Facilitating Small Group Studies: Tips and Advice for Success


“The role of a facilitator is not to have all the answers, but provide an environment for a successful gathering.”




The Goal of the Group
Study groups are an opportunity for participants to discover and struggle with ideas and to learn something new. The content of the study book is certainly important, but the spirit with which the book is discussed is even more so. Within a prayerful, open environment that promotes discussion in a challenging but affirming way, there is the opportunity for spiritual growth and faith formation.

One member of the group can facilitate all the sessions. Or rotating facilitation can be used, in which several or all participants share the task. The facilitator does not need to be an expert on the subject of the book. The facilitator does need to read the material for the session and come prepared to help the group grapple with its central ideas. The role of a facilitator is not to have all the answers, but provide an environment for a successful gathering.

Discussion Starters
Use these questions to get things going, or whenever you need to restart the discussion.

  • Did anything surprise, excite, confuse, anger or upset you?
  • What questions or concerns does the text raise in your mind?
  • In what ways does what the author is saying relate to your experience?
  • How does the text support or affirm your faith?
  • How does the text challenge your faith?
  • What faith questions does it raise for you?
  • Has the text stirred you to some form of action? If so, what?

Tips to be a Successful Facilitator
Having the heart of a servant is one of the keys here. If you approach the role in this way, success will follow. Specific tips:

  • Arrive early and prepare the room.
  • Arrange chairs, post newsprint, distribute agendas or materials.
  • Greet everyone as they arrive.
  • Start on time and end on time.
  • Begin and end with prayer.

Dealing with Specific Issues
From time to time you will face a group that has a member or two that disturbs the flow and plan of a class or meeting. That calls for a more active role as a facilitator:

Someone dominates the discussion
Suggest adding their concern to a piece of newsprint for later conversation.

The group gets off track
Refocus the group by restating the question, issue at hand or agenda item.

Not everyone is participating
Invite those who have not spoken by name if they have anything they would like to add. Ask if everyone has had an opportunity to speak before moving on to another topic.

Group members argue with one another
Ask for a brief moment of silence. Then ask each member of the group to list a pro and a con about the topic. Review group norms if necessary.

Small Group Resources
Looking for a book for your small group discussion? Church Publishing Incorporated has a section devoted to books with study guides.


Sharon Ely Pearson is a 30+ year Christian formation veteran, currently serving as an editor and the Christian Formation Specialist for Church Publishing Incorporated. Wife, mother, soon-to-be-grandmother, and author, she enjoys connecting people with each other and the resources they need for growing in the knowledge and love of Jesus.

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