How Do I Get My Small Group Talking?

My small group is boring because people sit there but don’t participate. How do I get the members to engage?

Trying to have a conversation with people who really don’t want to engage is frustrating and awkward. We often try to avoid those situations socially if we can, but in a small group it can be especially trying.

Sometimes people are reluctant to speak up because they either think the answer to questions are obvious or they’re nervous about being wrong. Also, some people just like to be quiet, especially with people they don’t know well yet.

If there are questions you answer together in small groups, consider the nature of the questions. Are they questions with a “right” answer like, “What was the first plague that God sent to Egypt?” Questions like this are designed to give one single answer. Consider asking a different kind of question—ones you don’t know the answer to, such as “Why do you think Moses hit the rock instead of speaking to it?” or “If you had to pick one verse in Psalm 8 that you think summarizes the whole psalm, which verse would you pick?” The answers to these questions are not obvious or either right or wrong. They invite others to dig into the text and explore what the people in the story were feeling or what the Bible is saying.

Welcome everyone’s responses. Make sure the group is a safe place for everyone to speak. Following up with “Can you say more about that?” or starting a question with “I wonder ...” will encourage more conversation.

It is also possible that at the end of the meetings you’re feeling frustrated but the others are feeling just fine. It might have gone just the way they wanted it to. A conversation about how everyone thinks the group is going might be a great place to start.

About the Author

Laura Keeley is a regional catalyzer for Faith Formation Ministries and director of children’s ministries at 14th Street Christian Reformed Church in Holland, Mich. Robert J. Keeley is a professor of education at Calvin College and director of distance education at Calvin Seminary.

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