8 easy tips for small group dynamics

8 easy tips for small group dynamics

Part 3 of a 3 part podcast on ‘Small Group Dynamics.’


You can find part 1 here:

& Part 2 here:

You can find a transcript and sources on my blog here:

Responding to tricky characters in your youth group (Small Group Dynamics part 2)

Responding to those tricky characters in your youth cell group.

Part 2 of a 3 part podcast on ‘Small Group Dynamics.’


You can find part 1 here:

& Part 3 here:

You can find a transcript and sources on my blog here:

Youth Bible Study Techniques

There are Bible studies and there are ‘Bible studies’, the former are awesome – and the latter, perhaps not so much.

It looks to me pursuing the shelves of my local Christian bookstores, that the vast majority of youth Bible study resources on the market today are the prefabricated and pre-answered formulaic type. You don’t necessarily study any Bible! Instead you study somebody else’s thoughts on studying the Bible. Does anyone else feel cheated and cheesed by this? If we don’t it’s possible that we too were reared on these ‘prefab Bible studies.’

Tell me, does this excerpt look familiar?

Title: David, Giant Slayer!
Aim: To show that even the smallest person can knock down their giants with a little faith.
Read: 1 Samuel 17:31-50
Ask: Do you think David was afraid to face goliath? Why not?
Say: David had faith that God would fight for him!
Ask: A giant doesn’t have to be a real giant. A giant could be a school test or a bully. What giants do you face at home and at school?
Ask: How do you think having faith like David’s would help you face those giants?


There’s nothing necessarily wrong with this short excerpt, but it’s not really a Bible study is it? It’s a thematic, application-driven chat bouncing around a couple of verses in a passage without cracking them open and getting to the goo-of-awesomeness inside.

How about approaching a question set like this instead:

Read: 1 Samuel 17:48 (in context of vv.31-50)

– What did you notice in the verse – Anything at all?

– If you we’re leading, what questions would you ask from this verse?

– Who was ‘The Philistine’ and how did he compare with David?
– What is ‘the Battle line’ and why were only two of them on it?
– How did both of them approach each other?
– Why do you think Goliath first arose, then came, and then drew near? Why three stages?
– Why do you think David ‘ran quickly’?

– What or who was running with David? (Look back at v.47)

– What do you think this verse teaches us about God? (Don’t be satisfied with one answer).
– How does it teach us about people who follow God and people who hate God?
– What does it teach us about size?

– How about fear?

– When you face obstacles, how do you approach them?
– What things in your world mock God like Goliath did – how do you think David would respond to them?
– What ‘David qualities’ from this verse would you like to add to your identity?

– What Goliath qualities could you do without?

There’s some key differences in this approach:

First, the verse itself is dictating what questions should be asked.

Most people you work with are not going to be Bible scholars. Every other word is going to create complications and confusion. So why not let that be the way into reading the passage?

Second, the questions begin observationally, move onto interpretation and end with the application and reflection.
The train is led by what you see, how you read the passage then follows, which informs how you act on the passage. This is often the exact opposite to the approach demonstrated earlier.
Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 14.20.08
Third, this is question-driven not formula-driven.

Question-driven relies off who, what, when, where, why and how – whereas formula-driven relies on seeking exact answers to set up the teaching point that you (or your handy resource book!) need to make. Prefabricated studies are like knock knock jokes; the person hearing the joke needs to understand the joke formula or the punchline will fail!

Forth, the application flows directly from the passage it doesn’t have to be shoehorned in.

You might end up in a similar place application wise, but the grounding for it is much more secure.

Fifth, this teaches a method of reading the Bible that doesn’t rely on you – it relies on the text.

You and me – we’re fallible; shock, horror. The Bible? Not so much! Young people will be able to use this Bible reading technique on their own, carry it with them to university and help them spot Bible loving churches throughout their life.

Sixth, the Holy Spirit has more room.

The Holy Spirit is never divorced from the Bible itself, so you are allowing the Holy Spirit to speak more clearly because you are allowing the Word to speak more clearly. You also trusting conversation and discussion to the Holy Spirit for guidance and quality.

Seventh, the young people are directing the discussion.

Particularly in the early and late questions. This allows you to know much more about the young people that you’re working with, it helps them feel like they’re being heard and it develops you as a family, a team and a community.

 Youth Bible Study Techniques

11 of the Most Common Small Groups Personalities

11 of the Most Common Small Groups Personalities

Part 1 of a 3 part podcast on ‘Small Group Dynamics.’

11 negative traits of personalities that you are likely to meet in your youth work’s small group.


find Part 2 on responding to these tricky characters here:

& Part 3 here:


You can find a transcript and sources on my blog here:

(sorry about the peaking microphone – I will get that fixed!!)


6 Youth Group Tactile Discussion Activities

Starting genuine conversations in a youth group can be a nightmare! Keeping them rolling while staying on track doubly so. Small group conversations tend to oscillate between pulling teeth and taming out of control petrol fires.

One of the best ways to engage different personalities and create real dynamic conversation is to use tactile (hands-on) activities. These can also be useful or easily adapted if your group contains young people with additional learning needs.

Here are some easy activities that create conversation on spiritual topics with an element of hands-on fun.

1. Story Cubes.

A brilliant invention that encourages you to make up your own rules. You start by group members choosing a cube and creating a story based off what’s on those cubes. You can get more specific by introducing a particular theme or topic for them to keep to.

This works best when you break into the story to ask the golden questions: who, what, when, where, why and how to get the group to elaborate and clarify the story they are telling.

Buy story cubes from here and follow them on twitter.

2. Question Jenga

Find a cheap Jenga set and, using a sharpie, write simple questions on each brick. Take turns to pull out a brick and ask a question to the group.

The questions can be as simple as ‘what’s your favourite colour?’ or as controversial as ‘can gay people go to heaven?’.

3. Collage Clips

Cut out quotes, words, colours, pictures and textures from a bunch of different magazines. Make sure you have lots and lots. Display them by tacking then to the wall or laying them out on the floor or a table.

Set the group the challenge to find a picture each and to explain to the group why they picked that picture.

You could ask them just pick one they like, or one that explains how their day went, or one that best describes who God is to them.

Another option is to use art postcards that you buy from galleries, artcards on specific God and ethics ideas from Youthscape or perspective cards available to buy from Agape.

4. Values Pyramid

Create 10 values on a theme or a topic and have the group rank them from most important at the top of the pyramid to least important on the bottom row. If you have enough people have several sets of this around and brake the group up.

Once you’ve done this ask the golden questions again (who, what, when, where, why, how) to challenge their answers. Compare the different pyramids and give people the opportunity to remove a row and re-rank the remaining.

Once finished you can give them a white piece of paper each and encourage them to add or replace a value with one of their own. Two sets available for free to download below. Just cut them out and if you want, laminate them.

Relationships And Sex Values Pyramid

Worldview And Ethics Values Pyramid

5. Values Washing Line

This effectively works the same way as the values pyramid however instead of moving around a hierarchical triangle you have a washing line stretched across the room with the values pegged to it.

Get a group to rank them most to least important left-to-right and explain why. Keep moving and dropping some off.

Free Download: Relationship Stages Washing Line. Enlarge, Print, Laminate & add Peggs!

6. playing cards

The best examples of these are made by Youthscape and specifically Romance Academy on the theme of sex and relationships.

You can use them just like regular playing cards, however each card comes with its own unique discussion question.

These are also easy enough to make your own.



6 Youth Group Tactile Discussion Activities

50 Great Ice Breaker Questions


When your stuck in a small group on the fly or just need to invigorate some conversation into a reluctant group of young people – try a few of the following great ice breaker questions! I’ve used most of these before – to hilarious results! They get people talking and laughing and they create some great memories!

Remember – these all work best when followed by ‘why?’

  1. If you could replace the contents of a pillow case – what would you replace it with?
  2. Would you rather live in a house made of glass or a house made of beef?
  3. Would you rather have dolphins for arms or badgers for feet?
  4. Would you rather have to laugh out loud every time you used ‘lol’ or make the face of any emoticon that you use?
  5. What new burger would you invent for McDonald’s?
  6. What new Pot Noodle flavour would you invent?
  7. If you were a kitchen utensil what would you be?
  8. If you had a non-traditional superpower, what would you have?
  9. If you had personal theme music, what would it be?
  10. If you could mate two foods and make a new one, what would it be?
  11. What animal do you most identify with?
  12. What dairy product do you most identify with?
  13. What breakfast cereal do you most identity with?
  14. If you were a brand – what would you be?
  15. What verb best describes you?
  16. What three adjectives best describe you?
  17. What’s the best random act of kindness you’ve ever seen?
  18. If you could get away with anything (within reason) – what would you do?
  19. What would you name your boat?
  20. What would you name your third child?
  21. If you could have any job in the world, what would it be?
  22. Would you rather travel back in time or forward into the future?
  23. Would you rather go to school more hours over less days, or less hours over more days?
  24. Would you rather be famous, or the best friend of a famous person?
  25. Would you rather be able to speak any language (without understanding), or understand any language (without speaking)?
  26. Would you rather have a rewind or a pause button for your life?
  27. If you could invite three people (living or dead) to dinner, who would you invite?
  28. Would you rather have powers of invisibility or mind-reading?
  29. Would you rather only be able to use the internet for 1 hour a week – or only be able to go out outdoors for 1 hour a week?
  30. Would you rather always know when someone is lying, or always get away with lying?
  31. Would you rather be able to speak with animals or be able to speak all foreign languages in the world?
  32. If you could replace the actor in any film, who would you replace and with who?
  33. If you could play any part in any film in the world, what part would you play?
  34. What is the weirdest food you have ever eaten?
  35. What is the most unsuccessful food you have ever made?
  36. If you could be invisible for one day, what would you do?
  37. If you could rid the world of one thing, what would you do?
  38. If you were stranded on a dessert Island – what three things and three people would you take?
  39. What is your biggest pet peeve?
  40. If you could put an advert on the side of every bus – what would it be?
  41. What is your favourite day?
  42. What is your favourite season?
  43. Would you rather be a butterfly or an elephant?
  44. Would you rather have hiccups or the need to sneeze for the rest of the year?
  45. Would you rather live in a world with giant friendly teddy bears or live in a world where hover-boards exist?
  46. Would you rather control the elements or control time?
  47. Would you rather live without your phone & internet – or live without music?
  48. Would you rather have to say yes to everything, or no to everything?
  49. If you were a power tool what would you be?
  50. …. So…. do you like…. stuff?

Got any more? Comment below 🙂

‘The Awkward Bunch’ – Small Group Dynamics in Youth Work

(Check out the videocast versions here: Part 1. Part 2. Part 3.).

So small groups eh? The beating heart of youth ministry and my big passion! I started leading my first ‘koinos’ group at 14 in my parents house which turned out to be the busiest in the church – probably less to do with it’s ‘quality content’ and more to do with all the nonsense and chocolate I filled it with! That said, there’s not been a year since that I’ve not been involved in leading a small group of some sort.

A few days ago a I led a training session for North Wales youth workers on Small Group Dynamics. Below is the skeleton of my notes – minus the Acts 2:42-47 Bible Study we began with. These come from my own experience, some notes I took on a brilliant Mark Russel (CEO of Church Army) talk that I can’t find anywhere and this short simple document found here by Karl Leuthauser.

Below you will find:
– Small group personalities and characters
– How to respond to these in a group setting
– How to respond to these individually
– A one-liner on an effective group and an effective group leader – because we all love one-liners!

Small Group Personalities and Characters

Each small group is made up a various characters. Below is a list of the most likely characters you’ll run into in your small group. These don’t take into account age, experience, maturity, culture, context, personality type, or learning-style differences which will all also have an effect. And, truth be told, most people will be a mix of several rather than just one. People often change categories too for various reasons. However the principles remain the same when they appear, so have a read through and see if you recognize anyone…

Always answers questions and wants the first and last word. Dominator often interrupts others, launches long monologues, and come across as needy or bossy. Dominator often tends to be right too (annoyingly!), and easily closes down conversations because of this. Dominator can be critical or dismissive of others, and as the name suggests, often ‘dominates’ the conversation by demanding attention.

The opposite of dominator – disappearer doesn’t answer questions voluntarily, and when called upon has the tendency to freeze, waiting awkwardly for you to pass them by. Disappearer often vanished into the background as if by magic. They can make a group feel uncomfortable and lead other characters to try to force them to interact.

Gladiator loves the arena! They want the debate, the argument, and to get it they tend to ‘take the other side’ – whether or not they actually hold that view. They are the devil’s advocate of the group. Gladiator can take you down unnecessary tangents and cause conflicts with your plan and with other members of the group. Groups often kick back at gladiator personally and hurtfully.

Gladiator’s opposite. Placater never wants the debate, is a master of sitting on the fence, and actively seeks to close down conflict and arguments. Placater shuts down helpful discussions and turns genuine, iron-sharpening-iron conversations into personal issues.

The answer is always ‘love’ in some form or another. ‘It’s because God loves us and we should love others’ is the stock response. They can come across annoyingly deep and hard to follow with less emotive sounding answers, thus lover too shuts down conversations. Lover also can be uninterested or even hostile to important and juicy topics like hell, punishment, judgement, sin, and wrath.

In some ways opposite to lover, downer seems to ‘bring things down.’ Downer has a tendency to give a negative spin on whatever answer they offer, and seem to be by nature glass-half-full. Downer is often hurtful, critical, biting, or sarcastic towards other members of the group and they noticeably blow off activity and discussions.

Missioner has a ‘go out and do’ approach to every question. Missioner wants to be actively doing something rather than talking about something – so often appears disdainful of the small group idea. Missioner is often social-gospel focused and critical towards those who don’t appear to share their views.

Joker is there to be the class clown and often dissipates serious and deep moments of important discussions with jokes and humour. Joker always sees the funny side of everything however inappropriate and tends to be distracting when starved of attention for a while. Joker can independently see that your group never gets personal or deep about anything.

Tends to see every question as an opportunity to show off knowledge, and if they can’t they manipulate questions to fit what they do know. Educator likes attention for being ‘in the know’ and can take you on enormous detours from the subject or question.

Doesn’t understand the socially acceptable and line between enough and too much information publicly. Revealer has a habit of pushing the ‘too much info’ button and sharing deeply personal and awkward stories that are too sensitive for the public nature of the group mid study. Revealer tends to be inward focused and moves attention onto themselves.

Solver is very analytical by nature and a big fan of the ‘rule of thumb.’ Solver often presents ‘easy’ and ‘obvious’ answers to complex, and broad questions and issues, and worse can give impersonal action points to another group member sharing a struggle. Solver can both override genuine experience and shut down needed conversations.

So did you recognize anyone? What about yourself? I tend to be a bit of gladiator and solver in most situations – however at Bible College, or situations where I feel intimidated I tend to be a mix of disappearer and educator. It’s worth saying that not all of these traits are necessarily bad – they can simply be undeveloped gifting, as we will see in the individual responses section. Also – in a strange way, God himself embodies some or all of these personality types in various ways for various purposes. So with all this in mind – what do we do with this odd bunch of people?

Group Responses

There are a few things we can do with the format, group setup, and general dynamics of a small group to allow these members to interact in a healthy and up-building way – or at least we can set the context for group health. Here’s a bunch of ideas in no particular order:

1. Use names. Names are super important in small groups – they give a sense of belonging, ownership, and you can direct conversation away from characters who might steal from it, or towards those who wouldn’t otherwise engage.

2. Plan a mix of both open and closed questions. Open questions have a high degree of subjectivity and are pretty hard to ‘get wrong.’ These allow more interaction from those who might talk less, makes answers less rigid, undercuts arguments/placating, and boycotts over specific closing-down answers. Closed questions are often more objective and renders monologues, rants, and question-manipulation more difficult.and Closed questions often require more thought and searching/probing out.

3. The ‘Split & Feed’ Method. This is where you break the group into smaller groups (often pairs) and get them to discuss questions on their own and prepare to feedback to the overall group. This gives space for those who might normally not volunteer answers and guards against those who hijack discussions. You can do this to get different responses to the same question, give opportunities for creative retelling of stories, and generate talk where things have been quiet and unengaged. Be strategic with who you put with who! For example, disappearer and dominator would be a disastrous pair!

4. The ‘Circle/Opt-Out’ Method. Here you ask a question and go around the circle giving everyone a opportunity to answer. You should encourage everyone to have a go, however provide an easy way to opt-out or let the question pass them by.

5. Reflection Times. This is simply where you don’t ask for immediate answers, but get them to silently reflect for a while then feedback. You’re more likely to get genuine answers this way and give everyone a good opportunity to engage. This is also a great way of calming down an overly excited group.

6. Good Social Times & Ice Breakers. A good time before the group begins to simply ‘hang out’ is a great way to integrate those who might be quiet otherwise, and to let those who hijack time to vent social steam and get their fix before you begin. This is a good reason to have an extra, un-busy leader to hang out with them to encourage inclusivity. Ice breakers too should be simple, not embarrassing (unless volunteer-based) and begin conversational momentum. I will post some thoughts on effective ice-breakers at some point.

7. Ground Rules. These should be used to teach and re-enforce healthy group dynamics – they shouldn’t be used all the time as an Orwellian matter of course. Such rules could be, ‘only speak again when someone else has spoken,’ ‘1 minute or less answers,’ or using a ‘talking hat’ or ‘talking banana’ to hold or wear if they want to speak.

8. Get Them To Take Responsibility. Talk to your group often about group integrity and the responsibilities they have towards each other. They should not be allowed to ‘police’ each other – but encouraged using carefully placed prayer and discussion to be self aware, encouraging, and understanding towards each other as part of your group applications.

Individual Responses

Here’s a bunch of basic ways to respond to each of the 11 characters above.

– Use directive body language, eye contact, and names to sometimes clearly avoid them
– Give gentle correction, such as “sorry matie, but I want to give someone else a chance to speak…’
– In a one-to-one setting encourage their enthusiasm and try and help them take responsibility for the group. A ‘secret sign’ like a wink could be a trigger on which you agree together to allow them room to speak when the group is going quiet – giving them a leadership purpose
– Get them to lead a session!

– Through gentle coaching and encouragement allow them space to answer questions. Give them plenty of positive reinforcement when they do, let them know how valuable their input is – but don’t push them
– Use split & feed, and mix it up often so they have opportunities to meet everyone personally

– Make space in your program for debate. One of the ways to do this is ‘role play’ where you break everyone into pairs and give each member a view to hold. This makes debates less personal
– When there’s disagreement, place the focus on the issues not the people
– When they add disagreement, get them to be specific and clearly articulate it
– Get them to moderate a debate (rather than engage in one)

– Step in and make the conflict apersonal – i.e. make it about the views held, not the people holding them
– If a disagreement arises, take the two views and take them to their extremes (eg. rather than ‘maybe there’s freewill // no there’s not’ to ‘God gives us absolute, autonomous freedom // we’re all God-programed robots’) and get the whole group to discuss the pros and cons of each position
– Enforce security and care over arguments; affirm the people and positions held – more on how to do this another time

– Same answer to any ‘closing down’ question: develop the answer with how, what, when, where, or why. So how is love the answer, what kind of love, when does that apply, where was that shown, or why is love like that? etc.

– Encourage them to try and reframe their answer using positive language while still affirming the point they made
– Use humour to deflect the issue, “yes we are doing that, and as a special treat you get to be my partner!”
– A one-to-one talk about why they’re approach is so critical and negative might be worthwhile

– Teach on the importance of prep and reflection to effectively ‘go out and do’ also teach on calling and how God equips people differently for different ministry
– Run a group mission! Get missioner to help organize and run it

– When humour is not appropriate, don’t laugh and pointedly move on
– In a one-to-one, talk with them about the importance of going deep and how they could use humour constructively. Encourage them in it as a gift that is great in the right place
– Get them to lead an ice-breaker

– Specifically call them on staying on topic while affirming their answers. Sometimes ask them when they begin to talk to think whether or not they are on topic.
– Get them to prepare 5 minute intros to themes and sessions on given topics.

– While affirming the person and giving broad sympathy to the issue shared, redirect them to a more appropriate time to talk. Be direct but gentle

– Give clear empathy towards the person who’s problem they are ‘solving’ allowing them the space to struggle in a more complex way – redirecting away from the solution given and giving permission for more exploration
– Have a one-to-one, talking about complexity and irrationality as important parts of the journey
– Get solver to plan the study questions with you, talk about potential answers with them

An Effective Group…

… is a clear discipleship and fellowship ground where every member is comfortable with who they are in the group – and have the ability to use their specific gifts and characteristics to add to the group.

An Effective Leader…

… sees themselves more as a facilitator of learning and maturity, who is clear, firm, gentle, empathetic and constructive.


So there’s a bunch of stuff on small group dynamics and personalities – hopefully some of it is helpful. For more posts on small groups click here.