If old shampoo commercials have taught me anything, it’s that you never get a second chance to make a first impression.
This advice isn’t just for job applicants. Your first moments with your Bible class or small group are critical as well.
A Great Way to Begin
Some teachers begin a class with a review. Others jump right into the passage.
But most skilled teachers use a softer opening. They create a transition period where people can settle, adjust, and get on the same page. Launching questions are great for this.
What is a Launching Question?
A launching question is asked at the beginning of a class or study. It launches the group toward your goal, gathering as many people on board as possible. (We’ve written about launching questions before, and Peter has provided some great examples.)
Much of the power of small groups (and smaller classes) lies in the interaction between the people. A good launching question encourages participation, showing that conversation is welcome, safe, and valued. The best questions are also linked to the topic or text of the meeting.
Common Mistakes with Launching Questions
I’ve seen and made lots of mistakes at the beginning of a Bible study. Most of these mistakes fall into four categories.
Some questions ask for too much too soon. Someone who just sat down might not be ready to summarize Genesis or talk honestly about their sin. Asking a question that demands too much often results in silence, and nobody wants that!
In my small group we aim for honest conversations and personal applications of the Bible, but these discussions often happen toward the end of the study, not the beginning. I ask for more depth (both cognitively and emotionally) as the meeting progresses.
It’s easy to get people talking—sports, weather, or politics should do the trick. But if your interaction isn’t connected to the subsequent material, that launching question can seem like a waste.
Fill in the Blank
Some questions have only one answer. These are fine in an elementary school classroom, but in a small group they promote the illusion of interaction without the reality.
Try to craft a launching question which is open-ended and easy for everyone to answer. Instead of fill-in-the-blank questions, state the truth you’re fishing for and follow up with why or how.
The specific wording of a question is critical, and I’ve found that improvising doesn’t work. I encourage every teacher to write down their questions verbatim and in an easy-to-spot place in their notes.
Without a scripted beginning, my launching questions end up being too long, vague, or confusing. A clear, straightforward question is most important in those opening minutes.
An Example: Idolatry
Suppose you’re teaching on a passage which centers on idolatry. You plan to steer application toward personal and corporate idols in the church.
Let’s discuss some possible launching questions.
- Can family be an idol? — This is a yes/no question, so by itself it won’t generate any conversation. Instead, start by defining an idol and then ask how a good thing like family could become an idol.
- Is family a prominent idol for people in our church? — This puts some distance between the responder and the response, which encourages answers. But the flaw in this question is asking people to confess the sins of others. Because this could lead to gossip, I’d avoid this question.
- What is an idol? — Depending on the maturity of your group, this could be a great place to start. To encourage multiple people to participate, follow up by asking for examples.
- What is one of your personal idols? — This is too personal for a launching question. Build up to questions that call for revealing answers like this one.
- What are some common idols in the modern church? — If your group is familiar with the definition of an idol, this is a great launching question. It isn’t personal, it gives people some detachment in their answers, and it encourages talk about general trends instead of specific people.
There are other ways to begin a study like this; drop your suggestions in the comments!
Worth the Effort
I write my launching question at the end of my study preparation. I need to know the end of the story before I take aim at the beginning. (It’s one of the hardest parts for me!)
Remember that every group and class is different, so what works for me might not work for you. If your small group shares a meal before your study, or if your class always follows a focused time of prayer, you can handle the beginning of your meeting differently.
A slam-dunk launching question won’t make up for poor study preparation. But a good question will pave the way toward a productive, fruitful discussion. It’s worth the effort!