“Dumb” is a pretty strong word. Some parents don’t let their kids use it! So maybe this article should be titled “9 Things It Would Be Better If Group Leaders Didn’t Say.”
Nevertheless, group leaders would be better off avoiding the following:
1. “Would you read the first three verses from our passage in Numbers?” Don’t ask people to read Scripture without warning. Especially a passage with a lot of names. Instead, print an index card for each section of Scripture you will explore. Hand it to someone before the group and ask them if they would mind reading it when you call upon them. They can use the card to mark their place. Remind them that they can substitute “hard word” for anything they can’t pronounce. Model that yourself occasionally, too.
2. “Would you voice our prayer?” Definitely don’t ask people to pray without advance warning. In both of these cases, you will put everyone at ease when you say, “Who did I ask to read verses 4-7? Great, Gene! Please read.” Or when you say—before starting prayer requests—“I have asked Sandra to lead our prayer tonight. Let’s take about five minutes to share special needs.” Those are smart things to say!
3. “What do you all think about that?” That’s sort of the universal default discussion question. It’s dumb. Don’t use it. Craft your discussion questions carefully. Write them down. Say them precisely. Or print them out. You can make a “cue card” and even throw it on the floor.
4. Other dumb questions. Rick Yount (author of Created to Learn) identifies three types of questions you should avoid: 1) simplistic questions that have a painfully obvious answer; 2) leading questions that try to elicit a particular response; and 3) rhetorical questions of any kind. Instead, ask questions that are open-ended, in that there is not a “right” answer.
5. “Well, look who’s here…the roof may cave in.” It’s not funny. It embarrasses; it does not edify. Be happy they’re back. Don’t make a big deal about it.
6. “Just like…” “…we do every week,” “…we did last year,” “…is our custom.” Unless nobody is new and everybody knows what you’re talking about!
7. “How’s your sister?” Don’t ask questions that require prior knowledge unless everybody knows what you’re talking about. Get in the habit of “filling in the blanks” as if there were new people in the group every week. “Frank shared with us a couple of weeks ago that his sister Julie had been diagnosed with cancer. Frank, do you have an update?”
8. “You don’t need to bring anything.” Usually a well-intended gesture toward a newcomer. But it says, “We don’t really need you.” Ask them to bring something. A two-liter beverage. A bag of chips. Something. Maybe something significant.
9. “The Holy Spirit is leading. Is it okay with everybody if we keep going?” No, I can tell you right now it’s not okay with the person whose kid needs a full night’s sleep. Or the guy whose IBS is acting up. (Look it up.) Or the woman who has a presentation for work she has to get done. But who can argue with the Holy Spirit? Better to say, “Let’s take a five-minute break. I know many of you need to leave. But I sense some would like to stay—let’s limit it to thirty minutes.” Best just to say, “Wow. We are out of time. Let me pray (and keep it short) and we’ll be on our way.” Guess what? The people who need to leave will do so. Those who need to stay will hang around longer. The Spirit will still do His work. That’s smart!
David Francis is Director of Sunday School at Lifeway. He is the author of eleven small books available for free at lifeway.com/davidfrancis or at the iTunes store. His interactive Bible study, Spiritual Gifts, is in its ninth printing and is not free! (But it is available to order at lifeway.com.) He and his wife Vickie teach four- and five-year olds in Sunday School and are members of a small group of empty nesters. Their three sons and their families live in three different time zones—Boston, Los Angeles, and Bryan-College Station.