Most group leaders can’t stand silence! After all, transformation is accelerated by conversation, and conversation means somebody is talking. Right? Not necessarily! Silence can be your friend when leading a group. Here are five times, for starters. Can you add others?
1. When a group member is hurting. Maybe it’s in a hospital room. Or at a graveside. Or even during the group time. When you don’t know what to say, maybe it’s better not to say anything. A hug will do. Joining in with tears may be appropriate. Silent presence is usually more powerful than wordy distance. Talk and text have their place. So does silence.
2. Before voicing prayer. Most groups share prayer requests and praise reports. Sometimes—maybe all the time—it is wise to say something like this before you or someone else you’ve enlisted prays out loud: “We have heard a lot of important things just now. Some have touched us each differently. Let’s take about a minute and a half to pray silently about what God brings to our minds before Brenda voices our prayer….”
3. After asking a discussion question. Sometimes it’s good to do this on purpose on behalf of the more reflective learners in your group. Just say, “Before anybody answers, let’s take 45 seconds just to think about it. You may want to scribble a word or two in your study guide.” After about a minute, repeat the question. And be silent again. Until someone speaks. Resist the temptation to say anything during this pause.
4. After the first person responds to the question. If you want a series of two-way dialogues between you and your group members, respond to every response. If you want to stimulate a conversation, just remain silent after the first person answers. It will drive you crazy the first few times you do this. But it you will wait, someone else will respond.
5. After the second person responds to the question! If you want to make sure a conversation happens, remain silent still again. It will take remarkable discipline. But if you’ll do it, you’ll learn that silence is your friend. That is, if your goal is conversational community!
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.