I still remember making the first and only college visit I completed with my parents. As we explored the campus, we met the professor that led the journalism department—the chosen major I wanted to pursue. As he showed us around, he looked at my parents and asked one simple question, “Was she curious as a child”?
I don’t really know why that memory is still one that is embedded in my brain, but I remember feeling that if I was going to be a good journalism student, I must be inquisitive and eager to learn. In that first semester of taking a class on news reporting, I quickly discovered the key to unlocking my curiosity was the art of asking good questions.
Asking good questions and having a curious mind might be important as a journalist, but it’s also important if you are leading or facilitating a Bible study. Whether you’ve led a group for years or you are about to embark on a new journey of leading a small group, one of the most important keys to a successful group is asking questions and inviting others to participate in learning God’s Word together in community.
Bible study leaders perform several roles in discussion. You serve as a motivator, the one who invites women to think as individuals but in the context of interacting with one another. You are a guide, the woman who keeps the discussion on track while encouraging participation. You help clarify comments or ask probing questions to move the participants along in the discussion. Finally, you are the encourager, the one who values the answers that are shared and affirms those who participate.
So, where do you start? How do you ask questions that facilitate great discussion? The types of questions leaders should ask have many names, but the ones that have stuck with me are Hook, Book, Look, and Took.1 Those four words have served me well when leading groups and continue to be an easy way for me to remember how the conversation should progress. They were first coined by Lawrence Richards in his book, Creative Bible Teaching and are still used by Christian educators today.
The “Hook” is the question that everyone can answer and is the springboard to your discussion. Some leaders use this as a way to get to know one another—to share something personal, but a good “Hook” question is not sharing the highs and lows of the week. It’s the question that stimulates the discussion around the topic or Scripture you are about to review. For instance, if you are about to dive into a study about forgiveness, you might ask, “Can you share a time when forgiveness was difficult?” or “How have you experienced forgiveness?” The hook question is a way for the group to start talking, offer a personal illustration, or enter into the discussion. Just like an onramp propels your vehicle onto a major road, your hook question propels the group to jump into the subject or passage of the day.
The “Book” is the bulk of your discussion and is a time of exploring what God’s Word says about the subject or objective of the day. It’s a time for women to look at what they learned from their personal study and to share information they discovered or explored. Good “Book” questions avoid asking, “What do you think?” and focus more on “What does the Bible say?” These types of questions may be included in the Bible study you are doing, so before you meet with your group, circle questions already written for you and allow women to share what they learned. For instance, you might ask, “What did Jesus say about forgiveness in this passage?” “Who was Jesus talking to when He spoke these words?” Focus the questions on information and avoid asking yes or no questions. Use phrases like “What happened?”, “Who said that?”, “Where did this take place?”, or “When did this occur?”
The “Look” questions are the transition of moving knowledge in the head to considering the heart of the woman who is learning the lesson. The group begins to consider how Scripture impacts our lives and how we internalize God’s Word. This is the beginning stage of application and will help group members consider actions they should take in light of what they have learned.
The “Took” part of the discussion moves the conversation to what they will take away from the time together. Encourage application questions that are more than individual responses but application for everyone in the group. An example might be, “What can our group do this week to show forgiveness to someone else?” or “How do we become a group known for forgiving others?” This part of the discussion moves to the “why” and “how” questions. These are questions that should challenge the group to become doers of the Word and not just hearers only as James 1:22 says. This part of your group is not the ending, but the beginning of how women will live the truths they have learned. It is a time of invitation, but also a time of commitment.
In addition to these three simple words, here are some other things to consider when asking good questions in your small group.
- Avoid asking yes or no questions. If you want rich discussion, consider probing questions that go deeper. Also, avoid rhetorical questions.
- Don’t monopolize the group time. There is a big difference between teaching a study and facilitating a group. If you are leading a small group, conversation and interaction are key components for success. You may be asked to clarify a question or keep the group from chasing rabbits, but a good facilitator keeps the questions moving along and encourages others to participate.
- Plan ahead. As you complete your own study during the week, make notes in the margin or highlight places where you want to emphasize information during the group time. Prepare questions you want to ask and consider how much time you have to complete the lesson. Start with the end time in mind and work backward. Put a suggested time near the question you want to ask and consider how many women you want to answer. This will help you complete the entire lesson and not get stuck.
- Avoid wordy questions or multiple questions. If you ask a question and get blank stares from the group, take a moment to consider whether they understand. Rephrase the question or make it shorter if needed.
- Don’t be afraid of silence. Group leaders often get nervous when no one participates, and they find themselves answering the questions right away. Instead, allow the group to think and remember that some women need more time to process before jumping into the discussion.
- Encourage participation from everyone. This doesn’t mean you have to single someone out or call out someone specifically, but use language such as, “I’d love to hear from someone who hasn’t participated,” or “Let’s make sure everyone has a chance to share today.”
- Don’t stop with one answer. Unless the answer to a question is fairly obvious, it’s possible group members may have various ways to contribute to the conversation. They may have a personal story or may have additional questions.
Above all, remember you have been given the responsibility of shepherding the women in your group. While great questions and conversations are important to the health of your Bible study, the thing women will remember most is the way you encourage and respond to the answers they give. Be a curious student of God’s Word and continue to learn the art of asking good questions. Remember Peter’s words in 1 Peter 5:2-3, “Shepherd God’s flock among you, not overseeing out of compulsion but willingly, as God would have you; not out of greed for money but eagerly; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.”
Kelly is the Manager of Magazines/Devotional Publishing and Women’s Ministry Training for Lifeway Christian Resources. She holds a Master of Theology degree from Gateway Seminary and was previously an adjunct professor at Oklahoma Baptist University while serving as the Women’s Specialist for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. She continues to serve in local church ministry as a women’s ministry volunteer and small group leader for high school girls. She is the author of Ministry to Women: The Essential Guide to Leading Women in the Local Church.
- Lawrence Richards and Gary J. Bredfeldt, Creative Bible Teaching (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1970, 1998).