Intersection of Life and Faith

How to Increase the Engagement in Your Church Class or Group

  • Daniel Im Author
  • 2017 23 Sep
How to Increase the Engagement in Your Church Class or Group

Moving From Sage to Guide: A Practical Way to Increase Engagement in Your Class or Group

One of the easiest and safest things to do as a group leader or teacher is to prepare your lesson, teach it as a monologue, and then go home.

This way, you are in complete control and there are no variables to deal with. I remember one of my university professors was like this—he did not like questions. So when anyone was brave enough to ask him one, he would always react annoyed and respond with big words and complex theories. If you did not agree with what he said, or act like you understood, he would look at you like you were the stupidest person in the class. If it were not for tenure, he would have been fired. (No, I’m not bitter.) Unfortunately, since many of us teach the way we have been taught, this detrimental model of teaching continues to proliferate today—even in the church.

Instead of being a sage on the stage, what would it look like if you were a guide on the side?

Being a guide on the side is not just about letting people ask questions or interrupt your teaching; it is a wholesale change in the way that you look at the learning process. Aside from my horrific university professor example, in most classes, teachers will often teach their lesson, nicely answer any questions, and then assign homework. In the same way, during a group or class on serving and spiritual gifts, as an example, you probably teach the class, answer questions, and then talk about next steps. In the sage-on-the-stage model of teaching, the teacher is the expert, has all the knowledge, and is simply passing his or her information on to the learner.

If you want to increase engagement in your class or group, you need to move from being a sage on the stage to a guide on the side.

In order to do this, you need to start seeing yourself less as the master teacher and more as the master facilitator. So instead of teaching a concept, what if you helped learners discover it themselves? Instead of sharing your own examples, what if you had your group members or students share their examples with one another? Instead of being the only lecturer, what if you equipped your participants to take turns teaching the concepts they need to know?

Being a guide on the side is about moving beyond your lectern and crafting a learning experience for everyone in your group or class. This means that your preparation time will be spent less on what you are going to say, and more on creating learning activities for everyone to move from discovery to application.

Let me give you an example.

Let’s say you’re teaching a class on serving and spiritual gifts. Instead of lecturing out of 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4, and Romans 12, you could divide your class into groups of five to six people and give each of them one of those passages. Each group would then be responsible to study that passage and craft a lesson on the spiritual gifts, which they would teach the rest of the class. After each group presents, you could prompt the other groups to ask questions, as if the presenting group were the teacher. When all the groups finish presenting, you would go up to the front and facilitate a conversation for the class to share the learned insights that were consistent across all the presentations. Once that is done, and only then, you would add your thoughts on whatever was missed.

Do you see the difference?

If information transfer were the only goal, it would be quicker and more efficient if you, as the teacher, prepared the lesson and lectured it. However, if retention, engagement, and transformation were the goal, the latter method would be far superior. After all, haven’t you ever noticed that you learn and retain something the most when you yourself are the teacher? If that is the case, then why not allow the student to become the teacher, and the teacher to become the guide?

**This was a modified excerpt from Daniel Im’s No Silver Bullets: Five Small Shifts that will Transform Your Ministry. You can learn more at

Daniel Im is the Director of Church Multiplication for and LifeWay Christian Resources. He serves as Teaching Pastor at The Fellowship, a multisite church in Nashville, TN. Daniel is the author of No Silver Bullets: Five Small Shifts that will Transform Your Ministryand also the co-author of Planting Missional Churches: Your Guide to Starting Churches that Multiply(2nd ed.) with Ed Stetzer. He has an M.A. in Global Leadership and has served and pastored in churches ranging from 100 to 50,000 people in Vancouver, Ottawa, Montreal, Korea, Edmonton, and Nashville. You can find him online at

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Publication date: September 23, 2017