Common Small Group Challenges

discussion, conversation, chatty, quiet, talkers, preachy, chaos, off topic

Updated over a week ago

Alpha small groups are a safe place for guests to express their opinions, share life experiences, ask questions, and disagree without being judged. Great Alpha facilitators have gone through the training videos and spent time in prayer for guests. However, even with experienced table leaders, there can be challenging situations. Here are some common issues and ideas that might be helpful:

1) A Dominant Guest

  • Don’t sit opposite them—sit next to them. This is a less confrontational posture.

  • Politely invite questions from others, “Thanks for that story. Does anyone else want to share their thoughts?"

  • Look directly at and gesture towards the other guests.

  • If you absolutely must, interrupt with a positive comment, "Yes, I agree! Does anyone else feel that way too?"

  • Talk to them privately after the session if necessary.

2) An Eager Christian

  • Talk to them privately after the session and affirm their knowledge first. Then explain the heart behind Alpha—to allow guests to explore faith without being judgmental or preachy.

  • Ask them to help you by praying silently for guests during the Alpha session.

  • Ask if they would be interested in leading a Bible study instead (more advanced than Alpha) and connect them to your Home Groups Leader.

  • During Alpha, gently ask them to share more about their feelings, "That’s a great Bible verse; can you share a bit about why that's meaningful to you?"

3) A Quiet Member

  • Chat with them during meal times and get to know them on a casual level. Get them talking about something they are passionate about.

  • Never put anyone on the spot, rather ask if anyone "on this side of the group" would like to share (and say it with a smile). It really does work!

  • Use an icebreaker before each discussion to get everyone comfortable with sharing.

  • If the quiet person makes a comment, ask them for more information to encourage them. Use easy, open-ended questions only.

4) A Quiet Group

  • Use the discussion questions in the Alpha Team Guide each week but if it falls flat, feel free to change up the wording to make it more thought-provoking!

    e.g. "Is there anything that you find hard to believe about Jesus?"

  • Ask questions that allow or encourage negative responses, e.g. "What do you find hardest about praying?" "What do you fear most about sharing your faith?"

  • Include an icebreaker question every week to get people talking.

  • Ask if your question makes sense or clarify specific terms.

  • Don’t be afraid of silence; let them think about your question.

5) A Chaotic Group (off the topic)

  • Keep only one conversation going at one time. The co-leader or helper can keep the attention to the one speaking so everyone is aware who the group facilitator is.

  • Address topics that are raised, but don’t stay off the topic too long.

  • Suggest related reading material* and/or websites that might be helpful.

  • Be aware of topics coming up later in the course and mention them to the group.

  • Have fun, don’t shut down every unrelated topic.

  • Aim to find out the fear or need behind their questions.

*The Alpha Guest Guide includes the key points for each week, Bible verses covered in the video, and a list of books about various Christian topics in the "Recommended Reading" section.

The Alpha Team Guide includes includes admin reminders, key concepts, and discussion questions for each week.

6) Personal Issues Focus

  • If someone constantly brings up personal problems during discussion time, offer to talk with them after Alpha and pray with them.

  • Be interested, sympathize, listen, but after a while try to steer the conversation back to the topic or toward others.

  • Ask how they would like to be supported (meet with them during the week, suggest a visit from the Pastor, direct them to counselling or a felt-needs group).

  • Don’t sit opposite them. (See #1)

  • Ask them if you can share their personal issue with the Alpha Prayer Team (either anonymously or first name only). Let them know they are cared for.

7) A Group Project Focus

  • If you notice that everyone in the group is trying to help one specific guest, deflect attention from the person to their question / issue. Re-phrase the question if necessary.

  • Find ways to affirm their contributions. Remind guests that we're here to listen and learn, not correct or fix each other's issues.

  • Ask if others have felt this way too and how they worked through those issues.

  • Allow for a few solutions but steer the conversation back to the topic and how others think and feel.

Top Tip 💡 Watch the Team Training video ("Small Groups") and read through the "Host & Helper Guidelines" in the MyAlpha Toolbox for additional proven and practical tips to facilitate great discussions!

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