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Allow Silent Moments in Small Groups

People new to a group process often are afraid of silence. It makes them uncomfortable and they don’t see value in it. As leader you must train the group that the reality is just the opposite: silence is part of the group process and has value in and of itself. Silence is not a parenthesis between periods of growth; it brings growth, just as talking does. There is “a time to be silent and a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3:7), and the good leader can tell the difference.

The Value of Silence

When the group encounters moments of quiet, the lack of noise allows good things to happen. Silence can be a context for several processes.

Reflection and pondering. Members can think about something that just happened in group and what it means for them. More than just gaining information, people gain insight about what they are experiencing.

Internal awareness. People use silence to get in touch with what is going on inside them; they can shed the adaptive selves that life requires them to wear and experience what is truly there.

Group awareness. Members learn to sense what is going on in the room with other people. Is someone hurt or in need? Angry? Is there conflict in the room? Does someone show signs of detachment?

Serendipity. Some group silences have to do with a sense of well-being or joy because something really good just happened in the process. For example, a member was able to discuss a painful topic she had never told anyone about, and the group did a good job of being there with her. People may lapse into silence just to enjoy what God did in the room with her and with them.

Next moves. The group can use silence to make sense of whatever has been happening and develop conclusions, insights, applications, and directions for growth in their lives. They might use the silence to decide what they want to say next in the group.

Cloud, H., & Townsend, J. (2010). Making small groups work: what every small group leader needs to know. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.