Many small group leaders have backed away from doing ice-breakers. As you understood after reading yesterday’s seven reasons for doing ice-breakers, these moments are important if you want to have a transformational conversation.
There are seven audacious practices of those who use ice-breakers effectively that may be helpful.
When asking an ice-breaker question, keep your tone light.
Use questions that anyone can answer easily and none that demand a response that leads the group into deep or dark places.
Be an active listener when each person is responding to the ice-breaker question.
After each person responds affirm them for speaking. This will help get them involved in the deeper discussion to come. Phrases like, “Thanks for sharing, I’m really looking forward to your input in a few minutes.” or “I always appreciate your responses to any of the questions we discuss. I’m especially looking forward to your comments in a few minutes.” etc…
When it’s appropriate, be the first to laugh. When you laugh others will join you in it. Laughter throws the heart open more quickly than almost anything else.
Don’t allow group members to ask follow-up questions of one another. This will hijack your evening.
Keep people’s responses as short as possible and be certain the overly-talkative group member (or anyone else) doesn’t get into telling a long story. You can keep this from happening by asking the question then saying something like, “Let’s each take about 30 seconds.”
I was once again leading a small group leader training event in a southern state. The room was completely full. Over 100 group leaders were there. The small group pastor had invited me to spend 4 hours with them. His one major expectation, “Be sure you help them know how to host an effective conversational Bible study.” Since aiding group leaders in doing that specific thing is one of my passions I was jazzed. That is, until I announced, “If you want to experience a truly transformational conversational Bible study, start with a couple of good ice-breakers.” That’s when the moment went south. From the back of the room came this shout of exasperation, “Ice-breakers suck!”
This is not the first time I’ve encountered group leaders frustrated when ice-breakers are brought up. After interviewing many group leaders who verbalized their frustration with ice-breakers, I find that most of them aren’t personally frustrated. Rather, they’ve had complaints from a few group members when the leader opens the meeting ice-breakers.
There are a few super important reasons to do a couple of ice-breakers before diving into the Bible study conversation.:
It gets group members talking about their own story.
It levels the playing field. A good ice-breaker is simply a question that asks about something from one’s childhood or teen years or asks about a preference you have, etc… It’s a question anyone can answer. And, when you have a garbage collector in the same room as a bank president, when a question of this nature is answered by both individuals, a level playing field is created.
It gives the leader a chance to model active listening for the group prior to the Bible study conversation.
It sets the tone of the meeting as being relaxed. This is especially important when new group members are in attendance or when discussing some heavy stuff during the Bible study time.
It gets the person who is hesitant to talk into the conversation early on.
It allows the non-talker to say something during the meeting, even if this is all they say, helping them to feel a part of the group.
It gives the group leader a chance to speak a word of encouragement to every group member which will make them more apt to speak when the real Bible study begins. After each person responds thank them for sharing then tell them you look forward to hearing from them later.