Teaching Tip: How many questions is enough?

Over the past three years I’ve shifted my teaching philosophy to one that is healthier than I had adopted discussionin the past. To my shame, I used to view teachers who were on my “teaching faculty” in the churches I served as the real experts, people who studied and then dispensed information through well-prepared, sometimes creative Bible studies. Most of the time that meant that teachers talked a lot through the use of lecture – after all, they’d learned a lot during the week and were in a position to tell others what they learned.

Now that I’ve taught a Bible study group myself for three years, I see the weakness of that philosophy. It’s not that lecturing is bad (Jesus lectured, right?) but it’s bad if it’s overused or used all the time. Today, I’ve learned to guide discussion, and it’s changed my philosophy of what teaching should be. I’m a more balanced teacher today than I’ve ever been. I still lecture from time to time, but on most Sundays I’m trying my best to incorporate a few of the 8 learning approaches, especially discussion questions. No longer do I have to do all the talking in the group – that is now the responsibility of my group members. I simply use well-crafted discussion questions that get at the heart of the Scripture and that drive home the main point of each Bible study. But the question remains, “How many discussion questions are enough?” The answer to this might surprise you.

Just how many questions do you really need?

My friend Sam O’ Neal authored the book titled Field Guide for Small Groups. Sam is a great writer and editor, and has much wisdom to share with group leaders. In one section of the book, Sam says the following about crafting discussion questions:

Here’s an important piece of advice: Don’t try to incorporate too many questions into your final plan. A good rule of thumb is to write between five and ten questions for every hour your group will spend in discussion. That may not seem like enough, but think about it – answering ten questions  in a period of an hour means that each question would only receive six minutes of attention from the entire group. It’s much better to explore the most important questions deeply than to take a shotgun approach and try to cover a whole spread of questions in a shallow way.

I absolutely affirm Sam’s recommendation here. He and I work together on a team that creates Bible studies in the Bible Studies For Life series from LifeWay Christian Resources. We have discovered that five discussion questions, if they are well-crafted, are absolutely plenty for a group leader to use in guiding a 45-minute Bible study. I teach that curriculum each week, and I can honestly say that I’ve never finished a study in less than the allotted 45 minutes! I was skeptical at first, thinking that 5 questions weren’t enough, but I was wrong – they are plenty. The curriculum now has 3 extra questions per session for a total of 8, but I rarely need any more than 5 good discussion questions.

If you’ve been taking a shotgun approach as you’ve tried to pepper your group with 10-20 questions (I know group leaders who attempt this), try cutting back to just a few really well-designed, open-ended discussion questions. Give your group members time to think and respond to the questions, and watch discussion take off in your group.

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3 thoughts on “Teaching Tip: How many questions is enough?

  1. Hi Ken,
    I agree. I don’t believe there is anything wrong with having more questions. What is important is to have quality questions that encourage discussion and to prioritize those questions and only use the ones needed during the meeting that produce the needed discussion/discovery. Do not feel pressured to ask more questions just because they exist. Last week I had 8 questions prepared. I only used 3 of them because of the terrific discussion that took place (confirmed by feedback I received from members in the past few days).

  2. Hi Ken,

    We too have adopted the discussion questions method for our adult Bible study class and my experience matches your recommendation. Another key point is that the questions need to be provided to the class members ahead of time to allow them to give ample thought to them. In our case, I email the questions to the class members each Tuesday for the upcoming Sunday. I try to have a couple where the answers are short and sweet and can be answered easily by those who read the personal study guide – or whatever resource we are using at the time. In addition, I have 5 or 6 application questions that require some thought. Sometimes the questions are those that the lesson writer provided, but sometimes I choose to use my own questions or those that I find in “Google Land”.

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