Some twenty years ago, a college friend casually entered the apartment I shared with three friends. He set his backpack on the ground, chatted it up for a few minutes, then asked if he could run upstairs and borrow something from a bedroom on his way out.
“Sure thing,” we said.
Up and out he went.
When my roommates and I turned out the lights and went to bed, we soon discovered that our friend had not just borrowed something from our bedrooms, but left us a gift.
A few hundred gifts, actually.
Hundreds and hundreds of crickets, chirping as if their lives depended on it.
I think about this experience nearly every time I ask a question in a class or a small group and no one says anything. Figuratively speaking, all one can hear is the crickets outside.
So what can you do to work through those awkward moments of silence in a group when they come? Here are a few tips.
- Share your questions with someone the day before. Every group leader should filter their questions through someone who loves them enough to tell them their questions are terrible. Sometimes silence is the result of a terrible question, and simply asking your questions ahead of time to someone who cares can go a long way toward avoiding awkward silences.
- Relish in the silence. Sometimes the best, most thought-provoking questions induce silence in the group. People have to think how or if they are going to answer it, because the implications for answering it might very well mean significant life change. Resist the urge to interrupt this kind of silence. Relish it. You just asked a winning question to which only silence can help bring about the answer.
- Be ready to answer your questions yourself. I recently asked a question in a class that I was sure was a good one, but no one else in the class felt compelled to take it on. Rather than dismissing it and moving on, I shared a personal story that illustrated the principle I was getting to underneath the question. Sharing that led to a number of other group members sharing because they had an example they could model.
Sometimes silence works to our advantage, while other times it can wreak havoc on a group experience. With a little preparation, you can know the difference and either embrace it or obliterate it for the good of the group experience.
Rob Tims has been married to Holly for 17 years. They have four children: Trey, Jonathan, Abby, and Luke. He has served in the local church for 20 years as a children’s pastor, student pastor, and senior pastor. He currently serves on a team at LifeWay Christian Resources that develops customized Bible studies for groups and teaches two classes for Liberty University School of Divinity Online. He is the author of the book Southern Fried Faith: Confusing Christ and Culture in the Bible Belt.