For instance, consider how to open a meeting in a way that gets people involved. One of the best ways to do this is to use an icebreaker. Small group research and experience have repeatedly shown that icebreakers help people warm up to one another and to discussions. And there are some technical rules for leading an icebreaker well. These rules include:
• Ask open-ended, nonthreatening questions that draw out people’s interests and experiences.
• Have the leader answer the question first to get the conversation moving and model how to answer in a short fashion.
• Go around in a circle.
• If people want to give long responses, remind them that icebreakers call for short answers so that everyone can participate.
• If people want to pass, allow them to do so. Don’t force people to respond.
Do this according to the rules, and you find that people open up more naturally and quickly. But technique will get you only so far in certain situations.
At one time I led a group where Barry always passed when it was his turn to respond to the icebreaker. In fact, he would sit in the meeting every week without saying a word. Whatever I tried, he would not open up. The rule about allowing people to pass is meant to be rarely used. Barry was turning it into the norm. He told other members that he loved the group and was growing in his walk with Jesus, but his lack of participation was creating discomfort with others in the group. And there was no technique that was going to get Barry to open up. I did not know the real issue that kept him from sharing, and I did not have any clear solutions. Try as I might, I could not get him to participate.
This experience brings me back to the biblical theme of sheep. I had to learn to see Barry for who he was just as a shepherd develops skills to see his sheep.
M. Scott Boren, Leading Small Groups in the Way of Jesus (Westmont, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015).