Whether you call it an ice breaker, a warm up, reflection time, or the opening, the way you begin a group is crucial. Usually I know how a group time is going to go within the first 90 seconds of the meeting. There is either energy, or there isn’t. I’ve either done a good job setting the mood, or I haven’t. Parameters and expectations have either been adequately articulated, or they have not. As a group leader, the first 90 seconds of the group time isn’t to be dismissed or taken for granted. It should be every bit as intentional as the rest of the time.
As I’ve created small group studies, edited them, and even led them, I’ve learned to give the first 90 seconds—the sharp edge of the spear—special attention. The idea here is to move the group from whatever they were just doing into the Bible study that you will expect them to engage. Remember, even though you might have been thinking about the group time in great detail for days, there’s a good chance your group members will think about it for the first time when they walk in the door—and maybe not even then. I’ve come to appreciate the ice breaker as an effective means for helping group members transition from the daily grind to a dynamic group Bible study experience.
While the transition is a functional objective, never forget that the first 90 seconds absolutely must establish a comfort level and engage each group member. That is, the ice breaker should get everyone talking and accustomed to hearing their own voice. So the question shouldn’t be too “heavy,” either emotionally or mentally, nor should it be too complicated.
Lifeway’s small-group Bible studies will have options at the beginning of each session that serve this purpose. Even so, I will still at times reserve the right to develop my own icebreaker based on my group’s make-up or maybe even the topic. Things to take into consideration when thinking through this part of your group time include topic, text, environment, and group composition. Here are few tips:
Topic: If you’re in a topical study of any kind, take the opportunity to draw group members into the conversation with a question that touches an emotional moment or connects with a recent cultural event. If the Bible study is addressing the value of work, for instance, ask about the worst job each group member has had. To connect with culture, you could ask something like, “What do you think is the most challenging aspect of being president of the United States?”
Text: Using the text gives you an opportunity to set a scene. Take the story of Gideon from Judges 6:1-13. A text like this plays directly to the idea of building a bridge from the group members’ daily lives into the group Bible study. Describe Gideon’s predicament, his frustration, the vicious cycles of destruction and loss that he’s seen, and how we meet him beating out wheat in the wine press as a defensive measure. Ask the group what they would be thinking or how they would feel in a similar situation. You may also ask how Gideon’s life compares to ours today. Either is an example of an open-ended question with an easy application that invites group members to contribute. I tell people to “mine the text.” Everything you need is already there.
Environment: Are you meeting in the evening, afternoon, or morning? Is it Monday, Thursday, Saturday, or Sunday? Are you in a public place or within the privacy of a member’s home? Just be aware of where people are and what they are coming from. After work on Monday is different from after work on Thursday, which is different from Saturday morning, and each day requires a bit of a different touch. On Saturday mornings I felt like my men’s group needs to be eased into our time, while I’ve found on Thursdays that people are ready to go. The way you begin your group time should take these environments into consideration.
Group Composition: My Wednesday night group is co-ed, while the Saturday morning group is a men’s group comprised of guys that want to be better, more godly husbands, employees, and fathers. On Wednesdays, I tend to be more traditional with the icebreaker. Because men typically aren’t the easiest crowd to get going for a Saturday morning group, however, I try to begin that group with humor. For instance, one morning the topic was about the distractions in our lives that disrupt our pursuit of holiness and discipleship. To open up the group, I read some of those crazy “wanted” posts on Craigslist as examples of crazy things that rob our hearts and thoughts.
Here’s the bottom line: the first 90 seconds are crucial to the success of your group time. It may not be the most important thing you do in your group life, but it will help your ministry if you give it more than a passing thought.
Brian Daniel leads the discipleship publishing team within Groups Ministry at Lifeway. He has written multiple small-group Bible studies and contributes to several blogs, including Walt Disney World News Today. He also co-hosts the Groups Matter Podcast Show with Rick Howerton and the SEC Spin Radio Show during football season. He and his wife Karen live in Hendersonville, TN, where he heads up discipleship at Grace Church. He has two daughters, Ashton and Schuyler. You can follow Brian on Twitter: @BCDaniel.