You’ve spent time throughout the week preparing for your group, praying for the people in it, and now it is time to facilitate a discussion. You are excited to get the group to talk about Scripture and see how they are applying what they are learning to their lives.
Then you show up to the group, ask a question and no one says anything! It is awkward and embarrassing and discouraging.
So, what do you do?
I would like to explain to you why silence is okay in your small group, what not to do with silence, and what to do with the silence.
SILENCE IS OKAY
Why Silence Is Okay in Your Small Group
It is easy to think that silence in your small group is bad. However, there are various reasons that people might not speak up and answer when you ask them questions.
Perhaps the group did not understand the question you asked, therefore did not want to speak up and say the wrong thing. Maybe you have some new people in your group, and they are still getting acquainted with the group and not sure if they should speak. Another reason might be that people have something they want to share, but it is very personal so they are not sure if they want to reveal personal information like that. (In my experience, most times people enjoy talking about other things going on in the world such as sports and politics, but when it comes to talking about their own personal lives, they are less forthcoming.) People in your group might not speak out because they know you have asked a good question, and they want to think about their answer and make sure they give a good answer. Last, people might have an answer to the question, but they are not sure it is correct.
Those are just a few reasons people might not answer the questions you ask. Remember that silence is okay in a small group.
What Not to Do with Silence
There are two things you do not want to do with silence in your small group. Each is very tempting and is easy for a facilitator to do. However, resist as best you can doing these two things.
1. Don’t Answer the Question Yourself
It is easy to think, “Oh, the group is not answering, so I will answer it first and get them going.” No! The goal of a small group is to get the people talking and going through the material, and it is not for you to give them the correct answers. If you talk first, the group learns that they don’t have to talk because you will talk. So if no one answers the question, don’t answer it yourself until others have started to talk. When the facilitator answers the question before the group does I’ve heard people in the group say, “I think you’ve said it well” and “I think you’ve covered it all.”
2. Don’t Call on Someone to Answer the Question[ref]An exception to this principle is if someone in your group appears to have a question or is confused, but someone else speaks up before he can. Therefore, it is okay to “call on” that person and give him permission to share.[/ref]
Second, don’t call on someone to answer the question. A strong part of our LIFEGroups culture at Rocky Hill Community Church is that we want people to join small groups and be able to talk and share their lives as they feel willing and able. We never want to force people to talk. While you might think you are helping the group by calling on people to share and talk, you do not want to assign people roles of answering your questions.
What to do with Silence
It can be scary and awkward when you ask a question and no one responds. So here three some things you want to do with the silence in your small group.
1. Let It Be
Silence is okay in a small group, so if you ask a question and no one answers at first, just let the group think about the question and ponder in silence for a few seconds. While silence might feel like it will kill you, it won’t!
2. Ask the Question Again
Perhaps the group did not understand the question because you spoke too softly or mumbled. Or maybe they heard all the words but didn’t know what it was asking about. So ask the question again slowly or rephrase it slightly.
3. Move on to the Next Question
If the question is not working well and not connecting with the group, don’t force it. Just move on to the next question in your study guide.[ref]If your group uses the Wiersbe Bible study guides, there are fifteen questions per lesson and often several parts of each question. So if you skip a question or two, it won’t drastically change your lesson. Just skip the question and move on to another question that is more relevant and applicable to your group.[/ref]