Facilitating Small Groups on Retreat




  • For the most part, be a “passive” facilitator.  You are there to help the group understand what they should be sharing about and how, and then to assist the discussion only if necessary.  Ideally, you would just observe and watch the time for them.
  • Sometimes, however, it takes an outside observer, who is not emotionally involved in the group, to see tension that is not being resolved or to point out opportunities for clearer understanding between group members.
  • If you do see one of these opportunities and feel the need to comment, make it a question or suggestion that will keep the discussion among the group members going, rather than a comment that brings you into the discussion as a participant;  “Jane, maybe you could explain to the group what you mean by a service project, or give some examples?” rather than  “Jane is right that service is an important activity for every SCC, here are some things you could do.”
  • A group can’t expect to resolve everything in an hour or two.  If some issues to do not get resolved, make sure they have a plan for next steps (maybe to continue the discussion at a future meeting, to each research a solution before the next meeting, etc.)
  • Use the following tools and ideas if you need them.  Again, some groups will naturally be good at these skills; others will need you to help them along.


Keeping the discussion on track:

  • Watch the time and give reminders about how much time is left; “Before you begin, I’d like to remind everyone that three people still need to share, and we have about 15 minutes left.”
  • If someone goes off on a tangent, gently bring them back to the purpose or question at hand; “Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Ed.  Now, let’s hear more suggestions about how you might handle young children in your meetings.”


Making sure everyone is heard:

  • If someone is interrupted, offer the person who had been speaking a chance to finish what he or she was saying; “Mary, what were you saying about why you feel attendance should be mandatory?”
  • If a discussion begins to get heated, refocus it by having each person clarify what they are feeling;  “Let’s stop for a minute to make sure everyone understands how you each see the issue.  Katie, why don’t you explain to everyone why you handled the situation the way you did?  Then Brian, you can tell everyone how that made you feel or why you felt it should have been handled differently.”
  • Clarify what a person said by rephrasing it and checking for understanding; “Sara, what I hear you saying is that you didn’t feel valued by the group when you missed three meetings in a row and no one called to see how you were doing.  Is that correct?”


Keeping the discussion respectful:

  • Give everyone a chance to speak at the start through simple sharing (each person says what they have written, without discussion from the group).
  • Refocus the discussion if it moves into personal attacks.  In a situation where someone is calling another inconsiderate for being late; “Tom, why don’t you tell us why it is important to you that people be on time, or how it makes you feel when you are leading a meeting and someone comes in late?”  This helps everyone see that the real issue is “arriving on time is important” not “Jim is inconsiderate”.
  • If there is obvious tension, try to name it.  “I get the feeling that differences of opinion on (a church teaching, children at meetings, social events) are causing some tension among you.  Can someone describe that for me?”

Comments are closed.