To be a good facilitator you need to do things that are in themselves very simple but take time to learn. It is a big temptation for a leader just to start teaching or explaining, and sometimes that is a good thing to do. But if the group is merely a school class, not much bonding and healing will occur. Be aware that some of the best things in life are learned on a walk as much as in reading a book. You can hear a lecture on trees, or you can go experience them. Life is about both. You can read about divorce recovery, or you can experience recovery. The process group leader helps the members do both.
1. Notice and Share What You Observe
Notice what is going on in the group, and from time-to-time share what you see. Very simple, very powerful. Here are examples of how these observations may work in your group:
- “I notice that we have drifted away from the sadness. What happened?”
- “I notice that it seems a little sluggish in here tonight. Why do you think that is?”
- “It seems like we were really connecting, and things changed. Why is that?”
- You might aim a well-timed, helpful process statement to an individual. “Joe, I notice that when you talked about that, you seemed to really be feeling some things. Can you tell us what they are?”
- Notice when the group is stuck and address the situation. “It feels dead in here for the past few weeks. Does anyone else notice that?” If you do not address it, people might drop out. If you address it, the group may reinvent itself.
2. Be the Guardian of the Process
Do something about people who interrupt, dominate, or keep process from occurring. Different levels of intervention may be appropriate, depending on the particulars, but do something! You cannot allow a person to kill the group process. If the group is not oriented toward going deep on feedback, just interrupt the interrupter or over-spiritualizer. Say, “Hold on, Joe. I want to hear more from Susie.” The group will feel protected by you. Joe will get the message, and the process will be saved.
3. Hold Members to Their Covenant
In a deeper group orientation, where members have covenanted to receive feedback, the process goes a step farther. After the initial exchange, suggested above, say to Joe, “Joe, I notice that when people talk about feelings, you often interrupt and give a Bible verse. Are you aware that you do that?” Then, if the group operates on an even deeper level, you might say, “What do some of you experience when Joe does that?” Deepest of all, when Joe interrupts, say, “Did anyone just notice what happened?” Then the group will guard the process and help Joe.
Remember, what is a suitable intervention level depends on what the group has agreed to do with each other and depends on the facilitator’s skill level. It’s up to you as facilitator to make sure these structures remain intact. Otherwise, deep process statements can turn into chaos or discord. No matter what intervention level you need in order to guard the process, guard it. Even if it just means interrupting the interrupter and saying, “Hold on. Susie was talking.”
4. Ask Open-ended Questions
Remember that process orientation does not have to be deep or threatening. To process is to experience and to do things that further the experience. Asking open-ended questions often furthers the process:
- “What are some of your responses to the passage we just read?”
- “What is going on with some of you this week?”
- “Can you tell us more about that?”
- “Does anyone have anything they would like to share or to add?”
- “What does this bring up for you?”
- “Where do you have difficulty applying what we just read or talked about?”
Avoid questions that do not further discovery or process, such as questions with yes or no or factual answers. Process is not a geometry class where there is a right answer. It is a walk in the park. “What stands out for you?” and “What do you see?” are questions that don’t have a right or wrong answer.
5. Ask for Group Feedback
Ask the members from time to time how they think the process is going. “What is getting us there? What is keeping us from there?” Even more powerful at times is to see whether they can notice and describe the process. “How would some of you describe what we have been doing, what the process is? What has that been like? How would you want it to be different?” Certainly, teaching and information are important to your group purpose and to life. But it’s just as important to experience that truth, particularly in relational contexts like a group. Your job as a facilitator is not to “be the experience,” but to facilitate it. You are the shepherd of the experience. Then the group will take on a life of its own, growing in richer ways than it ever could simply through lectures.
Leading a small group Bible study is important to people’s spiritual growth but doesn’t have to be anxiety-inducing. Following the above tips will help your group take the next step in your journey of faith.
Most studies from HarperChristian Resources include a Leader’s Guide in the back of the study guide. These guides provide help as you prepare for each session, assistance in structuring your discussion time, and further guide you to understand different group dynamics.
A great Bible study to consider for your group, whether it is a new group or a more established one, is Brant Hansen’s Unoffendable: How Just One Change Can Make All of Life Better. In the six-session of this study, Brant teaches that giving up our right to be offended is one of the most freeing, healthy, relaxing, refreshing, stress-relieving, and encouraging things we can do. It allows us to recognize that people are broken and stop being scandalized by their actions. It enables us to accept people and stop judging them. It creates a way for us to not just love others but to actually like them.