Bill Donahue: Icebreakers--self description of self-disclosure

Such classic meeting starters as “Let’s all go around and share our favorite color!” are about as exciting as watching paint dry. Icebreakers fail when used mostly for self-description. But icebreakers designed for self-disclosure will build community.

Here’s an icebreaker that has resulted in holy moments at Willow Creek. We ask people to choose a partner, pretend they are fabulously rich, then answer this question: “Using these four categories—luxury, high performance, off-road, vacation/travel—choose an automobile and describe why you’d buy it.” We’re especially interested in why people choose a vehicle.

Leaders gather partners back into groups, then lower group defenses with a little fun. “How many of you picked a luxury vehicle? If you did, welcome to the ranks of the greedy. Just kidding. How many wanted a high performance car? Take a look. These are the people in mid-life crisis. Just ask them how old they are. It tips you right off. Now who wanted an off-road vehicle? These are your typical rule-breakers. You say to these people, ‘Pick A, B, or C,’ and these people always choose ‘D.’ Now, finally, who picked the motor coach, the family travel van? See, these people don’t get out enough.”

Then the leader goes deeper. “Bob, you chose a high performance vehicle because you like adventure. I wonder what the Christian life would look like if we lived it in high performance mode? Janet, you said you are the ‘off-road,’ risk-taking type. I wonder what it would look like in the eyes of God for you to take a spiritual risk?”

Already the group has moved from the hypothetical purchase of an SUV to an introspective look at spiritual issues and decisions. We can take someone from self-description (“I’d buy a four wheeler”) to self-disclosure (“My Christian life would really have to change if I were to take a risk with God”). This kind of icebreaker centers our conversation on choices, on what God is asking us to do by faith as parents, coworkers, or church members. It turns a common activity into a holy moment.

--Building a Church of Small groups