Small groups are an integral part of many youth ministries. Good small group communities foster deep relationships between students and adult leaders. In the process, they push students toward God in very real ways. Unfortunately, small groups aren’t always good. Sometimes, they can be lackluster, the kind people attend only because they feel obligated to do so. The question is, what characteristics distinguish a good small group from a lackluster one?

Over the last year, I’ve gained some insight into the answer to this question as I’ve worked with professor, author, and researcher, Terry Linhart, on a study for InterVarsity, who’s graciously given us permission to blog about some of our findings. During this study, we asked students to describe their worst experience in a small group Bible study. More often than not, the examples students gave came from small group Bible studies they participated in with their youth group. Based on their anecdotes, to facilitate a good Bible study, here are seven things you shouldn’t do.

1. Don’t praise inconsistent attendance. Offer grace to people who miss but also let them know that they were missed because of the value they bring to the group. True community happens when we notice when people are absent and dare to find out why.

2. Don’t ask poorly phrased questions or questions with obvious answers. Instead, put time and thought into the questions you ask. Your discussion will only be as good as your questions.

3. Don’t talk constantly, without ever allowing participants to share. As the leader, your opinion matters, but so do the opinions of everyone else in your community. Authentic community forms when people are given the opportunity to learn from their peers and see God at work in their lives.

4. Don’t allow one person in the group to dominate the conversation. Value and make your space safe for everyone to contribute to it.

5. Don’t discourage emotions. Instead, allow people to share from both their heads and their hearts. Give them permission to feel whatever they’re feeling. As one student we interviewed said, small groups should be a “space to cry together & pray together.”

6. Don’t ignore Scripture. Remember, students’ views of scripture changed from restrictive to life-giving when they actually began reading it for themselves and applying it to their lives.

7. Don’t ignore applications. Challenge students to discern together what Scripture means for their lives.

Based on your experience, what are some other key things you shouldn’t do when leading small groups?