“In light of what Paul says, how does our faith call us to respond?” (SILENCE).

How do you feel when you ask a question and no one responds?

Conversation is often a big part of a group’s time together. Questions, responses, discussion, story-telling, sharing… our group time can be a chatty time.

But there are times when silence is more helpful than conversation.

The Silent Treatment

We don’t always know how to handle silence. In the course of a conversation or discussion, silence can feel like a speed-bump, or cause us to feel awkward or uncomfortable.

But the truth is that silence is not only a useful tool in leading a group, but it is also a needed one. For example, when asking a good question, it makes a lot of sense for persons to take time to think about it and consider a response. The time thinking, remembering, feeling is a good thing. If we ask good questions, we should expect people to need time to ponder.

Sometimes a session may suggest leaving a time of silence, usually after the group is promoted to consider, or remember, or feel something relating. Silence allows persons to have thoughts, connect with memories and feelings, and to better hear God’s voice. The time spent in silence can be as productive as time spent in conversation.

The Sound of Silence

Often when there is silence, we rush to fill it. We may feel uncomfortable, or worried the group is thinking “what next” or “why isn’t she saying anything?”. And some persons are probably thinking those things.

But if we allow the silence… even ask for and protect space for silence, we can help our groups (and ourselves) feel less awkward with it. The periods of silence can then become a fruitful time for insight and growth.

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Here are some tips for better using silence in leading a session:

  • When asking questions, don’t rush to fill silence. Instead, smile at your group and wait. Be patient. Notice the sorts of responses that emerge if a bit of silence is allowed. At first, you may want to keep your watch handy. Can you allow 15-30 seconds of silence after a question? Practice becoming comfortable with time for thought and reflection.
  • Prepare your group for silence. Go ahead and alert them to the fact that you are okay with silence after some questions — use some of the insights in this article to help them also see the value in a bit of silence in a discussion.
  • Where a session asks you to provide a time of silence as part of an activity or reflection, be clear with the group that you are asking for a quiet period, and let them know how long you plan for the silence to last. This helps protect that space, and gives them permission to enter the silence and enjoy it.
  • Some persons in your group will naturally understand and enjoy silent times. Others will be quickly uncomfortable and seek to fill the silence with speech, or to rush through it. You may need to gently help those persons allow the periods of silence.
  • Practice periods of silence in your own life. Turn off the radio in the car, put your phone on silent, sit alone and quietly, and notice how you feel, what you hear, and how your thoughts are affected. Practicing silence will help you be a better leader, and more wisely know when and how to include silence in your group’s time together.

by David Cassady

Have more ideas, tips or questions about using silence in teaching? Leave a comment below!

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