In the book 3 Roles For Guiding Groups, David Francis and I encourage group leaders to think about how they guide their people through a Bible study. We say, “For that to happen, they (group members) probably need to talk at least as much as you (the group leader) does” (p.12). That’s a foreign concept to some group leaders who believe their job is to study, prepare, and deliver an interesting monologue to the group, peppered with a few questions.
If you are a group leader who believes there is opportunity for spiritual transformation as people share their stories, ask questions, and engage in dialog about the biblical text being studied, then I want you to put a few more tools in your “teacher toolbox.” These three tools can be used to help get your group members to speak up when they aren’t really responding to the questions you’re asking.
Option 1: Break your group into smaller quads or triads. If you toss out a question to your group members and no one bites, a good practice is to be ready to have them circle up into smaller groups to discuss the question at hand. People in a larger group may have grown too dependent upon a few individuals answering questions, so they remain silent. But when you group up your people into smaller circles, discussion normally takes off. People will talk in smaller groups when they wouldn’t speak up in the larger setting.
Option 2: Take a stand. If you ask a question and people are slow to respond, try what I call a “take a stand” game. Reform the question into a statement, and ask people to stand up and move to one of two opposite corners in the room—one corner is the “agree” corner, the other corner is the “disagree” one. Once there, ask group members to verbalize why they either agree or disagree with the statement you’ve made. For example, if you originally asked “How have you seen God working in your life during difficult circumstances?” and no one responds, after waiting an appropriate amount of time, shift gears and reform the question into a statement with which the group can agree or disagree: “Difficult circumstances sometimes help us grow in relationship to God.” Once people move to their agree/disagree corners, invite them to share why they chose that response. Normally people begin sharing and talking and discussion takes off.
Option 3: Out-wait your group members. Pazmino’s research on the optimal amount of time between asking a question and waiting for a response has demonstrated that 20 seconds of silence is often necessary. If you, the group leader, ask a question and then answer it before 20 seconds have passed (because you are uncomfortable with the silence), it will train your group members to simply wait for you to answer your own question—so don’t! Get comfortable with 20 seconds of silence. Trust me, someone else will be more uncomfortable and will answer the question. Sometimes people are processing their answers and we short-cut them by answering the question just before they are ready to speak up.
Ken Braddy is Manager of Lifeway’s Adult Ongoing Bible Studies and has served as an education pastor and executive pastor for 18 years, prior to his role at Lifeway. He leads a weekly Bible study at his church, blogs regularly on the topic of Sunday School and small groups, and co-authored the book 3 Roles For Guiding Groups. He has written hundreds of leadership articles and trained group leaders across the country. Ken is a native Texan, loves tex-mex, and wishes he had his 1978 Camaro back. Follow him on his blog at kenbraddy.com.