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Are You Choking Discussion in Your Group?

Choking Discussion in Your Group?

I’m not a mechanical person, but I’ve been vaguely aware for years that choke valves are an important component for internal combustion engines. Growing up, I had to work the choke pretty hard to get my dad’s old tractor to fire up when it was my turn to mow the lawn.

Now, after some Internet research, I have a better idea of why choke valves are so important. They basically regulate the amount of air that gets mixed in with the gasoline inside the engine. By choking back on the air, the engine receives a more enriched supply of gasoline, which can help get things started better under certain conditions.

While choke valves are a good and helpful tool for engines, they are not so helpful in small-group discussions. In fact, they can be damaging.

Unfortunately, many small groups contain “choke valve” people who regularly and actively choke out the discussion within the group. Worse, those choke valves are often the group leaders themselves.

Conversation Flow

In my experience, a typical “discussion flow” in small groups and Sunday school classes may look something like this:

• The Group Leader asks a question.

• Person A responds.

• The Group Leader comments on Person A’s response.

• Person B responds.

• The Group Leader comments on Person B’s response and adds a story of his or her own to illustrate what Person B meant to say.

• Person C responds.

• The Group Leader comments on Person C’s response, then ask if anyone else has anything to say.

• The Group Leader asks another question.

Unfortunately, many group leaders within today’s church feel the need to comment or categorize each response in a group discussion. When someone responds to their question, they feel the need or the responsibility to answer that person before allowing the discussion to proceed.

Do you see the problem with this kind of discussion flow? When a group conversation is centered on the group leader, it’s not really discussion at all. Instead, the group leader serves as a choke that prevents any genuine discussion from really breaking out.

Sadly, many group leaders have been taught to “manage” group conversations this way. This is what many people have in mind when they think about “facilitating” a discussion. In reality, serving as a choke valve will clog or kill the discussions in your group.

A Better Way

So, what would a healthy “discussion flow” look like? Here’s a good example:

• The Group Leader asks a question.

• Person A responds.

• Person B responds.

• Person C comments on something Person A said, and then adds another idea.

• The Group Leader offers a thought.

• Person D responds to the original question.

• Person E asks for clarification on something he or she didn’t understand.

• Person B offers that clarification.

• The Group Leader asks a new question.

The difference between the two approaches is striking in a group setting. When discussion is allowed to progress organically, without constant input from the group leader, there is a much greater chance of truly meaningful discussion.

As a leader, choose to work toward a healthy “discussion flow” in your groups.  

This article originally appeared here.

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samo@churchleaders.com'
Sam O'Neal is managing editor of www.SmallGroups.com and co-author of The Bible Answer Book (Sourcebooks, 2010). He lives in suburban Chicago and is a father to two handsome sons, husband to one beautiful wife, and a life-long fan of the Chicago Bears.