Guidance Organizing and Managing An Adult Discussion Class*


This section shares guidelines for leading an adult discussion group drawn from both behavioral science and my own experience in leading similar groups. Some of it will be “old hat” for seasoned group leaders, but to others it may offer a blue print for leading a successful adult seminar. Best wishes with forming your group.


Physical Setting: Arrange the seating so everyone can see other group members. If possible a large table or tables arranged in a square or rectangle will suffice. If tables are not an option seating in a circle will also work well. Whenever possible avoid individuals seated behind one another. Also, whenever possible, arrange for a meeting space that does not have traffic passing through or around it and where there are minimal distractions. This book does not require use of audio visual equipment. However other study materials may require a large screen television with DVD and/or computer inputs. Computer projection equipment is also a nice addition for some class material. Note: WHEN USING AUDIO VISUAL EQUIPMENT ALWAYS CHECK IT OUT AHEAD OF TIME WITH A PRACTICE RUN BEFORE THE CLASS. This may be obvious, but my experience has been that when technology is being used there is often or not a glitch. Glitches can routinely be avoided with test set-ups and practice runs.


Administrative Structure: For the class to run seamlessly there needs to be a class organizer who will take primary leadership responsibility. Those responsibilities include the following:


  1. Form a Planning Group: The planning group selects study materials. This group may be all participants, but it is more efficient if the group consists of 5 to 7 people. Each member is encouraged to recommend study materials. Individuals participating should be encouraged to recommend only books they have personally read. Only in rare situations have I found it to be productive for person to suggest a book they have not read and therefore cannot effectively vouch for it. Prior to a planning group meeting invite all participants to attend. Typically only a small group will volunteer. The class organizer should always have at least 2 to 3 books or material resources to recommend. The planning group should meet in ample time to ensure that study materials will be available prior to the first class.


  1. Selecting Materials: Select books or other material that can be readily divided into weekly sessions. For a book, normally chapters of 10-15 pages are optimal, although up to 20 pages is acceptable for most classes. Also select material that has fairly broad appeal. Dense theological works or esoteric mystical pieces will rarely capture the attention of class attendees. In planning the meeting all the materials should be described for the attendees and their preferences solicited. If necessary a ballot can be used, but whenever possible try to reach a consensus. If two sources seem equally attractive or there is s spilt opinion over two sources, both can be selected by extending out the calendar several weeks. Most topics will run from 6 to 12 weeks, although shorter sessions can be used for filler. As soon as the selections are made, inform the class at its next meeting what has been selected and ask if there are any objections. Typically there will be none.


  1. Solicit Class Facilitators: An objective of an adult class is to develop leadership. Rotating the class facilitation responsibilities can accomplish this. Not everyone feels comfortable doing this and that’s fine. A group of 4 to 7 facilitators has worked fine for me. This group will tend to overlap with the planning group and may consist of all the same people. As with the planning group, invite all class members who wish to participate to become a facilitator.


  1. Develop a Calendar: Prior to leading a planning meeting the class organizer should have a blank calendar covering the period for planning. Special dates should be identified such as holidays and special liturgical seasons such as Advent and Lent. When selecting material one should judge how it will fit into the calendar. Also decisions need to be reached regarding whether or not to meet on holidays. If a large number of people leave town for the holidays you might arrange for a social time where those in town come and bring some snacks and just socialize for the class period. Another decision to make is if you desire special studies especially appropriate for Advent and Lent. Many groups take the summer off, usually tying their schedule to the local school year. We decided a few years ago to go throughout the year and that has worked as well.  


  1. Scheduling Facilitators: Once the material has been selected and ordered, the class organizer will need to assign facilitation dates to the facilitators. I have found email to be the most effective way to do this. Typically, I will make a draft schedule for the facilitators, email it to them and ask them within a few days to respond regarding their availability on the dates assigned. If a person is not available when assigned then I work around their availability. I try to schedule folks for two consecutive weeks. As the class organizer, I usually take the first two weeks and often reserve the last week for a wrap-up session which I also lead.


Social Time, Joys and Concerns: At its best, the class should function as a support group. That means setting aside social time and making special effort to pay attention to what is going on in member’s lives, both times of joy and concern. One or two people can ensure that cards are sent in cases of illness or other absences. For individuals facing difficult circumstances a lying on of hands with prayer is often deeply appreciated and heartfelt. Also once or twice annually a class pot luck gathering either at church or if possible at someone’s home is an effective bonding tool for the class.


Class Behavior: Class member needs to abide by certain behaviors. Here are some basics:


  1. Everyone is encouraged to express themselves.

  2. Some may be uncomfortable expressing themselves and should not feel obligated to do so.

  3. All comments must be openly respected no matter how radical it may seem at the time.

  4. The Facilitator:

    1. May begin and end the class with prayer.

    2. Prepares material and/or questions to kick off the class, but does not dominate the discussion.

    3. Pays attention to the participants and ensures all those with a comment are given time to express it.

    4. Ensures that no one person dominates discussion.

    5. Asks for clarification when something is unclear.

    6. Manages the discussion if it becomes emotional and deals with the emotions before continuing.

  5. Class Members:

    1. Agree to respect others opinions and statements.

    2. Prepare for the class by reviewing the study material as appropriate ahead of the class.

    3. Maintain regular attendance.

    4. Participate as appropriate and able in class planning and facilitation.

Good luck and best wishes for a successful adult study group!

* From Being Christian in the Twenty-First Century, by Sam Gould, Wipf& Stock, 2017.