Icebreakers

How to Ask Great Icebreaker Questions

Steer your discussion toward life change.

By Dan Lentz

Icebreakers are common in many small groups. At the beginning of your discussion the leader may ask an icebreaker question like, "How was your week? Does anybody have anything to share with the group?" Or, perhaps the leader has a specific icebreaker question like: "Who was your favorite childhood friend?" or "What is the best trip you have ever taken?" Typically, the icebreaker question sets the tone for the group's discussion time. The remainder of the group time is typically devoted to Bible study and prayer.

A true icebreaker question is an open-ended question that is used at the beginning of the group's discussion time. Good icebreaker questions are open-ended, meaning they don't have a right or wrong answer. In addition, the person answering the question will be the expert when it comes to the topic of the icebreaker question. In other words—anyone can answer the icebreaker question with confidence.

Everyone should be encouraged to answer the icebreaker question. The leader should answer first to model the type and length of response desired. Then, ask everyone in the group to answer. If someone wants to pass, let them, but remember the question should be safe enough so that anyone could feel comfortable answering.

The icebreaker question and resulting life-sharing time is critical because it helps the group "level the playing field" and warms people's hearts and minds to discuss God's truth. If we can't make the connection between our life stories and God's truth, we've lost some of the power that life in Christian community offers. If we talk about ourselves and talk about the Bible, but never make the connection between the two, then life transformation does not happen.

So the question is: How do we create a life changing intersection between sharing our own life experiences and studying God's Word? How can we steer our icebreaker questions and responses so they help people make the connection between the truth about their lives and the truth about God?

What I do is intentionally select an icebreaker that connects with the biblical truth that we hope to talk about during our group meeting. Then during our Bible study, I will ask follow-up questions that connect the icebreaker (life story) to the truth of Scripture (Bible study) we are discussing.

Jesus was a master at using this technique in his teaching. He started with questions about common life and moved to questions about life transformation. Let's look at some examples:

Scripture Reference

Jesus' Icebreaker

Jesus' Follow-up Truth Questions

Matt. 20:21 
(Jesus talking to James, 
John, and their mother)

"What is it that you
want to have most?"

Modern paraphrase: 
What goals do you
have for your life?

"Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?"

Modern paraphrase: 
Do you really want what God wants? 
And, have you counted the cost?

Matt. 16:28 
(Jesus talking 
to the twelve)

"Who do other people say 
the Son of Man is?"

Modern paraphrase: 
What spiritually-related news
headline has gotten 
your attention recently?

"Who do you say I am?"
Modern paraphrase: 
Is the "word on the street" 
and the world influencing you more 
than God is influencing you? 
Who is Jesus becoming to you?

Mark 6:38 
(Jesus talking to the 12 
before feeding the 5000)

"How many loaves of
bread do you have?"

Modern paraphrase: 
Do you ever feel like 
there are things 
you should do
but lack the resources
to accomplish them?

"Do you believe I can feed my people?"


Modern paraphrase: 
Is your faith grounded in the quantity 
of physical resources you have or in God's provision?

Luke 24:17 
(Jesus talking with 2 followers along
the road to Emmaus)

"What are you discussing 
together as you walk along?"

Modern paraphrase: 
What difficult conversation 
have you had recently?

"Did not the Christ 
have to suffer these things 
and then enter his glory?"


Modern paraphrase: 
Can you see how the life trials 
and problems you have described 
are opportunities for God to work
out his glorious plan in your life?

Luke 10:26 
(Jesus talking to
a group of seekers)

"What is written in the Law?"


Modern paraphrase: 
What absolute truth
have you been convicted of recently?

"How do you read it?"


Modern paraphrase: 
What is God telling you to do 
because of knowing this truth?

I have been in many groups where icebreakers were used to draw the connection between truth and life. As a small-group ministry director, I can tell you that in most groups where icebreaker questions are used in this way, Christ-centered life change is happening consistently. Use them the way Jesus did and you will find the same.

This article is reprinted from the website www.SmallGroups.com. Copyright 2002 by Dan Lentz. Used by permission. All rights reserved.