Anyone who has led a life group has had to face the awkward moment when one group member won’t stop talking. Managing these exuberant orators is mandatory to the health and longevity of a group. But how do you get them to end their persistent monologues without offending them or losing them from the group?

We reached out to some leaders in Palm Beach County to get some help with this sticky situation, and they generously responded with some sage advice.

Three Techniques

Mike Richardson, Lead Pastor
Tequesta’s First Baptist Church

Everyone has been in a group, party, or meeting where one person dominates the conversation.  That person is a “black hole” to the life of the group and no subject or conversation thread can escape of their gravitation pull to bring the conversation back to them.

There are a few techniques and tools that you can put in your tool belt as a small group facilitator to help you lead your group in a way that is beneficial to every person in your group.

Create a Covenant

Draft a small group covenant that every person acknowledges at the launch or birth of the group.  A small group should be a sacred place where people can feel comfortable being transparent enough to share their feelings, concerns, and ideas.  This kind of environment doesn’t happen by accident.  The group leader must cultivate and become the guardian of the environment of the small group.  Christian author Will Mancini said that real community is MADE not found.  Your small group covenant should lay the ground rules for how the group is going to play out.  One of your small group covenant guidelines that you should everyone commit to is being unselfish in the group, and committing to not “hogging the conversation”.  This will also give you as a leader an expectation something to call a group member to if they begin to violate the small group covenant.

Fear Not

If you are the small group leader, don’t be afraid to be THE LEADER.  Feel free to guide and shepherd the conversation.  Sometimes that means calling on specific people that may be more quiet in the group in order to ensure that you get their contribution to the conversation.   Also, don’t be afraid to kindly cut people off.  If someone is dragging the group off topic, or is giving too much detail in answer, look for an opportunity to jump in and say, “thanks for that answer” and jump to someone else or the next question.

Have a Conversation

If you have a habitual offender that is threatening the viability of your group.  Have a private conversations where you let the  person know that they are dominating the conversation.  Many people lack self awareness, and they may have no idea that they are becoming a small group black hole.  In kindness you could in one conversation, help redirect the group member and both turn them into a valuable member of the group, and save the life of your group.

In the end, you are the leader of your group.  God has given you the responsibility to lead your group, not to lord over them, but  to shepherd the people in your group.  And sometimes as the shepherd of a group, the leader has to have direct conversations to help ensure that real community is being made.

Define, Counsel and if necessary, Interrupt

Jeremy Vencel, Associate Pastor of Family Ministries
Church in the Gardens

I recommend occasionally (once or twice a year, and definitely at the beginning of a small group) going over expectations for the group. We have CITG [Church in the Gardens] Leader Expectations given to all small group leaders. With new members that join, it is helpful to hand them a hard copy of these expectations. The leader(s) can refer back to these at any point where the good of the group is at stake.

In addition, a gracious, private conversation should be had with the “hijacker” about the importance of freely sharing, but being more to the point, and that the leader will have to interrupt a story if it is consuming too much time. It should be emphasized that the good of the entire group will elicit the interruption, not a personal attack.

Of course, the leader needs to be socially courageous and consistent, not appearing to favor one long story but not another. The interjection should be brief and decisive, inviting the hijacker to elaborate more outside of group time.

Prevention, Brevity, and being an Example

Shawn Allen, Pastor
Church in the Palms

As with many challenges, the best way to address the potential of someone monopolizing a small group is to talk about it before it happens!  Leaders can talk about the importance of being quick to listen and slow to speak. They can also describe listening as a way to serve and express love to each other.

They can also talk about how each part of the body is important, and how those of us who have many things to say should be intentional about sharing only the most important of those many things – so that those will only be comfortable saying a few things will have the opportunity to share.

Leaders also need to make sure they model what they are looking for from others – so they should be careful about how much they are talking.  One practical tip is to interrupt the talkative person by affirming/repeating something that someone said, and then asking a second person what they think about the topic.

Guidelines, Partnership, and Bold Redirection

Jo Cousins, Small Groups Leader
Church in the Gardens

This can be a difficult situation, depending on how mature the person who is talking too much is. If the person is mature and has a good understanding of the Word – then you may want to take them aside, encouraging them in their maturity, and asking them to partner in prayer with you during the discussion time, specifically for others to open up and start sharing.  Encourage them that some quiet periods may well be the Holy Spirit working and that sometimes it’s good not to say anything at all in order to allow others to get their thoughts organized and start to share.

The situation can also be handled as a whole group, by setting up guidelines and going over them, not just covering that one item, but covering several things, for example,

  • This is a safe place – no sharing outside of the small group.
  • No discussing personal sharing with other small group members i.e. gossip
  • Starting and ending on time

And of course then you can bring up the point to limit personal comments, being thoughtful and wise about comments; and keeping comments to topics that are timely and relevant to the discussion, not something random or from 20 years ago.

Sometimes a leader just has to say, “We’ve gotten off target here. Let’s bring it back to what we are discussing now.” I honestly think that works better than most leaders realize. It’s respectful to everyone. If we as leaders allow someone to go off track week after week, we are not respecting the entire group….

You can address the entire group that you have come to realize that we are getting Off target way too often and as a leader, although not always popular, you need to be more diligent about staying on topic.