Have you ever been in a room where a speaker asks a question and no one answers? Then everyone sits in awkward silence until someone finally speaks up, most likely the speaker? That can, and probably will, happen in your small group at some point, or maybe it already has.

Encouraging participation in the group can be tricky, especially for the beginning of the school year where you are more likely to gain new members to your group, or if you have a student who is exceptionally shy.

You don’t want to force participation onto people, but you also don’t want the entire conversation to be dominated by one person. Small group times are devoted to encouraging discussion about the lesson and building relationships amongst your group. By having more participation, new perspectives are brought in and trust can be built. There are a few simple tricks you can use to help generate participation from those who may not be as likely to join in.

Ice Breakers

Ice breakers are sometimes awkward, but being awkward together can bring a group together. Little games like highs and lows gives everyone a chance to open up and talk about their day. Other icebreakers like People Bingo and Word Link are great for getting people more open to talking and participating.

Go Outside the Church Setting

If you have a student who is more on the shy side, one good way to get them to open up is to get to know them one-on-one. Plan a time you can meet with them and learn about them. Invest in those students just a little extra, show them that you’re there and you care. Do this consistently and you’ll see them start to open up a little bit more, even if it’s just to you.

When you have a larger group of shy kids, it can be a bit trickier. In the same way, schedule things that y’all can do together; bowling, lunch, day at the park. Build trust amongst the group and let them flow into their own rhythm.

Patience and Prayer

Patience is such a key part of this process. Having patience and continually pouring into these students is so key to building that trust. When you wait patiently, eventually you will start to see progress.

Prayer is the final tip because it holds so much power. When you pray over your students and ask God to give them the courage or wisdom to speak up, He will move in them. Laying everything, even the small things, down before Him will help encourage those students.


Small groups are so essential to middle and high school students as they go through their walk with Christ. They are the community that God uses to encourage, support, and celebrate each other with. When you’re looking for more participation in your group, keep these little things in mind and watch to see what God does with them.