Discussion is a teaching technique that Jesus used frequently during His ministry. Today, group leaders continue to use discussion as a means of guiding their group members to discover and apply God’s Word. As one leader has said, “…discussion is perhaps the most important technique in working with adult learners because it gives them an opportunity to participate, to be heard, and to connect their own experiences to the topic…as learners interact with one another, and I am able to drift into the background for a few minutes, this is when really important learning takes place because the group members are learning from one another.”1
As important as discussion is during a Bible study, not all questions are created equal. In fact, there are types of “discussion” questions that actually discourage discussion and often shut it down. Once you know these kinds of discussion-killing questions, you can avoid using them. The first five types of questions below that discourage discussion are taken from a friend’s book, Field Guide for Small Group Leaders.2 The author, Sam O’ Neal, was an editor at Lifeway for several years and has listed these in his book. The sixth type is from a different resource.
- Idiot questions – These kinds of questions shut down discussion because the answers are so obvious, people wonder if they are being asked a trick question! People feel silly answering these kinds of questions, and it is not uncommon for an entire group of adults to sit in silence for fear of giving a wrong answer to a question that appears to have a simple, apparent answer. An example of a question like this is, “What do we put in the mouths of horses to control them?” That’s a question that might come up during a study in the book of James, and the answer (a bit) is so obvious that people often won’t answer it.
- Unreasonable questions – These are usually the product of an overzealous group leader who has learned a new piece of information while studying and is excited to introduce it to the group. However, asking unreasonable questions shuts down discussion. “How does your view of first-century Jewish wedding customs relate to the way in which Christ returns for His church?” is not a fair question to ask group members who haven’t studied like the group leader.
- Long-winded questions – This kind of conversation-killing question has many more words than needed. Consider if you can ask a question with fewer words. Simpler is normally better. There’s no point using a paragraph if a sentence will get the job done.
- Compound questions – These questions kill discussion because a group leader has strung two or three questions together. When this is done, group members tend to focus on the last question in the series. It’s better to split up questions and ask one at a time.
- Leading the witness questions – Discussion is discouraged when people believe the group leader is looking for a specific answer to a question. It is not uncommon for a teacher to ask a question, hoping for someone in the group to give a specific response. If group members are not 100% sure they know the right answer, they tend to clam up.
- Spur-of-the-moment questions – These are to be discouraged at all costs! “Good questions do not just happen…questions formulated on the spot are often vague or unproductive. It is best for teachers to write out questions in advance. They should avoid yes/no and short answer questions in favor of questions that motivate thinking.”3
Ken Braddy is Lifeway’s Director of Sunday School and has started and led Bible study groups in his churches. He blogs on Bible study groups at kenbraddy.com. His newest book, Breakthrough: Creating a Scorecard for Group Ministry Success, releases in June 2022 through B&H Publishers and is available for pre-buy at lifeway.com.