I usually train leaders not to call on individual members during a small group meeting. Your goal is to promote discussion, not quiz members. I also don’t like putting group members on the spot. My goal is to create an atmosphere of genuineness, openness, vulnerability, and acceptance. I’m going for a free-flowing dialogue. I find that calling out specific people to contribute sabotages that objective.

However, I can think of four exceptions:

  1. The Quiet Person.  I don’t automatically call on the quiet person. That’s probably the last thing they want to happen in the meeting, and it increases the likelihood they won’t be back next week. What I do, though, is watch their body language. If I see the quiet person sit forward in their chair, place their hand on their chin, or show other signs they want to say something, I’ll give them permission. Some quiet people grew up with the adage, “Don’t speak unless spoken to.” They need permission to give their input. Other quiet people simply get drowned out by the more forceful people in the group. They might be trying to talk but can’t get a word in edgewise.Here’s what I say to them: “Rob, you seem like you have something to say. What is it?” Or, “Jen, we haven’t heard from you for a while. What do you think?”

    By the way, I try to watch body language with everyone in the group, not just the quieter members. Remember that people are communicating in a lot more ways than just their words.

  2. The Monopolizer. When someone begins to monopolize the conversation, I wait for them to take a breath and say something such as, “Those are all great insights, Joe. Brenda, what do you think about this?” Of course, this is only a first attempt to slow down the talkative member, and there are lots of other ways. We’ll save those for another post.
  3. The Thinker. Sometimes you need to get thinkers out of their heads. I want to try to get everyone’s full selves involved in discussions. So sometimes I’ll ask the thinker questions such as, “Stan, how does that make you feel?” Or, “Liz, what emotions do you think Peter was feeling when Jesus said this?”
  4. The Emoter. Other people live mostly on emotions, and it might help them to think through an issue. So I sometimes ask the emoter  something such as, “Ginger, what do you think are the reasons for Paul’s decision?” Or, “Pat, How would you summarize the meaning of verse 3?”
Remember, these are all exceptions to the rule. Use them rarely but strategically to lead great discussions and help people grow in their faith.

More on Facilitating Discussion

Dilbert on Facilitating Group Discussion
Top 10 Ways to Stifle Discussion in Your Small Group
Learn How to Lead a Small Group Discussion from Jim Lehrer

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Michael Mack has been involved in small group ministry as a pastor, writer, trainer, and speaker for more than 25 years. He founded SmallGroups.com in 1995 and started Small Group Leadership in 2012. He became the 12th editor of Christian Standard magazine in 2017 and continues to speak in churches about small groups, discipleship, and leadership. He lives in Pewee Valley, Kentucky (just outside Louisville), with his wife Heidi. They have four young adult children. Michael enjoys mountain and road biking with a group of friends. See the "About Michael Mack" page under About Us for more about him.

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