Beyond allowing silence in your meetings, you’ll also need to learn to listen well in order to slow down the discussion. A popular small-group maxim is the 70/30 Rule, which states that an effective group leader talks only 30 percent of the time and listens the other 70 percent of the time. This ensures full group participation. Relax, take a deep breath, give people time to think, and focus your attention on them when they do share to show you’re listening.
3. Value group members’ insights.
I’ve witnessed many small-group discussions where a person shares and the leader moves on to the next person or question with little to no acknowledgement of what was just said. After you’ve listened to what they have to say, let them know you heard them. Engage with each member’s contribution, and affirm what they’ve shared. Here are some ways to do that:
- “Thanks for sharing that!”
- “That’s really good!”
- “What I hear you saying is . . .”
- “Can you tell me more about that?”
- “Thank you for your honesty.”
This is a small way that you can reward the people in your group for their participation. It makes them feel heard, valued, safe, and encouraged to share again.
My only caution is to not over-praise any one group member. You can unintentionally alienate the others by making one person feel like they won The Answer of the Night trophy. You want everybody to feel equally appreciated and valued.
4. Gently guide the discussion.
Discussions have a tendency to go off the rails. As the facilitator, you must take responsibility and ownership for guiding the conversation. You don’t want to be too rigid, but you can’t hesitate to speak up and provide direction, bringing the group back to the topic at hand.
Discussions can easily wander off topic for a number of reasons:
- Long answers
- Disagreement between two people
- Bad theology
- Unrelated tangents
Group leaders who are trying their best to be sensitive listeners can quickly get overwhelmed thinking, How did we get here? Here are some quick transition statements when you find you’ve wandered off topic:
- Let’s hold on that for the moment, but I want to hear more about that from you after our meeting.
- I’d love to hear more about that when we’re done, but I want to make sure we have time for others to share on this topic right now.
- Thanks for sharing! Many people feel the same way. On the other hand, many Scriptures point to . . .
- Thanks for sharing! Many people have the same question. There are many scholars who interpret that Scripture to mean . . .
- Thanks for sharing! I have a few more thoughts I’d like to share with you about that after we’re done tonight. In the meantime, does anyone else want to chime in?
- I appreciate both perspectives. One of the values of group discussion is that it allows us to grow by processing our thoughts out loud, and I appreciate the rest of group being great listeners. I hope when the night is over, everyone feels heard.
You might have noticed a method I use quite often: saying something like “Let’s talk more about that after group.” That’s code to the rest of the group that you’re going to guide the group back to the topic at hand, but you’ll follow up with the person or issue later. In other words, you’re valuing what they have to say while effectively facilitating the discussion.