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

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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?
 

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The art of small talk

Ben Reed —  December 22, 2010 — 5 Comments

As Christmas rolls around, you’re going to be spending a lot of time with a lot of people you don’t normally spend a lot of time with.  People you don’t know or care about remember much about because you don’t get to see them that often.  And for most, the holidays involve sitting around and…talking.

So what do you do when your random uncle plops down beside you and it gets awkward because he doesn’t say anything?  Or your grandpa’s younger cousin that you’ve never seen before…what happens when she insists on sitting in the recliner across from you, and you have nothing in common?

Enter the art of small talk.

Small talk can carry you through the thickest difficult moments.  And it can help you seem like a hero who knows everybody.

Or, just like years past, if you don’t do it right, it can make you look like the jerk that hates Christmas.  And nobody wants to be that guy.

The art of small talk

1. How’s work going? Not a bad leading question.  Since most people work, you’re pretty safe here.

2. Where’s the rest of your family? Whether they’re somewhere else in the house, or they didn’t make it down this year, you’ve got your bases covered.

3. Did you try that ______? (examples include ham, turkey, pork tenderloin, pecan pie, etc.)  In this, you don’t even have to say whether you like the item in question or not.  Don’t show all of your cards right off the bat.

4. Gosh, how long has it been? Classic.

5. How are the kids? Everybody likes talking about their own children.  Everybody.

6. Talk about your kids. Easy, no?  See…told you you could do this.  Remember, everybody likes to talk about their children.  You included.

6. So what keeps you guys busy these days? Hobbies, pastimes, TV shows, and movies are always easy to talk about.

7. How was the drive in? Since we’re in the Christmas season, traffic was probably bad.  The kids probably complained.  They probably left later than they wanted.  This is a guaranteed winner.  Trust me.

8. You guys have any snow yet back home? If you live in a warm climate (like I do), this is a time to lament not having any snow in your area.

9. It’s so _____ (either ‘cold’ or ‘warm’) outside! Think quick on your toes.  This one’s not so tough.

10. I see you’ve been all over Facebook lately. Oh, wait…that’s what my family tells me.  Scratch that.

11. How long are you guys hanging around?

12. The _____ (sports team from their area) is doing ______ (either ‘good’ or ‘bad’) this year. This is a dangerous one.  If you don’t remember where the person’s from, or don’t know which team(s) are in their area, just steer clear of this one.

13. Have you seen Uncle ______? He’s looking good this year, isn’t he? Gotta be careful here, too.  If Uncle _____ isn’t looking great, your cover will be sniffed out.

14. Look at all those gifts! By the time all of the family arrives, there will likely be lots of gifts under the tree.  Capitalize on it.

15. So what else is going on? Keep this one in your back pocket.  After all other questions are exhausted, you can come back and back to this one.

Now you’re ready for any Christmas moment that your family may throw your way.

Got any additions for me?

 

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