Small groups 101: Finding your facilitation style

Nov 22, 2018 7:00:00 AM / by David Schoenknecht


This is the third blog post in a series about adult small group leadership from the first-person perspective of a pastor. The first post focused on factors that make a small group meaningful. In our second post, we raised up four key practices for effective leadership. Our final post helps you identify your most natural facilitation style.


Being mindful of your facilitation style can affect everything from the kind of materials you choose to the support you need from the members of your adult small group to bring about a harmonious experience for everyone.

I mentioned in my previous post that I came across some enlightening work by facilitation consultant Andrew Rixon and collaborating artist Simon Kneebone of Melbourne, Australia. In their work, they ask the question: “What kind of facilitator are you?

I was surprised how much sense was conveyed by their facilitator metaphors and how helpful it was for me to identify the ways that I naturally lead my small groups! Which of these six facilitator styles best describe you? 

The Musical Conductor

  • Work a clear vision of a master plan – they’re directive, and yet responsive
  • See group members as unique individuals; each having something special to offer to the group regarding personal experiences and interests

Musical conductors invite a kind of collaborative learning. Like sections of an orchestra they strive to bring out each unique voice while maintaining the group’s overall balance.


The Sailor 

  • Enjoy the fluid movement of the group experience and are good at going with the flow – sensing where the group’s at and how to subtlety steer the conversation.
  • Use their knowledge of the course content and group dynamics to make gentle corrections, handling the rudder of leadership with a light touch that optimizes current conditions.

Sailors naturally move with the elements and appreciate resources that offer non-linear approaches and flexibility in session structure including varying the order of questions for conversation and related activities.


The Cycling Trainer 

  • Think that letting go of the group, at times, is the best way for them to learn
  • Guide, support, and run alongside of their groups, but encourage them to look forward to the day that they’ll let go, allowing the group to ride on confidently

For cycling trainers, service learning, starting new groups, creating new ministries, or becoming engaged in self-directed faith formation are all good!


The Chameleon 

  • Help people see one another’s perspectives and bring about mutual understanding
  • Change colors as they both model compassion and the need for group members to walk in one another’s moccasins

Chameleons are great at both creating and resolving dialogue by siding with everyone in the group and at the same time siding with no one.


The Invisible Facilitator 

  • Blend in and are nearly indistinguishable from everyone else in the group
  • Guide conversation skillfully and subtly guide conversation, even though they are truly present

The invisible facilitator works in a way so that they are identified more as a peer and co-learner, rather than a leader. That’s not to say that they don’t facilitate well! Often times, that’s part of their strength – they lead so well that others don’t even noticed that it’s happening.


The Reflective Facilitator

  • Generate and guide group interactions by turning the things that are said and experienced back upon the group in such a way as to deepen conversation and meaning even more.
  • Make sure group members never feel parroted, rather they feel understood, their contributions valued, and even enhanced.

Reflective listening is a well-established means to draw people together and can help to create a culture of empathy in the group. But being a Reflective Facilitator is not easy to do naturally and well. A useful primer to reflective communication can be found here.


Each of these facilitation styles has something unique to offer in small group settings. And while we may naturally gravitate towards one or the other style, taken together they represent a holistic way for groups to interact. It’s our hope that you will not only see yourself in one or more of these helpful metaphors but lean into them in ways that make for meaningful and enjoyable experiences for both you and the adults in the small groups you serve!


Interested in learning more about how to make your small group meaningful for adults? Check out our video series featuring five more essential tips!

Topics: Adults Ministry

David Schoenknecht

Written by David Schoenknecht

After two decades of pastoral ministry, David has enjoyed extending his call into Christian publishing and the academy. At one point he was serving both as a professor and head of the Religious Studies Department at Rockford University while simultaneously developing resources for the Book of Faith initiative! However, it was his work on Sparkhouse’s re:form and animate series that really lit his fire for faith formation.


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