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Small Group Dilemma…The Dead Silence

Group Leader: “So…what did Paul mean by ‘creation groans until now’”?

Group Members: (crickets)

Group funny guy: (who hates the silence more than anyone) “Probably talkin about life before Starbucks. Id be groanin too. Hahahaha”

Group Members: (it wasn’t funny but thank GOD somebody said something) hahahahaha.

I cant tell you how many times I have been group leader in that scene. I have also been a part of the group members character, and because I really hate silence & really love sarcasm, ive been the funny guy as well. It preys on every good small group, the dead silence. It’s lurking around the corner of every question you ask. Or at least, that is the perception. The truth is, silence is simply an indicator that is pointing you towards other things that are going on in your group. Instead of fearing it, we listen to it, observe it, and plan against it for our next meeting. (Bill Donahue has some excellent material on this in his book Leading Life Changing Small Groups. He and his team at Willow Creek are some of the studs in the small group fiefdom. If you lead a small group, I recommend going through that book. ) Anyways, here are some things to consider as you deal with the dead silence dilemma:

  • SOME silence is healthy: Ive been in many groups where the group leader will ask a great question that gets me thinking, and before he even gets the question out he is rephrasing and re-asking or just bailing on it all together. To make sure I don’t give up on a good question, ive instituted a shot-clock rule (college bball is king in the Triangle) where as soon as I ask a question I mentally start a 12 second shot clock. It started at only 4 seconds and has grown over time. Your question may be terrible, but it could also be the one that leads to some discussion barriers breaking down in your group. Give it enough time to see. Don’t worry, funny guy will bail you out eventually!
  • Run your questions by somebody beforehand: This assumes that you actually plan ahead! At the Summit we try and give our leaders a head start by providing discussion guides each week based on the sermon series. Hopefully the questions in there are thought through and will generate some discussion, but even with a pre-packaged piece of material like that you will still want to comb over it with the “how would my group respond to this” lens. Good people to help you out: roommate, spouse, apprentice leader, dog (they are always encouraging).For more on this see last week’s post that linked an article on asking good questions. If your questions dont land one week, those are the ones you should review the next day and think on how you could have asked them better. That is all part of learning to be a better facilitator!
  • Tell them where you are going: A good practice to get in is preparing a brief agenda for the discussion ahead of time. It will help you stay organized mentally and when you share it with your group at the start of the discussion, it gets them on your page. And I don’t just mean “we are covering chapter 8 tonight.” I mean “hey guys we are looking at the last supper and one thing I want us to notice is how it parallels the Passover event in Exodus. So we are going to spend some time in both places observing what was going on in an effort to hopefully get a bigger understanding of the meaning behind communion which we participate together in on a regular basis.” Now my group knows WHERE we are going, WHAT we are going to see, and HOW it applies to them.
  • ROTATE FACILITATORS: Ok, little secret for you. If you make everyone in the group experience (at some point) what you experience as the regular leader of the group, they are going to “feel you dawg.” That is, they will know what its like in your shoes and will be much more likely to chime in than before they had that experience. This is the beauty of small groups. Anybody in the group can do a little extra homework and come prepared with some questions for the group to dig into. Don’t be alarmed when your best discussions come while others are leading. That’s mainly just because on those nights you have 2 people who you know will contribute!

One more thing, give it time. Groups don’t hit a sweet spot really until about 4 to 6 months in to life together. Until that point, just know awkward silence will be there each week and make a point to pay special attention to your new best friend in the group: funny guy.

post script: If you have questions or scenarios concerning any of the dilemmas in this little mini-blog series on group delimmas which are specific to your situation, feel free to post them in the comment section or email me with them. Anything I can do to help your group get healthy is what I am here for!

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