Tuesday Teaching Tip: 4 ways to get control of your group

It happens. Full-group discussions can often degenerate into awkward moments when one or two people dominate the discussion or take it down a road you never intended. What do you do in order to regain some control? Here are three ways to wrestle control away from dominant group members:

  1. Change the way people participate – if you sense things are getting out of control, simply change the way people are able to respond. Move from full-group discussion and quickly place people in pairs or triads to diffuse the influence of the dominant person.
  2. Communicate nonverbally – move closer to the difficult person, make eye contact, flatten your hand and move it from left to right, or make a “T” signal with your hands (signaling “time out”). Signal that it’s time for the discussion to end and for the group to move on.
  3. Poke fun at yourself – use humor to diffuse the difficult situation by saying something like, “I guess I’m the only one not getting it…” or “That just went over my head.” Don’t make fun of the participant, but take a poke at yourself as a means of relieving the tension and allowing for a time to move the discussion in a different direction.
  4. Extend an invitation – when a group member leads the group down a dark path of discussion, simply say, “That’s an interesting take on this topic – I’d like to hear more at our break that’s coming up. Let’s visit for a few minutes.” Then move on and change the discussion or move on to another activity.

Don’t take things personally. Sometimes people act out because they are hurting or feel very passionately about a particular topic. It’s not you, so try not to be defensive. Just learn to manage the discussion-stealing people in your group. The whole group will thank you for it!

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Would you attend a single-gender group?

Today’s post, like those on Mondays, is taken from a book on Sunday School, small groups, or another book on church leadership. The thought for today comes from the book Transformational Class by David Francis. Click here to get the free ebook.

Would you organize your Bible study groups according to gender? David has some thoughts and experience to share with us:

There’s an emerging trend that merits consideration in the people-grouping conversation. After decades in which coed classes dominated the scene in Sunday morning classes and weekday small groups, single gender classes are making a comeback.

And not just among adults! One of the most consistently effective student ministries I know of has organized all its classes – both middle and high schoolers – for girls and boys. In fact, because of tremendous growth coupled with lack of space, this thriving student ministry new meets in a school building…tables are arranged by grade and gender and facilitated by a teacher of the same gender.

What do you see as the advantages and disadvantages of aligning your Bible study groups around the gender of the participants?

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Tuesday Teaching Tip: Encourage Learning Outside the Group Experience

Your Bible study doesn’t have to be the culmination of the learning experience – it can become the 15279947961_40217eb213_zstarting point of a journey. Most Bible studies are designed to provide a complete and satisfying experience in the time allotted. However, savvy group leaders will encourage group members to learn beyond the group’s study experience. Learning outside the group experience can be meaningful, challenging, and stimulating to adult learners.

To encourage your adult group members to stretch themselves and continue learning, choose one of these options:

  1. Before you lead the Bible study, come prepared to hand out an assignment that has simple step-by-step instructions. This assignment is to be accomplished by group members after the study is over, but before the next time the group officially meets.
  2. Ask for a volunteer to provide a mini-lecture on a subject that is related to the Bible study you’ve just completed. Give the person until the next time the group meets to research the subject, pen their thoughts, and provide an interesting presentation about the assigned topic.
  3. Challenge group members to select an application step (found either throughout or at the end of most Bible studies). The next time your group meets, follow up before pressing forward with the new Bible study. Call for volunteers to share what they learned as they applied portions of the last Bible study to real-life situations.
  4. After your Bible study, email participants with an additional question or a challenging assignment you want them to complete prior to your group’s next gathering.

The possibilities for learning outside the classroom are limited only by your own creativity!

 

Tuesday Teaching Tip: Arrive early and do a “pre-flight check”

Tuesday’s teaching tip is about time – arriving early to your Bible study group if you’re the leader. How 1c573c8early should you arrive? I like to arrive at least 20 minutes before the start of any Bible study I lead. If I wait until almost time for the study to start and then arrive, I’ll end up scurrying around, distracted and dazed as I try to set up for the Bible study, while at the same time carry on conversations with early arrivers. Even worse, if a guest shows up early (which they always seem to do) I won’t have any time to devote attention to them.

If you arrive 20 minutes early, you can do all of the following as a “pre-flight check” and be ready for your the first person to arrive:

  1. Check the room arrangement and rearrange it if necessary.

    105300224_cd20521afb_b
    Pilots always arrive early and complete a pre-flight check
  2. Turn on and double-check any A/V equipment like TVs, DVD players, computers, tablets, etc.
  3. Check the room temperature – if it’s too hot or cold, people’s attention will be distracted.
  4. Place a nametag on each chair, and a black Sharpie marker in every third seat.
  5. Set up any displays, posters, etc., that you are using as visual aids.
  6. Go to the restroom.
  7. Make some coffee and set out some snacks.
  8. Set out a stack of extra Personal Study Guides for potential guests to use.
  9. Pray!
  10. Greet the first early arriver with a smile, a handshake, and an clear, uncluttered mind!

4 Kinds of Questions That Kill Discussion

Today’s blog post is taken from a book written by a friend of mine, Sam O’ Neal. Sam currently servesfield-guide as an editor on the Bible Studies for Life team at LifeWay. Bible Studies for Life is the world’s best-selling Bible study curriculum, and Sam is lending his immense talents to the all-adult version used by hundreds of thousands of people each week.

Prior to coming to LifeWay, Sam wrote a book for small group leaders. I highly recommend it, and you can follow this link to it at Amazon. The title of his book is Field Guide for Small Group Leaders, and you need this one in your teacher library!

Sam discusses several kinds of questions that will kill discussion in your group. Don’t use these, please! Here is what Sam has to say:

There are several different kinds of questions that can kill almost any discussion in just about any small group. I’ve listed some of the most common below.

Idiot questions. These are questions that have extremely obvious answers – so obvious that only an idiot could get them wrong. Unfortunately, many small group leaders are fond of these types of questions…the reality is that people aren’t comfortable giving an answer to an obvious question. Here are a couple of examples:

  • What do we put in the mouths of horses to make them obey us?
  • Is it true that no human being can tame the tongue?

Unreasonable questions. These questions fall at the opposite end of the spectrum in that their answers are unreasonably complicated or obscure. These are questions that no one in the group will be able to answer unless they speak Greek or Hebrew or have access to biblical commentary…For example, “How would a first-century interpretation of the word tongue impact our understanding of this passage?”

Long-winded questions. Here’s an example of a long-winded question: “How do verses 11-12, which are rhetorical questions – a common literary device used in James’ day – impact our understanding of the principle outlined in verses 9-10?”

Compound questions. Compound questions are a variation of long-winded questions…group leaders will sometimes stack three or four questions together, rapid fire, when those questions address a similar subject. What usually happens in these situations is that someone will answer the last question in the series, and the preceding questions will largely be ignored.

If Sam has piqued your interest, you might consider picking up a copy of his book. But now you’re warned! There are at least four kinds of questions that will kill discussion in your group – just avoid them!

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3 requirements for shepherd-teachers

shepherd and sheep
A shepherd and his sheep

Although the spiritual gift of shepherd-teacher is not a requirement of guiding a Step 2 group, it sure helps. Paul listed a distinct gift of teaching (see Romans 12:7). Those with the teaching gift generally prefer standing before a large group – the bigger the better – as compared to those with the gift of shepherding, who prefer sitting among a smaller group.

We can think of three requirements of shepherds in the Bible, and those same requirements are still in effect today for those of us who lead Bible study groups:

  1. Love for the sheep. Sheep were not typically raised for their meat in Bible times, but for their wool and milk. A flock might be less than twelve sheep, and the shepherd would be with them constantly for the majority of their natural lives. Shepherds usually named their sheep, knew their personalities, and called them by name. As shepherds of God’s people, how much more should we know our people’s names, their stories, their needs, and how God is transforming them?
  2. Constant vigilance. David fought off bears and lions in his role as a shepherd (I Samuel 17:34-37). Predators like wolves, jackals, and hyenas were a constant menace to shepherds, as were robbers. A shepherd had to remain on guard constantly. Likewise, you must remain constantly on guard for the things that harm your group members. Always ready to fight for them. Always on the lookout for the Evil One and his schemes that destroy lives.
  3. Sense of stewardship. Shepherds were not the owners of the sheep, but were stewards for an owner. As such, they were accountable for each of the sheep in their care. Perhaps this is why a shepherd would risk his life to rescue a sheep (or its remains) from the mouth of a wild animal (Amos 3:12). The shepherd was responsible for the life of each of the sheep entrusted to him. As shepherds, we are entrusted with God’s precious people, and we should have a strong sense that we are responsible to God for them. The members of your group belong to Him. You’re the shepherd.

Today’s post was an excerpt from the book 3 Roles For Guiding Groups (p.22) that David Francis and I co-authored. You can get copies 3 ways:

 

Here are some final thoughts on how to be a better shepherd teacher:

  • Spend more time with those you teach.  Shepherds could tell you all about the sheep they tended. Can you do the same with the people in your Bible study group? If not, the first thing you might want to do is to intentionally set aside time to get to know them.
  • Accept your role as a steward. The people you teach are just temporarily yours. They belong to God, not to you. Recognize that everything is for a season, and that the people in your group are going to advance and move on to another class. Release them. See them as God’s sheep, not yours. And certainly don’t adopt a mindset that believes the people are yours – they aren’t – they belong to Jesus.
  • Stand guard. If you sense that someone in your group is going to harm themselves or others, it’s your job to step up and step in. Be constantly vigilant and on the lookout for Satan’s scheming presence in the lives of those entrusted to you by your church.

7 Signs a Person is being Assimilated into a Group

In my last blog post I discussed whether or not Sunday School is still a viable way to assimilate people signsinto groups and into the larger church family. The answer is a resounding “yes.” This would most likely apply to a church of small groups, too. Whether you use on-campus or off-campus groups as your primary place for Bible study, those groups can be instrumental in the assimilation process. But is there a way to tell if a person is really being assimilated into the life of your group and your church? I believe the answer is “yes.”

Signs are all around us. They give us important information about our surroundings. They keep us out of harm’s way. They are designed to help us.

There are 7 signs (actually 7 questions!) that help indicate whether or not a person is being assimilated into your group and into your church family. These signs are intended to give you the right information about members of your group so that you can take the necessary steps to help them assimilate into your group and church as easily and effectively as possible:

  1. What is their attendance pattern? – How faithfully does the person attend the group’s studies? 25%? 50% 75% Higher? Low attendance normally indicates a lower level of assimilation.
  2. How often do they attend worship? – Same as above!
  3. Are they inviting others to the group? – A person who is being assimilated is normally excited about their new group or new church home. Are they inviting people to the group’s study, or to the church’s weekend worship services?
  4. Are they making friends? – Is the person fitting in with the group, or do they seem to be on the fringe of relationships? Do you see them or hear about them going to lunch with people from the group? Are they spending time with people over coffee or a meal? Do they take the initiative and invite fellow group members into their world?
  5. Are they engaged in the Bible study? – Is the person participating in discussions and activities when the Bible study takes place, or do they seem uncomfortable, bored, or overwhelmed? Do they appear like they really want to be there?
  6. Do they attend fellowships of the group? – When the fun begins, are they in or out?
  7. Are they involved in a ministry? – When the work of the group begins, are they shoulder-to-shoulder with the rest of your people, or do they give excuse after excuse for not participating in ministry to others?

If you find yourself answering a lot of these questions with a “no,” it’s time to reach out to to the person who isn’t being assimilated. They may need a little extra TLC from you as a group leader. Just don’t ignore them – they are your responsibility as leader of the group!

As I continue these blog posts on assimilation, I’ll move into actions a Bible study group can take to more effectively assimilate people. I hope you’ll stay with me and continue to benefit from these discussions about assimilation!

Shoulder to shoulder,

Ken