Sometimes group discussion flows freely; the facilitator tosses out a question, a group member responds right away, then another, and another. Great conversation just seems to click.
Other times? Not so much. The facilitator tosses out a question, no one responds right away, and the only sound is… crickets.
Here are a few ways we can avoid those awkward silences:
Take some time to look over the questions and come prepared with your own responses. However, you don't get to jump in first (see "Don't go first").
Kick off your discussion time with a lighthearted, all-play question to get people laughing and talking comfortably together. Once they've talked a bit at the beginning, it will be easier for them to speak up again during discussion.
Don't go first.
As leaders, silence after asking a question can feel painful. We want vibrant, God-led, life-changing banter to erupt. Even though we're tempted to jump in and answer our own question just to squelch the crickets, don't. Sometimes it takes a moment for group members to process a question and come up with an honest response. (Exception: see "Be vulnerable").
Ask open-ended questions.
Don't ask questions that elicit a simple "yes" or "no" response, or that could be answered with a single word. We want the questions to be a launch pad for discussion, not just a chance for everyone to agree or disagree.
As the leader or facilitator, group members might direct a question to you about the sermon, the Bible, or the discussion topic. Rather than providing an immediate answer, try responding with "That's a great question. What do you guys think?".
People crave authenticity and genuinely want a safe place to talk about the real stuff of life. When it comes to the more personal questions, it's ok to break the "Don't go first" rule. It's the leader's job to prove that it's a safe place. So ask the question, count to 5, then go ahead and go first.
Invite those who haven't shared.
It's easy to assume that the quieter group members aren't participating. It's likely they are processing what they're hearing, and have thoughts about it. You might be able to draw out the quieter person by saying something like, "A few of you haven't shared your thoughts yet, what have you been thinking? Do you agree with what we've shared so far?"
Ask for opinions, not answers.
Sometimes a simple shift in vocabulary can make a world of difference. When we use the word "question", we tend to pair it with an "answer". Try rephrasing questions toward opinion-oriented responses, rather than answers. Some examples could be: "What did you think about...", "How do you interpret this verse?", or "What's your opinion on...".