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How to Get People Talking: 11 Tips for Asking Small-Group Questions

how to get people talking

How to get people talking is a top-of-mind issue for anyone who leads a small group. Whether you lead youth or adult small groups, you’ll have run into this: a small group that’s eerily quiet with too-long periods of uncomfortable silence.

Questions keep lingering in the air, without anyone offering an answer. Or answers are of the one-syllable kind. For a leader, a small group that won’t talk or share can be a real struggle.

One reason for a small group to keep quiet? The leader is asking the wrong types of questions. Asking good starter questions will get small-group members talking!

Asking good questions means preparation on your part. Don’t just prepare what you want to tell people. Instead, think hard and long about how to formulate questions for maximum impact.

How to Get People Talking: 11 Tips to Try

Here’s a quick guide to how to get people talking in small groups:

1. Ask open-ended questions.

These can’t be answered with just one word. They require at least a sentence (and preferably more). Open-ended questions get students to talk. Then they can add to one another’s answers.

Example: Why do you think Jesus took time for prayer so early in the day?

2. Ask directed questions.

If you direct your question to a specific student, that person will, in all likelihood, answer. Be careful doing this with very personal questions or with questions in which you suppose knowledge. Never force anyone to share something personal. And you don’t want to put someone in a position where they’ll look foolish if they don’t know the answer.

Example: Why do you think Jesus took time for prayer so early in the day, Jason?

3. Ask focused questions.

Have you ever witnessed a discussion where the question was so difficult it had to be repeated to be understood? Make it a rule of thumb to ask one question at a time (instead of say, three in a row). And address only one subject in each question.

Example of unfocused question: Jesus rose early in the morning to pray. Why would he do that? We see Him do that a couple of times, so apparently, He made a habit out of it. Why would He make it a habit to pray? What would be a good time for you to pray?

4. Ask follow-up questions.

Always listen to what students are saying. Then ask follow-up questions. Be especially sensitive to hidden messages. It not only shows you’ve been listening; it also makes kids feel you’re really interested in what they have to say. This will add to the sense of security in the group and will create more openness.

Example: Student’s answer: I think Jesus was too busy the rest of the day to pray. I know how He felt. Follow-up question: What do you mean? Do you feel you’re too busy to pray as well? Or: What are you busy with at the moment?

5. Ask good starter questions.

Good starter questions (the opening questions of a small-group session) can make a difference. They can get group members in a talking mode right from the start.

Good starter questions are often funny or about something everyone can relate to. But they still link to the subject of the session somehow. They invite kids to share stories and laugh together, and they create a sense of sameness.

Examples: Are you a morning or evening person? What happens when you’re forced to be the opposite? Or: What’s the weirdest conversation you’ve ever had with your parents?