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What do we mean by “facilitation?”

by Tricia Lambert, Entrust curriculum director

helping a child mold clay

Facilitation is the process of guiding learners through material using open questions and dialogue. The facilitator does not download knowledge to the participants, but rather guides the group through thoughtful questions to think in new ways, or perhaps different ways, about a topic. In this model, the facilitator shepherds the group through the material and essentially becomes a member of the group, each one benefiting from one another’s point of view and experience.

This approach is different from lecturing. It’s also not asking a few questions during a presentation, nor is it being the person who answers all the questions. In true facilitation, the facilitator’s voice is heard less than the others’ in the group. A facilitator fosters an interactive environment that stimulates discussion between participants.

facilitator-led versus facilitator-guided

Learning via facilitation is a model that fits adults well. It honors the participants’ prior learning and life experiences. It values each one’s contribution as a person made in the image of God. It fosters biblical community that builds authentic relationships and provides a place to live out the “one another” commands in scripture. (For example, Rom. 12:10, 16; Rom. 14:19; Rom. 15:7; I Cor. 12:25; Gal. 5:13; Gal. 6:2; Eph. 4:2, 25, 32)

Facilitation allows group members to learn from and support one another as ideas are discussed and debated. The safety of a well-facilitated group enables participants to take risks and steps of growth that they might otherwise not consider. Another benefit of a facilitated small group is accountability for applying God’s word to our lives.

Small groups, facilitated rather than taught, provide an opportunity for people to practice relational skills they might have missed growing up: ways to self-regulate, an awareness of others, how to trust and care for others.

Facilitation is a dialogue — not just with the leader of the group — but with one another. Members find they have a voice as the group welcomes their contributions. They practice and grow in active listening skills. Facilitation allows them to work collaboratively with one another.

A person who seeks to facilitate learning nurtures group dynamics that give each member space to process, to talk and to think. The facilitator uses open questions (questions that have more than one answer, that provoke thought and reflection) to guide the group deeper into the material. Facilitators incorporate activities that address different learning styles. They provide different learning environments (such as discussion in the whole group, in partners, in groups of threes) to enrich dialogue and understanding. They tailor each learning experience to that specific group of participants.

Mother helping child wash his hands

Teachers who already use the Socratic method of teaching often make the transition to facilitation easily. The more traditional teacher can certainly learn to facilitate, though it may require cultivating some new habits. But since teachers love to see the light bulb go on in someone’s head, they will be encouraged as they facilitate. Those light bulb moments come more often as participants are directly involved in and responsible for the learning process.

One of the hardest skills for someone learning to facilitate is to allow for silence. If no one responds to a question, the temptation is to provide an answer rather than give participants an opportunity to mull the question over in their minds. Remaining quiet enables internal processors to think about the question and formulate their answer.

Facilitation brings learning alive. It is interactive and participatory. It fosters growth in critical thinking skills, cooperative learning and active listening. It is a catalyst for learning. Try it — it might just change the way you lead.

What people are saying about Entrust’s Facilitating Relational Learning training:

Bev: I will be far more diligent to seek to help people find the questions and not be giving answers that I think are important.

Rob: I will deliberately and intentionally be using more OPEN questions in all my teaching – one-on-one, small group and preaching.

Gita (Latvia): I think FRL is in fact a very simple way of learning. It’s about the ability to ask open questions, keep a discussion going, be humble, take care of people, see people's needs. I’ve learned that the facilitator is a servant to others, not a leader.

Discussion Questions:

  • What might be a setting in which you could try facilitating?

  • What is a concept about facilitation that is new to you?

  • If you have practiced facilitating in a group, which aspect of it has been the hardest for you to do?

  • How might you incorporate a learning activity in your lesson to engage the different learning styles within your group?

  • What are some of the benefits of allowing for silence after asking a question?

  • Looking over your questions for the next small group meeting, which questions can you make more open?

Next Step: Intrigued? Look into taking Entrust’s Facilitating Relational Learning module.


Try facilitating a conversation with a few people based on the 23rd Psalm. You'll find a guide to facilitating a Scripture passage.

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