Use Imaginary Balloons to Lead Better Conversations
I would like you to consider two scenarios after your next small group:
In the first, you feel excited! Group members spoke freely, listened to one another, and shared a deep sense of closeness and enthusiasm about the group.
In the second, you feel discouraged. One or two people dominated the conversation, others seemed disengaged, and there was a collective sigh of relief when the group was over.
What if there was a way to increase the likelihood of the first scenario?
TRY THIS SIMPLE, TWO-STEP IMAGINATION EXERCISE TO HELP YOU LEAD BETTER SMALL GROUP CONVERSATIONS
Step 1: Imagine everyone in your group is holding an unfilled balloon.
Step 2: Your goal is to help each person inflate their balloon. Each time someone contributes to the conversation, they blow some air into their own balloon.
Remember, you cannot blow air into someone else’s balloon. In other words, you can’t force anyone to participate, only invite.
You also have a balloon. Every time you speak, you blow air into yours.
How do we help our group members fill their own balloons? In other words, how do we create safe spaces where they feel compelled to share and listen?
HERE ARE FOUR IDEAS (please feel free to share yours in the comments)
1. AFFIRM EVERY RESPONSE
- “Thank you for sharing.”
- “Wow – what a great idea! I never thought of it that way before.”
- “I appreciate your courage in sharing so honestly.”
2. EMBRACE THE SILENCE
Say it with me: “Silence is okay!” People need space to think and process before they are ready to respond. If you struggle with group silence, here is a quick tip: After a question has been asked, begin counting in your mind. Give the group at least a minute to respond. Don’t feel or look awkward about it. If you’ve waited at least a minute and there is still silence, try asking something like: “Are you still thinking, or is this just a bad question?”
At times, we can feel like it’s our job to fill group silence by talking. And talking. And talking. If we do this, our balloons will grow so large that they fill the room and prevent group members from seeing or hearing one another. In other words, we could hinder the very things we are trying to create – conversation and connection. Embrace the silence.
3. PRACTICE ASKING GREAT QUESTIONS
Be like Socrates and savor the art of asking great questions. Great questions arise from your own curiosity, have no “right” answer, and help stimulate further conversation. Affirm and celebrate when group members ask their own questions!
HERE ARE SOME QUESTION IDEAS TO USE AS A SPRINGBOARD:
- “I love this idea, can you tell me more about…?”
- “Can you give an example?”
- “Why do you think/feel this way?”
- “How would you [insert action] tomorrow?” For example, after a response about the importance of trust with parents, you could ask “What is one way you could begin rebuilding trust with your Mom tomorrow?”
- “Can anyone come up with another way to think about this?”
- “How would you explain this to a 7 year old?”
- “Does this remind you of anything else we’ve talked about?”
- “If you had to summarize our conversation in one sentence, what would you say?”
4. PREPARE A FEW STUDENTS BEFOREHAND
Send a quick message to a few students in your group. Say something like – “Hello! Tonight at small group, we plan to talk about relationships. Could you think of the top three qualities of a great friend and share them tonight with the group?”
Conversations can change the world! My hope and prayer is we will create safe spaces for our beloved youth to experience conversations which will change lives and advance the Kingdom of God.
At your next small group, “look” around at those imaginary balloons, and consider ways to help everyone contribute to the conversation. Feel free to try these four ideas, and please let me know how it’s going.
Brad Hill is the Director of Youth Ministries at FALLING SPRING CHURCH, where he has enjoyed serving for the past seventeen of his twenty-five years in Youth Ministry. He loves his beautiful wife, Laura, and their two lovely daughters, Gretta and Annabel. Brad also coaches high school tennis, and writes at VALUES PLANNING, where he helps people avoid regret by connecting to their values. Connect with him on FACEBOOK.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.