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: 7 ways to divide your group

From time to time you may need to divide your group into smaller groups for the purpose of more fully engaging them in the Bible study. Here are a few ways you can divide them:

  1. By birthday – ask your group members to line up according to their birthday, then group them in triads or quads.
  2. By height – ask group members to line up from shortest to tallest, then group them in triads or quads.
  3. By weight – just kidding! Don’t do this one.
  4. By numbering off – ask group members to number off 1-2-3. Group all the 1’s together, 2’s together, etc.
  5. By alphabetical order – line up your group members by first or last name.
  6. By the color of shoes they are wearing (or type of shoe)
  7. By gender. This will create all-guy groups or all-girl groups.
  8. By eye color.

You get the idea! There’s a lot of ways you can group up your people. Be creative! How many other ways can you think of?


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Teaching Tip: Sit Down to Invite Conversation

Today’s teaching tip is for leaders of student and adult groups. We need to learn something from our counterparts who guide the Bible studies in preschool and kids’ groups. Those group leaders know how important it is to sit among their learners.

If you are an adult or student leader who typically stands in front of your Bible study group while you teach, you can change the dynamics of your group by simply placing a chair next to the area in which you teach. Taking a seat during a Bible study communicates several important things:

  1. You’re on their level – Truth be told, believers are on a spiritual growth journey – none of us “has arrived.” We strive to be spiritually mature, and when a teacher stands over his or her learners, it may inadvertently communicate that he is superior. Why are judges’ benches higher than all other furniture in a courtroom? Because elevation communicates superiority. Sitting down communicates that you’re one of the group. A peer. A fellow sojourner. Let your group know you identify with them, and take a seat from time to time.
  2. You want to have a conversation – When a group leader asks a discussion question and sits down, that simple act invites group members to participate in a conversation with their group leader. Sitting down says, “Let’s talk about it.”
  3. You want interaction – Group leaders who stand to teach create a more formal environment than those who occasionally sit down while group members respond to a question that has been posed. Some educators have suggested that, “When the presenter stands, it signals a strong differential between the roles of presenter and audience (who sit). Standing generally creates a much more formal atmosphere and means that the audience will not contribute to the discussion except to ask occasional questions.” Sitting can invite more interaction by creating a less formal way of teaching, and an environment in which learners are not intimidated by their teacher’s expertise.

Standing to teach can be made more effective if the group leader:

  • Sits on occasion (what we’ve just been thinking about)
  • Moves around the room (this helps keep learners engaged when the teacher physically moves around the room).
  • Has a large number of people in the group – if this is the case, sitting may not be effective because the teacher would not be able to be seen easily, nor would his or her voice project as well like it does when they stand to teach.

So if your room environment and teaching context allows for it, occasionally sit when you ask your group a discussion question and see if this doesn’t increase the involvement and responses of your group members.

Surprise, surprise! It’s what your group wants from you

If variety is truly the spice of life, too many small group Bible studies are pretty bland.  Whether on a church campus or in a home, group leaders tend to revert back to their favorite teaching method or methods.  It’s time to spice things up a bit and become less predictable.  Did you know that when God communicated with people, He often did so in surprising ways?

Hebrews 1:1 tells us that God communicated with man “in different times and in different ways” (HCSB).  Some of those ways proved to be surprising to the person or audience. Think about Moses suddenly hearing God’s voice through a burning bush, or the surprise when Balaam’s donkey spoke!  Shepherds were surprised to hear angels singing and proclaiming the birth of the Savior, and who could have predicted that a hand would appear and write on the wall during a banquet?

God has a way of communicating with man that is often very surprising.  As a group leader, you can copy this aspect of God’s communication style.  Your group Bible study members won’t mind a bit if you change things up, do something delightfully different, and keep them wondering what you’ve got up your sleeve.

If you’re in the mood to surprise your Bible study group this week, try one of these ideas:

1.  Surprise them by changing the order of things.  Most groups have an identifiable pattern when they meet. Change the order in which you fellowship, pray, and study.  You can begin by jumping into the Bible study, and end with a time if fellowship.  Save announcements until the end of the session, or don’t make them at all…simply hand out a sheet of paper on which you’ve listed them.  As someone once said, “If your group members know what’s going to happen, it’s time to throw out your playbook.”

2.  Surprise them by teaching in a different way.  If you tend to be a discussion-oriented group, intentionally deliver a well-crafted lecture.  If you tend to speak a lot as the group leader, introduce some visual aids or object lessons to help your visual learners connect with the lesson.  Break the group into smaller groups, watch a video clip, or try using a musical element in the lesson (play a song from your phone, iPad, or other device and have group members read the lyrics while the song is being played) – make sure it relates to your Bible study.  The goal is to get out of your rut and appeal to the different learning styles of your group members.  When you hear a small, quiet voice that says, “Your group members won’t like it,” simply ignore that voice and do it anyway. You’ll be surprised how much people will appreciate a little variety in the way you lead them through a Bible study.

3.  Surprise them by changing your group’s location.  If you are an on-campus Sunday School group, meet off-campus or in a different classroom, or just go outside if the weather is nice.  If you are a home group, meet in a place where you’ve never held a Bible study, like a Panera Bread, an office, or the backyard of a friend’s house the group doesn’t know.  A change of venue can excite your group members and build anticipation for your Bible study session.

Don’t be afraid of trying something new to surprise your group this week.  A small surprise can help you capture your group members’ interest, redirect their focus, and help you teach God’s Word more effectively.  Don’t be predictable…be surprising!  God would.  It’s time to shake things up!


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Be positive and encouraging, even if it hurts

Today’s teaching tip will apply to teachers of any age group. As you lead your group members in Bible study, be sure to always remain positive and encouraging. There are enough negative influences in our lives today, and a Bible study isn’t a place for condescending attitudes, snarky remarks, or rolls of the eyes! As the group’s leader, set the pace and always look for the positive in the things your group members say and do. Here are a few phrases you can use to keep things positive:

  • “You’ve asked a great question that I haven’t thought about until now.”
  • “What a unique way of looking at this Bible story! Thank you for helping us to see it from your perspective.”
  • “That’s a great insight.”
  • “That’s a super sharp observation – I can’t believe I didn’t see that!”
  • “Thank you for sharing your thoughts with the group. You’ve given us something new and exciting to think about.”
  • “Thanks for sharing.”
  • “I really like what you just said.”
  • “That’s a great way to look at this Bible text.”
  • “I wish I’d thought of that.”
  • “I think you’d make a great group leader!”

And the list goes on! No matter who speaks up in the group, always find something you can affirm in the words they spoke. Be an encourager, not someone who inadvertently discourages group members from sharing their thoughts.


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Don’t let commentaries become a crutch

Tuesday’s teaching tip is about avoiding a big crutch that some teachers depend on a little too much – Bible commentaries. If you have Bible study materials from a Christian publisher, there will no doubt be commentary imbedded in the teaching plans. Publishers like LifeWay even have inexpensive advanced commentaries for Bible teachers that are designed to coordinate with Bible studies such as Explore the Bible and Bible Studies for Life. Many of you who write your own Bible studies will have commentary sets you’ve purchased over the years. Those books are probably a short reach from the place where you study and prepare your lessons. Don’t pick them up first. Instead, pick up your Bible and read.

While it may be tempting to start your preparation by reading what experts say about a Bible passage, resist the temptation to start there. Instead, read the Scripture passage several times. Jot down insights. Write out questions raised by the text. Identify unfamiliar terms, places, or people. Re-read the passage you’re going to teach in 2 or 3 other translations and note any words that are translated differently. Decide on what the passage meant to the original audience.

Once you’ve done your “homework,” then do some investigation in Bible dictionaries, commentaries, and atlases. Compare your conclusions with those of the experts. Just don’t start there! Commentaries make poor crutches.