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Does Your Group Engage the "Quiet Guy"?

I was in a small group my junior and senior years of high school that was absolutely monumental in my spiritual journey. That group helped me more than years and years of sermons I heard. More than years and years of sitting under a Sunday school teacher. More than years and years of individual study.Even though I didn’t talk much.

You know why I didn’t talk much during group time?

  • I was afraid.
  • I was afraid that I’d say something and be wrong.
  • Afraid I’d misquote a Scripture.
  • Afraid I’d say something and be disproven.
  • Afraid I’d say something dumb.

There were a handful of times when I’d share something, only for someone to immediately respond with, “Well, why would you say this if ______ is true? What about the verse that says, “______.”

I’m sure that the guys saying these things weren’t trying to strike fear in me. Surely they weren’t intentionally trying to undercut every little step of faith I took to kick my fear in the teeth. They couldn’t be backhanding slamming my little serve across the net, like the guy that toys with you in ping pong, only to make you look silly with a flick of his wrist.

But every time I put myself out there, and they gave a quick retort, I retreated into my shell.

It’s a fear of man issue, I know. I’ve worked through it. I’ve dealt with my issues. I’m still dealing with them. I’m more and more comfortable being harshly corrected and chastised in a small group. My skin has toughened, and I’m more and more confident in who God has created me to be, rooting my identity in Christ. But here’s a word of wisdom to every small group leader:

Be careful how you respond to the quiet guy.

It’s easy to break people. Inadvertently, you squelch courage, winning the battle you didn’t even know existed. Winning the battle for the wrong team.

Instead of jumping all over the guy that says something you don’t agree with, let me offer a few responses you could give:

Helpful discussion engagers from a small group leader:

1. Hmm…that’s interesting. Can you explain that a little more?

2. Hmm…that’s interesting. Anybody else have a different take?

3. Thanks a ton for sharing that. We so value your perspective.

4. Good thought. Sounds like you’re pretty passionate about that. Where did you first hear that?

5. Thanks for that. I love the diversity of thought here.

6. Thanks for sharing. Let’s bounce that thought around the group.

7. But the Bible says, “_____,” so you’re wrong… (trust me, even if the person stands in stark contrast with the Bible, this is never, ever the best response right out of the gate)

8. I’ve not heard that angle before. Help me understand where you’re coming from.

9. So, let me try to repeat what you said so we can all be sure to understand your point…

There is a time for correction. A time for pointing out the Truth, and letting people choose to fall into the arms of Truth or run from them. There is a time for brutally honest feedback. But that time isn’t from you, the group leader, the “expert,” right after that person shares. Please don’t stomp out courage. Don’t cut off safety. Don’t snuff out curiosity.

And don’t kick the quiet guy.

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits. – Proverbs 18:21  

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Ben Reed is the small groups pastor at Long Hollow, a multi-site church in the Nashville, TN, area. He holds an Mdiv from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Ben is also an avid coffee drinker and CrossFitter, but not at the same time. Catch up with Ben at BenReed.net. In his book, "Starting Small: The Ultimate Small Group Blueprint," he helps leaders through the process of putting a small group ministry together and creating a place where people belong so they can become.