I’m a grown man and I’m terrified of the dark, especially being alone in the dark. This past Christmas I received  two flashlights and I love them. I haven’t named them yet, but I’m not opposed to the idea. Another thing that terrifies me is silence. I’m told silence can create a space to meditate on God’s word and communicate with Him in a deeper way. But, it overwhelms me. I think, if silence became a super villain and developed a super power, it would be the ability to turn minutes into days and, in the presence of a crowd, make you feel like the dorkiest person alive.

When I decided to be a small group leader, I had a lot of questions: Am I cool enough? Am I funny enough? Do I have any idea how to lead students? One question I didn’t have was: How in the world do I get teens to talk? It must be that my research and observation were faulty, because until I became an SGL I was under the impression that God gave teens a jaw that functioned on perpetual motion. Needless to say, I was shocked to discover that a small group discussion has the power to render a teenager speechless, and simultaneously give an SGL flashbacks to how awkward and alone they felt at that age.

So, what do you do when your small group goes silent? For me, silence has become a cue that we have gone too deep and need to come back to the surface. Sometimes to go deep I need to go shallow first. Here are three ways I try to get conversation going again.

Get them talking about themselves. Teens love talking about themselves. Because they are changing and learning at such a rapid rate, they have a lot to process, and they are looking for adults to pay attention. By creating a space for each of them to share something, we communicate that we care, and can begin to draw them back into deeper conversation.

Bring up a topic that matters to them. As we spend time with students, we learn about their preferences, concerns, hopes, and passions. When conversation freezes, it can be very helpful to ask about something that is important to them, especially if it polarizes the group and encourages conversation between the students.

Make them comfortable. A few years ago there was a student in my group, who rarely talked. After months of trying unsuccessfully to get him to open up, I was ready to call it quits. One night, we were participating in the spiritual discipline of video games prior to Bible study, and it occurred to me that he had been talking for twenty minutes straight while destroying the rest of us in the game. The fact that he was in his element allowed him to open up. Another student in our group jokingly suggested that he should hold a controller in his hands during discussion time. In retrospect, I’m not certain that I should have allowed it, but he did, and from that night on, he was an active participant in our conversation. The acknowledgement that his peers valued his input was all that he needed. Even though it was a strange method, this small comfort allowed him to open up.
Silence isn’t always a bad thing. In fact there are times as small group leaders we need to be willing to allow silence so that students can really think through and answer difficult questions. However, there are times we need to keep conversation moving. In those times, I try to get students talking about themselves, talk about things that matter to them, and figure out how to make them comfortable.

How about you? What are some ways you have used to get your teens talking?

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Jon Grunden

Jon is a video gamer wanna-be, lego aficionado, who also happens to love student ministry and deeply believes in the importance of student small groups. He has served as a Jr. HIgh and Sr. High SGL for the last 14 years in West Michigan. In his free time, he thoroughly enjoys spending time with his wife and three children.

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