By Ken Braddy
Many of us can identify with going to the spouse’s workplace Christmas party. You exchange a few pleasantries with the co-workers and boss, you notice people are grouped up in conversation all over the room, and you feel awkward and highly visible.
As an introvert, you move to one of the unoccupied waist-high tables on the perimeter of the room and quickly slurp down your drink as you keep your head down, looking at your plate that you have filled with cheese squares, cocktail weenies, and broccoli florets. Sound familiar?
It can be just as awkward in a church setting. For introverts, participating in a group Bible study can be hard work. Many introverts feel mentally and physically exhausted after an hour or so with a group of people.
It may be hard for some of us to understand, but it is nonetheless true. It’s tough being introverted, and it can make even Bible study feel like a chore.
It doesn’t have to be that way, though. Savvy group leaders know how to make introverts feel at home, and how to engage them in the Bible study and discussion time.
It’s true that not everyone in your Bible study group is going to be outgoing. In fact, you’ll probably have some group members who are content to listen to everyone else’s discussion while remaining absolutely (or mostly) silent.
How can you go about helping the shy group member speak up?
Here are 10 ways that you can encourage an introverted group member to more fully engage in your next Bible study:
1. Use “pair and share”
Place people in groups of two so they can respond to a question or assignment, then have them report back to the group. Shy people tend to open up one-on-one, but often remain silent in a larger group setting.
A pair-and-share activity may be just the thing an introverted group leader needs to more fully engage in the Bible study.
2. Ask opinion questions
“Tell me how this makes you feel” and “What do you think about…” questions give a shy person a reason to answer—because the answer cannot be wrong.
The answer is based on their thoughts, feelings, and/or experiences. There’s no incorrect answer, and that helps shy people take a risk and answer out loud.
3. Place people in “buzz groups”
These smaller teams of 4-6 group members allow an introverted person to speak up, but not necessarily in front of the entire group that could be quite large in number.
4. Jot down answers
If you want to get an introverted person to talk, ask the group to write responses to questions on a sheet of paper. Once the person has written their thoughts, they are more likely to share them and contribute to the discussion.
Think of the writing assignment as the “prep” the shy person needs to feel confident to speak up.
5. One verse at a time
In order to encourage my group members to focus on the Scripture passage we will study, I have learned to ask them to read the verses out loud as a group.
The trick? I ask each person to read only one verse as we take turns reading through the passage. We read the passage in order, so everyone must pay close attention to the Scripture being read.
Why? Because my group members prefer different translations of Scripture. The way my CSB Bible translates one verse may be different than the way it is translated in the NIV, NASB, ESV, or KJV. My group members have to listen very closely to the subtle differences in the translations to keep up.
It makes them stay laser-focused as we read the focal passage before diving into the study and understand the verses two or three at a time, winding our way through the focal passage.
The introverted group member only has to read one verse, and they can anticipate which verse that is as the exercise begins. By asking each group member to read a verse, it places the entire group on equal footing.
6. Plan ahead
A great way to engage your introverted group members is to ask them to consider questions in advance of coming to the group.
Email an introverted group member one or two questions that you know you’re going to ask the group. Invite them to consider their answers well in advance of the group’s study so they’ll be ready to speak up and share.
Sometimes introverted people don’t speak up because they are in deep thought; if they have time to think ahead, they will more readily speak up during the Bible study.
7. Ask for help in leading the Bible study
To more fully engage an introverted member, invite them to help you lead a portion of the study. Give them an article to read, asking them to break it down into a two-minute report they deliver to the group.
Ask the introverted person to look up one or two verses of Scripture and explain how they relate to the study at hand. Just make sure you do this in advance of the group’s Bible study.
8. Realize they are engaging in different ways
It may be wrong to assume that the introverted person isn’t fully engaging with the rest of the group. Just because they don’t speak up, don’t assume they aren’t right in step with you.
Introverted people often need extra time to think about their responses. They are very careful and cautious. Don’t interpret silence as a bad thing—just know they are processing what they’re hearing and learning and how to respond to your questions.
9. Don’t call on the introvert to answer questions
Once you’ve identified the introverted people in your group, don’t intentionally call on them to answer questions. Allow them the privilege of responding as they wish, to whichever questions they wish.
10. Group them with other introverts
One of the worst things you can do to an introvert is to place them in a group with an outgoing, gregarious person. Those personalities tend to dominate the introvert, and their willingness to respond decreases significantly.
If possible, be savvy and place several introverts in the same smaller group if you are asking the group to do some group work.
KEN BRADDY (@kenbraddy) leads Lifeway’s ongoing Bible studies team plus adult trainers. He blogs daily about groups at kenbraddy.com. His forthcoming release, Breathing Life Into Sunday School (LifeWay, April 2019), will offer principles that apply to on- and off-campus small groups.