Using time wisely is crucial in facilitating a small group discussion. Valuing every minute communicates the importance of the discussion itself. It shows respect for the women’s hard work throughout the week in completing the passage. All women are busy. Each one has made sacrifices to be at Bible study each week. Beginning and ending study on time are crucial to communicate respect and consideration. To not be intentional with your time is to communicate that the study is trivial.
You will have a set amount of time for each week’s meeting. It is helpful to look over and think through your own preparation and make note of what was the most fruitful for you. Observe the parts that take more time and plan ahead accordingly. Practical application is very important for helping people see where they need to repent or change, so it is imperative to not run out of time. Always be aware of the time and how long your group has left. It is your responsibility to lead your group in discussing the whole passage each week and to ensure that one person does not “rabbit trail” the discussion. Skipping sections will discourage the women who have spent precious time that week completing the entire lesson. Occasionally there may be an exception to getting through the entire passage – if a serious issue arises that must be dealt with – but this should definitely be an anomaly.
It will take experience and wisdom to judge the difference between someone wasting time and someone sharing a personal and meaningful application to her life. Trust the Holy Spirit to help you as you grow in this ability.
Small Group Dynamics
Your goal in the discussion is to help each woman in your group feel comfortable and safe to share what God has shown her that week. The objective of the group is a deep, vibrant, and authentic discussion of God’s Word. Some women will be naturally confident to speak and share, and other women will be more reluctant. As you gain experience and get to know your group, you will develop winsome methods for drawing out the hesitant women and helping the talkative women become better listeners. When you have an eager-sharer, sometimes it works to gently interrupt and say, “I want to hear the rest of that Jane, but I’m afraid we are running out of time. Let’s plan a group fellowship where we can each have time to share the wonderful stories of God’s grace in our life!”
Sometimes it helps to note on your paper the women who have not shared that day. When appropriate, gently encourage the quiet women to answer by calling on them directly.
Many times, a group takes a while to “warm-up” to one another. It may seem like a long stretch of awkward silence but resist the temptation to jump in and answer yourself. Some groups need more time before someone has the courage to speak out. “Rescuing” the group too quickly short-cuts that process and inadvertently teaches them that you have all the answers.
Be an attentive and interested listener. It is much harder to listen than it is to speak. You are modeling for the group how to create a thoughtful discussion. Use your body language to communicate your genuine interest. Seek to keep eye contact with the woman speaking the entire time she is sharing. If appropriate, verbally respond to her answer to show that you were listening and you value what she said.
Aiming for every woman to share every week teaches that everyone’s answers are important. It also conveys that each woman is not only a necessary part of the group, but that God will speak to each person through his Word. This helps each woman feel more responsibility during the week to complete the lesson. Just as one would not show up to a covered dish dinner empty-handed, this approach ensures each woman feels a responsibility to seek God for the group.
Do not allow women to criticize one another’s answers, or to criticize their own answers. Do not allow the group to depend on one or two members to do all the work, or to look to older/more mature members to always answer. Do your best to create an atmosphere of freedom to make mistakes and give each woman respect and the opportunity to receive grace and mercy.
Communicating with your small group each week is essential to help the women in your group trust you and bond with each other. Contact each of your women every week, checking in with them, encouraging them in their lesson, answering any questions they have, and taking their prayer requests. It is a good idea to send an email every week with any announcements and with the group prayer requests.
An example of a contact phone call: You: “Hi, Carrie! This is Janet. Is this a good time to talk? Great! I just wanted to check in with you and see how you are doing and how I can be praying for you this week. You can give a prayer request that you want me to share with the group or one that you want me to keep confidential. I will be praying for you every day, so I would love to be able to pray specifically!”
Of course, texting is fine as well. Some (especially younger) women will only communicate through text and others love a phone call. Take good notes as they share with you so that you can communicate those requests accurately to the group as well as pray effectively.
When a group member misses a week, be sure and contact her as soon as possible to establish that the group missed her and isn’t the same without her.
Prayer requests are a wonderful way to get to know and to support other women in our church and community. Yet, we all know what it is like when the prayer requests themselves take all the time in a group. This is why contacting the women for their requests each week before the group meets is imperative. Do not allow prayer requests to be expressed during your discussion time. Communicate to your women that the prayer requests should be for them personally. This means it must be a prayer request for them as an individual – not for their neighbor or even for their child. If they have a situation, encourage them to ask for prayer that helps their response to the situation. For example, if group member Betty has a neighbor with cancer, the prayer request would be: Please pray for Beth as she seeks to minister the love of Christ to her neighbor Sarah who was recently diagnosed with cancer.
Emphasize the confidentiality you will keep if asked and advise your group members of their responsibility to keep all prayer requests confidential. Distribute the prayer requests for the women by passing them out or sending over email each week. This will help your group bond quickly. The thoughtful members of your group will begin to ask one another about ongoing requests. This quickly deepens friendships and creates connection. The group bonding over answered prayers as well as a mutual desire to grow in Christ will encourage them to dig in the Scripture more carefully and to share more readily and genuinely with the group.
Your personal daily prayers will grow your love for your group and will enable you to lead them with joy. Daily prayers for your group members are not only a commitment you have made, but a privilege! When you pray, you are acknowledging to God and others that He is sovereign. He is the one who supplies every need, and he is the one “who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philip. 2: 13). Pray for the Holy Spirit to draw near to them as they study his word, for them to feel his presence, for their commitment to the group, for intimate sharing, and for equal participation among members.
One of your most cherished roles as a leader will be in shepherding. This is just another word for encouraging and discipling. Jesus is our Good Shepherd, the Lamb of God, who gave himself up for his sheep. Ultimately, he is the women’s shepherd. His promise is to search for his sheep, bring back the strays, bind up the injured, and strengthen the weak (Ezekiel 34:15-16). And of course, the elders are the women’s authority as shepherds. God will use the elders of the local church to fulfill these promises to his people.
As the women study the Bible and share their lives, you are called to come alongside and support the elders in their shepherding. As female leaders, we have a unique perspective on the struggles women go through and so part of our support of the elders is to guide the women as they seek to grow in the Lord. As you pray daily for the women in your group, God will give you love and compassion for them. When they realize you are faithfully praying for them and you are genuinely interested in helping them grow in God, they will bring you into their heartaches and victories.
Colossians 1:28-29 gives us insight into what God is calling us to as leaders. “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” Paul is telling us that he works very hard, he toils and struggles for the people he leads. Shepherding is not easy and will require energy on your part. But the beautiful promise also in this verse is that it is with Christ’s energy we are given! We aren’t left on our own to muster up strength for the work God has called us to – he will powerfully work in us. Knowing and ministering out of this will combat sinful ways that we will be tempted to feel. We will be tempted by both fear and pride. We fear that what we are doing is futile, or that it will actually be detrimental rather than encouraging. We are tempted by pride when our ministry bears fruit. Remembering that it is only through Christ’s powerful energy that we minister will demolish our pride. It is an amazing privilege to be a part of someone’s walk with God!
 Mark Dever, Discipling (Wheaton: Crossway, 2016), 30-31.