by Ken Braddy
If your Bible study meeting place looks similar to the one in the image to the right, I can recommend several ways to boost discussion. For some group leaders, that may not be the goal of a room arrangement like this one – because these tend to be for very teacher-centric groups that prefer listening to an interesting presentation about the biblical text. But if you have a larger group that is used to sitting in rows, but you find yourself needing help when it’s time to get discussion started, try one or more of these tips below, and watch the conversations (or maybe I should say, “listen to the conversations” take off):
1. Rearrange the room – this is the most time-consuming option you’ll have, and it requires some advanced preparation on your part. If you want to boost discussion, arrange chairs so they are in quads or triads. This will allow group members to engage in conversations that you prompt them to have as you lead them to explore the biblical text. It also is not nearly as intimidating for people to speak up in a smaller group as it is to speak up in front of 30, 40, or 50+ people.
2. Find a creative way to divide the group into smaller ones – start out your Bible study with people in rows, but when it’s time for discussion, create random groups by dividing people by any number of ways: (1) place colored index cards on seats prior to people arriving; at the right time, have people group up by the color of their index card (2) place one piece of candy on each chair (chocolate, peppermint, and something else) and ask people to group up with people who have the same kind of candy (3) divide people into groups based on the month of their birthday, hair color, sex, etc. You get the idea, now get creative!
3. Set up round tables – Yes, they are “space killers,” and not every meeting place will be able to accommodate them, but placing six to eight people at a table creates a small group, and that creates good conversation. I would use this one sparingly, because you can get more people in your meeting place if you don’t use tables regularly! Tables limit growth, but they can enhance discussion.
4. Use a Bible study series designed to boost discussion – Lifeway’s Bible Studies for Life series is built specifically for discussion-centered groups. Designed around 5 really great discussion questions in each session, Bible Studies for Life encourages people to talk, share thoughts about the biblical text, and discuss their viewpoints. It’s also built around an easy-to-lead teaching plan. It’s one of my favorite study series that addresses life issues in 6-session blocks.
By the way, if your group is used to doing more listening than talking, don’t expect a huge change the first time you group them up to discuss. It will be different than what they are used to, but people feel a connectedness to others and an ownership of the group when they are allowed to discuss their thoughts, especially those related to the biblical text.