DISCOVERY GROUP TIPS
QUESTION 1: What are you thankful for this week? (Worship/Praise)
Asking this question gives the group an easy way to get started, and everyone can come up with something to say, even the introverts.
Notice that we don’t start with prayer. Christian groups start with prayer; those who are far from God don’t. We don’t ask lost people to bow their heads and pray. We don’t explain what prayer is. We don’t have a lecture about this being an important part of group DNA. Instead, we introduce this simple question and allow each member of the group to share.
Often in a group of pre-Christians, once the group is going, it’s likely that someone will begin to connect gratitude to God, as the source of all blessings. This becomes a perfect learning moment. The facilitator can then point out what the group has shared that they are thankful for, and that prayer is just telling God the same thing.
The facilitator can just start the group over and say, “Let’s tell God, what we’re thankful for.”
QUESTION 2: What has challenged or stressed you this week? (Connection/Intercession)
This question steers participants toward sharing with and caring for one another on a deeper level. Many people outside the Church may never have experienced small-group dynamics that include opening their hearts, being vulnerable and creating close connections.
Asking a North American this question, however, can lead to a 30-minute answer. This is not a support group, so answers shouldn’t be long and drawn out. This is one time when it may be beneficial for you to answer the question first, providing a model for how it should be done. Remember, because a Discovery Group is made up of people who have a pre-existing relationship, they can talk in more depth outside of the group.
The suggested approach is to ask people (and remind them, if needed) to share in sentences not paragraphs.
If you are leading a group of believers, each person can share in the form of a prayer, or someone can pray over all of the shared concerns to wrap up this question. With a group of non-believers, as they discover prayer in the Scriptures, the facilitator can help the group gradually begin to practice it by saying “In the same way that you shared with each other, now you can share those same things with God. Let’s do that now.”
Occasionally, a group member will have an issue that requires the facilitator to put aside the passage from the Bible. In these moments, it is appropriate to be transparent and take the pressure of getting into the Bible passage off the group. If this happens frequently, though, you probably have a group member whose motivation to be in the group is not to hear from God but again a hearing for his or her problems.
QUESTION 3: Do you or anyone you know have a need that this group can meet together? (Ministry/Serving Others)
This is one of the hardest pieces of the DNA to get set. The question is meant to begin the disciple making process by involving group members in the second half of the Great Commandment: loving others.
In the U.S., need is often identified with money, so the question is skewed in people’s minds toward poverty. It takes time to help people have eyes for others in their immediate context: neighborhood, workplace, school, sports team. Maybe a friend is undergoing chemo and needs meals, housework, or help getting kids to school.
Serving together to change the world around them imprints in group members that a relationship with God is lived out, not just thought about. This, along with the sixth question (“I will...” commitment), are the bookends of the obedience-focused culture in a Discovery Group.
QUESTIONS 4 & 5 (Revelation/Knowledge)
Now it’s time to read the Bible passage together and hear directly from God. You can use one of the Scripture sets on Oakdale’s website. For anyone who does not yet have a Bible, suggest that they download the free YouVersion app on their phone (we recommend NIV, NLT or ESV translation). Also remember that many people are not familiar with the organization of the Bible—so take time to go over how to locate books, chapters and verses, and practice finding passages.
Read the designated Scripture passage aloud in two different versions if available.
Ask someone to retell the passage in his or her own words. This is simply repeating what they just heard, as if they were sharing it with a friend, not explaining or interpreting what it means. (Note: Believers are especially prone to doing this! The Scripture is the authority and teacher, not us. We want them to discover what God is saying to them and to rely on the Holy Spirit for answers to their questions). Afterward, invite others to add any key point that that might have been missed. You want them to get the core or central truth from the passage. For instance, if you are in Genesis 1, the point is not creation versus evolution, but that God is the Creator of all that there is.
QUESTION 4: What does this passage tell us about God/Jesus?
QUESTION 5: What does this passage tell us about people?
Don’t get sidetracked on peripheral issues, and if someone goes off on a tangent, refocus them by asking: “Where did you see that in this passage?” In fact, any group member can ask this of another person at any time. “Group correction” is a key component of Discovery Groups.
Church leaders and facilitators who are believers will often ask a great question: “What about heresy?”
Groups may indeed tend to be heretical in the beginning. They don’t know everything about God’s Word. As you pray for the Holy Spirit to guide them and they discover how God wants them to relate to Him, they become less heretical. That is part of discipleship.
QUESTION 6: If (for non-believers) / Since (for believers) this is God speaking, what will you do in response this week? (Hearing & Obeying God)
Each person should write down a tangible “I will...” statement so they can put into practice what they learned from the designated passage. Encourage people to make their “I will...” statement specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound (SMART). Another way to say this is, “In the next 24 to 48 hours, what can you do in response to what God is saying to you?” One way to test them is to ask, “So when you come back next week, how will we know whether you’ve done that ‘I will’ or not?”
SPECIFIC: “I will begin to recycle because God has given me the earth to take care of.”
NOT SPECIFIC: “I will take better care of God’s creation.”
SPECIFIC: “I will take 10 minutes per day to reflect on how much God loves me.”
NOT SPECIFIC: “I will spend more time meditating on Scripture and praying.”
SPECIFIC: “I will sit and watch a baseball game on TV with my husband without talking all the time.” NOT SPECIFIC: “I will be more respectful of my husband.”
Be patient, have grace, and provide a good model as your group gets used to acting on the truths found in the Bible. Simple acts of response to God speaking are the goal.
Watch for trends in your group, such as people not doing their “I will.” This probably is a sign of their spiritual temperature. Be ready to ask them after three or four weeks how you can help them follow through on their “I will.” Usually, this kind of attention will either energize someone’s spiritual interest or expose that there is no spiritual appetite there.
Another trend is to have the same “I will” statement every week. Obviously, we could all focus on a few things for a long time and grow through that focus. But repeating an “I will” can expose spiritual laziness and perpetuate our attempts to plant good seed in infertile soil.
QUESTION 7: Who should you share with this week? (Evangelism/Multiplication)
Each group member is asked to name someone to share within the coming week. The content of the sharing can be related to what they are reading and obeying from the Bible or in general what God is doing in his or her life. The goal is to be spiritually obvious without being spiritually obnoxious.
Sharing should not be persuasive (which creates pressure that causes people to put up barriers to a relationship) but an experience or story that draws them in. When someone shares on a personal level, we listen and enjoy the invitation to another’s internal world (transparency).
Experienced Christians have the hardest time being natural with this because they often have been brought up to wear a mask and pretend to have their act together—which gives the false impression that being a follower of Jesus makes people immune from difficulties (inauthenticity).
Group members often share by looking for opportunities to mention to friends that they learned something while reading the Bible. When no one is shoving religion down their throats, it piques their interest. Some might even want to join the group. This is where the DNA replication begins. But groups need to multiply, not grow.
If a friend asks to join, you can say, “Our group has already started, and we aren’t adding people. But if you want to do something like this, I will help you lead one for yourself and the people you know. Let’s start a new group.”
You can then coach that person as he/she begins this new group. Regular phone calls or personal meetings to talk through the rough spots and issues that develop will give them confidence. Since the leadership development is built-in rather than bolted on, every member is equipped to start a group.
ACCOUNTABILITY QUESTIONS (Week 2 and beyond; at the start of every gathering)
In addition to the core questions, there is one more key piece of “genetic code” that needs to be installed in every Discovery Group: Accountability.
Remember, in response to Questions 6 & 7, each group member writes an “I will...” statement based on what God is saying to him/her about what they need to do/change to obey the Scripture passage, and also commits to sharing with at least one other person in the coming week. From a group’s second meeting onward, these accountability questions should be asked at the start of every gathering:
Who can remember/retell the Scripture passage from last week? How did you do with your “I will...” and “I will tell...” statements?
This will give you a space to celebrate victories as well as encourage each other to obey Jesus. It is not about making someone feel guilty, but giving them opportunities to grow. If someone didn’t take the action, they said they would, you can gently ask, “How can we help you to obey what God is telling you?” Perhaps they need to revise their commitment to be more specific or practical. People often tend to make their commitments overly ambitious and overly spiritual: “I will pray on my knees for an hour every day.”
If, however, most of the group did not follow through on their commitments for the past week, don’t automatically move on to a new Scripture passage. In obedience-based Discovery Groups, evidence of small behavioral changes (not perfection!) should determine the pace that a group moves through a Scripture set. This is a major paradigm shift from many Bible studies or small groups using a book, video series or other curriculum, which often don’t focus on application and accountability but forge relentlessly ahead to the next lesson or chapter.
Many churches/Christians have made the mistake of judging spiritual maturity by what someone knows (information) rather than if they obey what they know (transformation). If we want to grow spiritually, we need to adopt a system that encourages behaviors that lead to spiritual growth. Discovery Groups are one process that encourages those behaviors and provides the accountability that people need.
- “Spent Matches” by Roy Moran,
- “Contagious Disciple Making” by David L. Watson & Paul D. Watson,
- “How to Launch a Discovery Bible Study” by novo.org.