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The Number One Small Group Transparency Killer

Avoid This Small Group Transparency Killer

What’s a transparency killer? Steve Cordle nailed one of the culprits recently when he talked about people hiding behind generalities rather than talking about their own personal lives. Another transparency assassin is trying to impress others by only sharing positive things. But perhaps the number one transparency killer is asking questions that are closed-ended and don’t allow people to share.

Closed questions have one correct answer. When a leader uses too many of them, he positions himself as the Bible expert who’s trying to discover the brightest, most biblically literate students. Open-ended questions, on the other hand, elicit discussion and sharing. There is more than one right answer. Open-ended questions stir small group members to apply the biblical truths to their own lives.

The Number One Small Group Transparency Killer

Open Versus Closed Questions
Open Closed
  • What are you going to do differently as a result of hearing these verses?
  •  Share your experiences concerning…
  • How has God spoken to you?
  • Do you agree with this passage?
  • Who is the main character in this passage?
  • What does this passage say about _____?


Several years ago, I visited a small group that was discussing the parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18:21-35. The small group leader asked question after question about what the text said (closed ended), but not once did he ask the people to apply these verses to their own lives.

He missed a perfect opportunity. He could have said: “Share an experience when you felt bitterness toward another person.” He could have followed with: “Share how you overcame those feelings and were able to forgive that person.” Most likely there were people that very night who needed freedom from pent-up bitterness and who were longing to share with others.

I like sermon-based small group lessons. It makes sense for small group facilitators to get a head-start on the lesson as they hear the pastor’s message, take notes and prepare their questions. I encourage churches to send the lesson to the leaders in advance of the Sunday preaching to give them plenty of time to prepare. I tell small group facilitators not to mention “what the pastor said” during their lesson, but rather to talk about what the Bible teaches.

But I’ve also noticed that many sermon-based lessons are too complicated and have too many questions. The lesson gets bogged down in closed observation questions that don’t apply God’s Word to daily living. It’s easy for facilitators to forget that the main principle of an effective lesson (Word time) is how the Bible passage applies to daily life and to help members to share transparently.

I’ve been working with a group right now in which we only use three questions:

  1. What does this passage say?
  2. How is God speaking to you right now from this passage?
  3. How can you apply/obey this passage during the week?

We believe that the simplicity of these three questions will make the sermon-based lessons more transferable and easier for leaders to help their members to become more transparent in the process.

The good news is that we can fight back against the transparency killers and by God’s grace, even overcome them.


This article about the number one transparency killer originally appeared here.

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Joel Comiskey (Ph.D. Fuller Seminary) is an internationally recognized cell church coach and consultant. He has served as a missionary with the C&MA in Quito, Ecuador and is now founding pastor of a cell-based church in Southern California. Joel has written best selling books on the worldwide cell group movement. He teaches as an adjunct professor at several theological seminaries. Joel Comiskey Group is a tax exempt, non-profit organization dedicated to helping complete the Great Commission in this century by providing resources and coaching to plant new cell churches and transition existing churches to cell-based ministry. For further reading on this topic, see Comiskey's books Making Cell Groups Work Navigation Guide and Home Cell Group Explosion.