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How to Avoid Awkward Silences in Your Small Group: 10 Tips

A big challenge all small group leaders face is to keep the conversation flowing.

The easiest groups, of course, are the ones where everyone comes bubbling over with how they’ve been growing spiritually.

But the reality is that people often come with guards up, struggles getting them down or just so wrapped up in getting through life that they’ve hardly had a chance to think a spiritual thought the last few days. This makes it risky to ask an open-ended question, semi-serious in nature, and wait for someone to take the bait.

What do you do when the crickets contribute more noise than the people in your group?

I’ve found these 10 things to be helpful when leading a discussion of any kind, especially in a small group.

1. Come to your small group prepared to share.

Arrive with insights to bounce off the group, questions to ask or ways to share how you have been impacted or convicted. (This doesn’t mean you share first, though—see #3.)

2. Provide a “break the ice” time.

Begin with 15 minutes of purely social interaction with no agenda. Just let people talk. About anything. If you can’t talk about something as easy as sports, how will you share the gunk in your heart? Also, this will help any non-Christians visiting your group to get acquainted with everyone.

You might think you’re a bad leader if there is a bunch of chit-chat at the beginning of the meeting. We’re supposed to be talking about spiritual stuff here! I think the opposite. Bad leaders suck the fun out of a small group like a substitute teacher who demands that the kids get to work right after the bell rings.

3. When you hit an awkward-silence moment, wait …

It can be tempting for you to fill in when everyone is quiet. Don’t! Slap a smile on your face and spread some eye contact around to each person in your group. Someone will give in and break the awkward silence eventually. It will eventually become too awkward for someone. Just don’t let that someone be you.

4. Follow the ground rules for asking questions in a group discussion.

1) Ask only open-ended questions. 2) Never answer your own question. 3) Never ask a yes or no question … 4) unless you are planning to follow it up immediately with an open-ended question.

5. Deflect questions from the group back to the group. 

Don’t ever feel like you have to answer everyone’s questions just because you’re the small group leader. When someone asks you, the leader, a question, form the habit of responding with something like, “That’s a great question. What do you guys think?” This keeps the conversation going and prevents it from becoming a teacher-student group.