As every youth worker knows, and has probably experienced, discussion times can either be amazing or a total flop! I have definitely experienced both. I have had small group discussions where multiple guys realize in a new light their need for Jesus and make commitments to change for Him. I have also had small group discussions where no one answered any questions, if they did they just gave fake answers, and nobody left better than when they walked in, maybe even worse.
But a lot of times it has much to do with the discussion questions that are provided. But how do you write good questions? It can be so difficult to write questions that will help students engage, dig deeper, learn, and change. But here are a few tips to help!
1. Start with something fun
Starting by asking something to break the ice and get conversation going. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate game or series of questions, it can simply be a “how was your week” type of question. People are always changing and even though they are in your small group and you see them every week things might have changed in their life in the last week so do some “get to know you” type questions. Also, these “fun” type questions can totally pertain to the topic at hand. It might be a “hey the speaker told a story about his dog running down the street and having to chase him, does anyone have an experience like that they want to share?”
Get the interaction going with something fun where students can share without jumping straight into an intense question.
2. No Yes or No questions
This is the quickest killer of discussions ever! Phrase your questions in a way where students have to explain their answer. If you have to do a yes or no question follow it with “Why or why not?” Give them something open ended that can be discussed with more than just a one word answer.
3. Recap the content
Use your discussion time to debrief the content of the message to make sure they understand what was taught. Generally I write 1 question for each point that was taught in the message. Either asking about a specific concept taught that they can expound upon or dig deeper into, or something where they can share about that idea in their life. For example, “Share a time in your life where things felt hopeless until Jesus showed up.”
When you follow the teaching outline the discussion questions pretty much write themselves.
4. Give opportunities to get real
Make your questions personal, not just ‘in general.’ Make students think about their life and get real rather than just giving a correct answer. Understanding the content and understanding how it fits into their actual life are two completely different things.
I have had so many students who grew up in church or go to a Christian school that know all the right answers and I can’t tell them they are wrong because they actually aren’t wrong. But have never once answered a question with authenticity. It is like the questions are just a check list that they need to get through instead of an opportunity to actually grow.
We need to make sure we are asking our questions in a way that will allow students to get real and dig deep into their lives.
5. Yes, but how?
The biggest problem with a lot of sermons and discussion questions is that they fail to give application. Yes, the concepts presented are true, but HOW do we act them out in our lives? We need to structure our questions in a way in which students are able to talk through how they will practice what they have learned. My suggestion would be to have these questions at the end so it is the last thing they discuss and think about. Have questions that are specific about ways they plan to apply what was learned.
Discussion questions are not easy to write but hopefully these tips help you as you craft engaging discussion questions. Also, check out this post on Youth Specialties about leading small groups “7 Essentials For A Small Group Leader”