Tips for Creating an Open Discussion

Open, honest, and respectful discussion is the dream for every small group at Alpha. The discussion time is where guests get to share their response to the talks, ask questions and dig deeper into the content. We want every guest to feel valued and loved in these interactions and for genuine friendships to form.

While friendship is the fuel for open discussion at Alpha, there are also practical ways that the small group host can facilitate honest conversations from the very first week. Here we have some ideas for group guidelines and things that hosts can say to facilitate great discussion.

Share Group Guidelines

For the first three sessions of Alpha, it’s a good idea for hosts to give their group some guidelines that will help keep the conversation alive and facilitate open discussion. There are four specific points we recommend saying to help set the groundwork for the discussion time.

  1. You don’t have to talk, but we’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts if you’re willing to share.
  2. All comments and questions are welcome but please be respectful.
  3. Different opinions are allowed and encouraged. There is a good chance that we won’t all agree at the end of each session. Open discussion is the goal rather than total agreement.
  4. Everything said in the group should be kept confidential.

Ask Follow-up Questions

When a guest asks a question, a good strategy is for the host to ask the rest of the group what they think or feel about it. Sometimes if an Alpha host is quick to give their opinion, it can stop the discussion, because it’s viewed as “the final answer.” Other questions that can be used to keep the conversation going are:

  1. Can you explain a bit more, or give an example?
  2. Are you wondering if….(and then clarify or rephrase)?
  3. Has anyone else felt that way too?
  4. And how does that make you feel?
  5. Can you share with us how that question came up for you?

Validate and Affirm

Validation is acknowledging someone else’s thoughts and feelings as being valid, understandable (eg. having doubts). Affirmation is encouraging and supporting someone (eg. for sharing thoughts). We can still validate and affirm Alpha guests without agreeing with or accepting their viewpoints. When people feel they are being listened to, they’re more likely to participate in the discussion. Here are some suggestions for what a host could say in response to someone who has shared:

  1. Thanks for sharing/Thank you for sharing that.
  2. I appreciate your honesty. Tell us more.
  3. Yes, I can relate to that too!
  4. It’s okay to take a minute to think about it. That’s what we’re here for. No rush.
  5. It’s okay to have different opinions and disagree. Discussion helps us learn other viewpoints.
  6. I’m glad you’re here.
  7. I can see why you would feel that way.

At Alpha, the host doesn’t take on the role of a teacher like what you might find in a typical Bible study setting. Instead, the host is someone who helps to create a welcoming and safe place for people to share. Often people are not used to being able to disagree or say what they’re really thinking in a learning environment. Having the freedom to do so at Alpha creates an atmosphere that disarms people, so they begin to contribute to the conversation in a personal and meaningful way. And it’s through these heartfelt conversations that many guests move further along on their journey of faith and encounter Jesus for the first time.