Anyone who says talk is cheap has never tried to get a quiet small group to share more. Small group veterans have all seen them: the small group that is quieter than the most silent moment of prayer in church. The leaders tries desperately to stir up conversation, but no one will bite. Few situations are more awkward than group silence.
Discussion is essential to a discipleship community, but getting it started can feel like an ordeal. This is true whether your small group is brand new or merely an old one with entrenched habits. Here are a few ways to get conversation flowing and maintain it.
1. Create a social atmosphere.
A small group is not church and shouldn’t feel like it. This is a different, more social way of growing in faith. The more social the atmosphere feels, the more successful this will be. Home settings are most natural. If you do not hold small group meetings in homes, make sure your surroundings are at least homelike. Comfortable seating, warm lighting, and snacks or beverages will give the group meeting a more social feeling.
2. Give members permission to talk.
Some people really are merely waiting for the leader’s go ahead before they give their opinions. Make sure people know that discussion is welcome by overtly welcoming it. “I was reading the passages for tonight’s lesson and I really would love everyone’s input and ideas” is a great way to start group on the right foot.
3. Include everyone in discussion.
There will be louder and quieter people in every group. To prevent the more opinionated brothers and sisters from taking over, make a point of asking other people for their thoughts. Welcome opposing viewpoints; these will often spark lively discussion.
4. Encourage communication outside of group.
Practice makes perfect! People who interact more than once a week will be better at it. A small group program such as StudyChurch can facilitate online connections. It also allows you to disseminate materials more quickly so your group members come prepared and ready to discuss.
5. Use open-ended questions.
If you give people the option to nod or mumble a single word, they might just do that. Instead, ask open-ended questions that require a more detailed response.
6.Welcome opposing viewpoints.
Some people in your small group community may hold back on offering viewpoints that are not dominant in your group. Welcome these people! Never put down another member’s ideas. Ask them to elaborate, discuss the merits of their viewpoint, and then politely disagree if disagreement is necessary.
7. Learn to listen.
It is good for leaders to take an active role in discussion. However, leave room for other people to speak. When a group member offers a viewpoint, listen, nod, and leave a pause so other members can respond rather than you. It may take a while for the group to get used to carrying the conversation themselves if you have done much of the work, so be patient and prepared to listen.
Discussion is important for small groups. Not only does discussion help show different viewpoints, but it helps to build social bonds and ultimately discipleship. Create the right setting for your small group to become a place of sharing and learning.