Leading a Small Group Discussion

I remember passing a visibly frustrated small group leader a few years ago. Her girls were all drawing and texting and she was looking longingly at other tables. I sat down with them, told a funny story, and we were all laughing. The leader leaned to me and whispered: “I tell them every week to do their devotionals, but they won’t. Would you please tell them?” 

If her method of simply telling them, followed by chaos and her telling them again, hadn’t worked with this group, it wouldn’t work coming from a different voice. It wasn’t her; it was her method. 


I said, “ok, girls sit up. Phones up. For the next 3 minutes I want to tell you something.” They all followed (except one- I love small groups, but I’m not that good). I said, “Each week in the devos we have a memory verse, and for this next week we will memorize the verse. We’ll all quote it and then we’ll say something that God has shown us- whether it is a word or phrase. The cool thing is usually God doesn’t tell the same thing to 2 people and we all leave going...whoa God showed us all something different even though we memorized the same 9 words.” Their eyes were big.

So, the following week I followed up on my challenge and I quoted the verse first and what I had learned. Then, those who memorized the verse quoted quoted it, and the leader easily transitioned and tied it into the lesson. They were already thinking about the lesson, because God had been working that Scripture in their hearts for days.

Is Scripture memory revolutionary, exciting and new? Yep- when it was presented as a group competition/challenge and not a to-do list. I know each of these girls as individuals. I knew that each of these girls played competitive sports and that a little friendly competition would spark their attention. You are the leader. The day you were saved you were equipped to disciple. Seek Christ and lead in His strength.


Every group is made up of individuals. Spend time getting to know the interests and personalities of each one. We should love each one redemptively. Our group should be a place of grace, forgiveness, and love to the students Christ has given us to shepherd. But, we cannot start and stop with a love that only “hangs out” and is focused on our care for them. Our love must point them to God’s love, which will help them change.

Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13:11- When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” We need to love and accept our students where they are; however our love cannot stop at acceptance.

We must love redemptively not simply seeing who they are but who they can become in Christ. We must hold them accountable to their potential. If your students leave your table knowing that you love them, but not knowing how to walk with and please God apart from you, then you've only loved and not loved redemptively. Ask God how you can confront, rebuke, challenge, and inspire righteousness in the hearts of the sheep Christ is calling you to lead.


Pray for each student daily by name and ask God to help your heart be softened and your eyes open to each individual’s needs. While with your small group their time of sharing should EXCEED your time of lecturing. After you have taught major points, ask 1-2 students to explain something back to you in their own words.

For example, after a lesson on the function of the church, I asked one boy, “Tell me what the church is based on what you heard tonight.” After he finished I asked one girl,  “What does it mean to be the church?” If a student can repeat something back, you will know that they understand. Other questions might be: 

  • "How does this affect your life this week?”
  • "What can you do today to show God you are not just hearing but are trying to do what he taught us?”
  • “Did God show you an analogy or make a verse stand out to you that you could share with the group?”

You’ll learn a lot about what helps your students understand a point by their responses and the questions they ask. 

Knowing you are the leader and teacher might inspire you, or it might intimidate you…or it might do both at the same time! Ha

I want to encourage you that you might not have the gift of teaching, but you have a greater gift…the gift of the Holy Spirit. Christ in you, the hope of glory, will bear fruit in you and through you as you lead, listen, and love. - Amy