When to Call On Group or Class Members

By Michael C. Mack

Normally, it’s best not to call on individual members during a class or group meeting. As a leader, your goal is to promote discussion, not quiz members. Most people don’t like being put on the spot. Your goal is to create an atmosphere of genuineness, openness, vulnerability, and acceptance. To do that, a free-flowing dialogue works best. Calling out specific people to contribute can sabotage that objective. But there are at least four exceptions:

1. The Quiet Person. Don’t automatically call on the quiet person. That’s the last thing they want to happen, and it may be the last time you see that person in your group. Instead, watch his or her body language. When you see the quiet person sit forward in her chair, place her hand on her chin, or show other signs she wants to say something, give her permission. (Some quiet people grew up with the adage, “Don’t speak unless spoken to.” They need permission to give their input. Other quiet people simply get drowned out by the more forceful people in the group. They might be trying to talk but can’t get a word in edgewise.) Say something like this: “Jen, you seem like you have something to say. What is it?” Or, “Rob, we haven’t heard from you for a while. What do you think?” Actually, you should watch body language with everyone in the group, not just the quieter members. Remember that people are communicating in a lot more ways than their words.

02_BP_group2_JN2. The Monopolizer. When someone begins to monopolize the conversation, wait for him to take a breath and say something such as, “Those are all great insights, Joe. . . . Brenda, what do you think about this?” Of course, this is only a first attempt to slow down the talkative member, and there are lots of other ways, such as asking everyone for short answers, calling on someone else first (incorporating the other three points here), and talking to the monopolizer privately and asking him or her to help you to draw out quieter members, for instance.

3. The Thinker. Sometimes you need to get thinkers out of their brains. Try to get everyone’s full selves involved in discussions. Ask the thinker questions, such as, “Stan, how does that make you feel?” Or, “Liz, what emotions do you think Peter was feeling when Jesus said this?”

4. The Emoter. Other people live mostly on emotions, and it might help them to think through an issue. Ask the emoter questions, such as, “Ginger, what do you think are the reasons for Paul’s decision?” Or, “Pat, How would you summarize the meaning of verse 3?”

Remember, these are all exceptions to the rule. Use them sparingly but strategically to lead great discussions and help people grow in their faith.

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