to repeat the thoughts of others and enable them to share more deeply.  It summarises what has been heard and allows the group to explore personal feelings, thoughts and actions.




“June, if I heard you correctly, I believe you stated something similar to thaw Keri shared last week.  Do you share the same feelings as Keri on this matter?”


“That was a very painful episode in your childhood, wasn’t it, Greg?”  How did you deal with it?  How do you face it today?”


“It is exciting to be part of a victory like you shared, Sharon.  How does that impact your relationship with your husband, Scott?”


These kinds of responses – affirming, participatory and paraphrasing – will enable you to value your members while encouraging them to express feelings, thoughts and personal concerns.





The Dynamics Of Effective Listening


Active listening involves not only what you hear, but also what you say.  This means actively engaging with the person who is speaking, setting aside your personal agenda, and keeping yourself from distracting thoughts (particularly thinking about what you are going to say next!).  Here are some tips for active listening.


What you say


1.         Invite comments from the group


2.         Empathise with people’s emotions


3.         Explore their statements, seeking more information


4.         Clarify what has been said


What you hear


1.         Verbal:  the content of what is said.  Sometimes we are so interested in what we are about to say that we fail to hear the simple facts in a discussion.  As you listen, focus on people’s names, events, dates, and other specific information that is being shared.


2.         Nonverbal:  how the content is expressed.  Here you are listening for congruity; that is, do the nonverbal messages match the verbal messages?  Listen for this in three areas:

  • Facial Expressions– When someone says “I’m okay,” does their facial expression actually communicate “I’m a little sad”?
    • Tone of voice – Listen for tones of sarcasm, anger, sadness, enthusiasm, hesitancy, fear, etc.
    • Body movements and posture – Are arms and legs crossed and closed?  Are people fidgety or relaxed?  Does their posture indicate interest or boredom?  Remember, you can “hear” a lot just by watching people’s actions.





  • Donahue, B(2002). “Leading life-changing small groups”, Zondervan, p.114-118