9 vital reasons for small talk in your small group

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If you’re going to be a good small group leader, master the art of small talk.


image credit: iStockPhoto user Digital Skillet

Mastering small talk is an underrated strength of the best small group leaders.

Even though you might tell me that small talk:

  • Is pointless
  • Is too surfac-y
  • Is difficult
  • is a waste of time

My wife and I just launched a new group, and were quickly reminded how awkward the first few weeks are. It’s like a really weird blind date with a group of people you don’t know and don’t care to know.

Nobody knows each other. Everybody is on edge. Nobody knows what’s safe. Nobody knows what to say or when to say it. And everyone wonders what to expect.

So they shut down. Especially when you have a group full of introverts, which we do.

Everyone plays the wallflower.

Enter “small talk.” Talking about the weather, work, or your favorite football team tends to dominate small group time on the front end of a group’s life. It’s surface-level communication, and for some of you it’s frustrating.

But small talk is more important than you could imagine. Why?

If group members don’t feel connected in the first 8 weeks, you’ll lose them.

Why small talk is vital in group

1. Connects common interests
You’re a football fan, too?!? You like to run?!? You just started coming to our church?!?

2. Gives people something to talk about
This food is good, right? Where are you from? What do you do for a living?
3. Breaks the tension
Everybody feels it, and nobody knows what to do. And this tension is awkward. It’s looking for a release.
4. Keeps it on the surface
I don’t want to share my deepest, darkest secret to you right now, so…how ’bout that rain? Your group can and will get around to deeper issues in life. Until then, lots has to happen: trust has to develop, relationships must grow, and steps of faith must be taken together.
5. Keeps me from thinking you don’t care.
You could sit off in the corner, but if you do, I’ll think you don’t want to be a part of my life. Small talk engages people and gets them chatting.
6. Keeps my mind from wandering to ‘I do not want to be here.’
Early on, excuses like ‘I don’t want to be here anyway’ or ‘this is too difficult’ or ‘these people don’t like us’ or ‘I have more important things to do’ can win in the battle over whether someone leaves the comfort of their home or not.
7. Makes me feel welcomed. 
When you make it a point to Talk with another group member, they feel valued. They feel like you care about who they are. They feel included in your new, awkward family.
8. Helps encourage me to come back.
Mark my words: though the Bible study may be great, though you may choose just the right curriculum, though you are a brilliant discussion leader, people will return to your group for one reason: relationships. Build them and build them quickly.
9. Opens the door for deeper conversations. 
deeper conversations happen because we have taken steps towards that. They rarely happen spontaneously.
Obviously, small talk can’t dominate group communication forever. But on the front end, it will.
That is, if you want your group to have long-term success. If you want your group to feel a sense of connection with other group members early. If you want to open the door to deeper connections.
So…how ’bout them Cubbies?

Christ follower, husband, father, writer, small groups pastor at Saddleback Community Church. Communications director for the Small Group Network.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • http://twitter.com/cbewley30 Chris Bewley

    Ben, thanks for the encouragement, especially. #8! Cubby talk is always great..though it tends to reveal my depression….which leads to deep talks even on day one. Nothing says community like a group of depressed Cubs fans!

    • http://www.benreed.net Ben Reed

      Ha! Sounds like you have the beginnings of a good small group. :)

  • http://www.faithvillage.com/ Blake Atwood

    Good points as usual Ben. How long do you typically allow small talk to go on for your meetings, especially within a new group?

    Also, the “weird blind date” metaphor is too apt. I “met” my small group via an event that should have been called “Small Group Speed Dating Night.” However, I can’t knock it too much since it resulted in me meeting my fianceé at my small group…

    • http://www.benreed.net Ben Reed

      You met your fiancee at small group?!? Awesome!

      Typically small talk will go on through dinner, up until we gather together for study and prayer. So, roughly the first 45 minutes.

      But the longer a group has been together, the shorter that small talk time becomes, and the quicker conversations move towards depth.

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