“Who do you know that is great at making lemonade out of sour circumstances?” That was an icebreaker question I asked one day while leading a Bible study. Here’s another icebreaker that I asked on a different occasion: “What are your favorite memories of home?”
As a group leader, I love a good icebreaker question! Would you like to know whether you’ve created an effective icebreaker question or not? Good questions have several characteristics that help you know you’re going to jumpstart conversations and get the group heading in the right direction.
Characteristic 1: A good icebreaker centers my group. Great icebreaker questions are the secret weapon in my teaching arsenal because when I ask a good one, the group refocuses. So many times, when my group comes together the people have other things on their minds besides Bible study. The first goal of a group leader is to motivate the people to focus on the Bible study, and a good icebreaker question does just that. I prefer to incorporate a meaningful icebreaker question into my teaching plan rather than a random one. While a random icebreaker question will get a group to talk, why not ask an icebreaker question that ultimately aims the group towards the main idea of the Bible study? When that happens, something called total period teaching takes place. This means that everything that happens in the group’s Bible study drives it to accomplish the teaching aim—beginning with the icebreaker. In the two examples I shared in the opening paragraph, both questions pointed my group to the topics at hand. The first question about making lemonade from sour circumstances came from a study in the book of James, where we are told that we should consider it pure joy when trials and difficulties take place in our lives. The second question about favorite memories about home came from a study in Ephesians 5.
Characteristic 2: Everyone should be able to answer the question. Many groups will have people I’m going to call “Unchurched Harry & Mary.” They may not be the most sophisticated Bible students. In fact, they may not know the Bible at all. If you want them to participate, ask an icebreaker they can answer. Starting your group study with an icebreaker question such as, “What do first-century Jewish wedding practices tell us about the return of Christ?” will shut people like Unchurched Harry & Mary down. That “icebreaker” requires some serious study. Instead, ask questions that anyone in the group can answer. “What is your favorite memory from your wedding day?” is a much better question to ask, because everyone in the group can answer that (assuming it’s a group of married people). If I was in a group that was asked that question, I’d tell the tale of a woman my wife worked with bolting from the back row of the church, running past her and her dad as he walked her down the aisle, taking a picture of the two of them, and then brushing past them once again as she returned to her seat. It was totally unexpected and inappropriate, and Tammy’s dad almost lost his balance. We laugh about it today, but it wasn’t funny at the time.
Characteristic 3: There’s no wrong answer. Remember my Jewish wedding question from above? There’s one right answer to that question, so it’s a bad icebreaker question. Good icebreaker questions allow people to talk (remember Characteristic 2) and they can’t answer wrong. A good icebreaker is safe to answer, and it encourages people to continue responding to other more revealing questions as the study progresses. If you give a wrong answer to an icebreaker, you won’t be highly motivated to keep answering questions from the group leader. If I was teaching a Bible study about the woman at the well, I could ask, “Who is the most interesting person you’ve ever met?” as the icebreaker. It would be easy for anyone to answer, there would be no wrong answer, and it would tie into the encounter Jesus had with the woman—certainly she was an interesting person he met on his journey.
Characteristic 4: A good icebreaker connects people as they share stories from their lives. People need each other, and helping people make connections with others in the group is a very good thing. As people in the group answer icebreaker questions, the questions should lead them to talk about their lives. As people share stories, they connect with others in the group with similar stories and backgrounds. “I had no idea you grew up on the coast!” or “What? We attended the same college?” can be ways that people connect as they respond to icebreaker questions. When you craft an icebreaker, ask yourself if the answers will help group members share stories from their lives. If not, keep writing and crafting until you develop a question that does.
If you want a Bible study series that has outstanding icebreaker questions, check out Lifeway’s Bible Studies for Life series. Each session has a carefully worded icebreaker that includes the four characteristics of great icebreakers. You won’t have to make one up each time your group meets—just ask the one that is supplied in the weekly teaching plan. I’ve used Bible Studies for Life in the last two groups I’ve led, and I’ve been amazed at the difference a good icebreaker question can make.
Ken is Lifeway’s Director of Sunday School and has led Bible study groups with his wife Tammy. His latest book, Breakthrough: Creating a New Scorecard for Group Ministry Success, releases in June 2022 but is available for pre-order now.