3 Keys to Benefitting from Awkward Silences

Let’s be honest. We have all experienced them. You know what I’m talking about. You pose a question to your small group, and the room just falls silent. Eyes are staring intently at pages or at nothing. Hands are fiddling. Everyone is feeling the awkwardness, but nobody says a word. Yes, there is a way to use these silences for good, and here is how…

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Drop-dead silence in response to a question is really not so uncommon. You may as well accept the fact that it will happen and get comfortable with it. 

In fact, here is a little exercise you and a friend can do to practice being at peace during awkward silences: Just sit next to each other and be silent. Awkwardly! Look around the room like you don’t know what to do with yourself and just say nothing. 

It’s good for Bible-study and small-group teachers to be at peace during awkward silences. It’s the prerequisite for what’s next: benefitting from the awkward silence.

Awkward silences don’t have to be negative. Let them be valuable to your teaching. Here are three keys to benefitting from awkward silences:

1. Allow your group members to think.

Your question may just take a little thinking before a response. Even if you asked for a personal example of something you are discussing, it may take the ladies a while to think of one. Honestly, it takes me ages to think of personal examples sometimes. 

To help them as they think through the answer to your question, allow for some quiet time. Then rephrase your question or give an example of what you are asking. This may help activate some brain cells or jog a memory. 

The point is that your listeners probably aren’t falling asleep from boredom or simply refusing to answer your question, but that the answer may take some thinking. By moving on before they are ready to respond, you will rob them of the opportunity to contribute which can be very frustrating for all parties.

Tips for small-group leaders: Use awkward silences for your benefit. | Scripture Confident Living

2. Evaluate your question.

When your question is met with stunned silence in combination with some questioning eyes or looks around the room, you may need to evaluate your question. Was it too hard or maybe even too easy?

If you suspect your question is too hard but want to make sure you don’t step on people’s toes while they are thinking (as suggested in point #1), a quick solution would be to ask: “Does my question make sense?”

Your group members will let you know if the question sounded too complicated - which would allow you to rephrase it - or if they have no clue how to find the answer - in which case you could walk them through finding it.

To be honest, my mind works in mysterious ways sometimes, and I find myself asking a question that is about three steps ahead of the last thing I voiced. Since nobody heard what just went on in my head, I have lost everyone. Hey, it happens. Just fill in the blanks, so everyone is tracking with you. 

It’s a funny phenomenon that people also don’t want to answer questions when they are too easy. Sometimes Bible studies ask questions whose answer is obvious to the whole room, and for some reason, nobody wants to be the one to say the answer out loud. 

A simple, “I think we know this one,” may work, or you could call on a specific person who you know won’t mind. This may be a chance for one of the quieter group members to get a chance to contribute.

3. Pray through the silence.

You never know what’s going on in the hearts of the ladies in front of you. God may be convicting them right now or showing them something new. 

The shy member may be mustering up courage to speak for the first time. The young mom who is struggling with discontentment over her stage in life may be contemplating sharing her struggle. The new believer who always thought one way about God may just be opening her eyes and heart to Truth.

When the silence feels uncomfortable, pray. Allow it to feel heavenly. God is at work! 

Ask God to work in the lives of your group members, so that what you are learning does not just stick in their minds but their hearts also. Pray for life change. Pray for His love and comfort to settle on your friends. 

Pray, of course, also for God to show you which scenario is happening in the room at this very moment: Are the ladies thinking? Are they confused? Are they feeling convicted right now?

We may be the Bible-study leader on paper but God is the ultimate Leader of the group. He is teaching them in far greater, more complex ways than you ever could. What a comfort!