Summary: Monologues have killed organic church meetings everywhere. Those that like to give them are in every small group. They are hard to stop because many don’t know they’re killers, don’t know they’re happening, or don’t know how to stop them. These groups may have a chance to survive if they are eliminated from most of the meetings.
Countless Christians join organic churches and small groups in anticipation and excitement for how they’ll impact their experience of the Christian life. In a culture like ours with such extreme isolation, they offer a refuge for people to have some semblance of Christian community in their lives. They start attending with hope that their experience might mirror what they’ve heard and read about. That they can experience the church as a family and not just a club they attend at specific times on specific days. That Christ can truly be the Head of His Church and not just the subject of conversations and meetings.
But for the most part, the typical small group is short-lived. Or if it does last past, say 6 months to a year, it lacks depth. Because we’re bad at them. Like REALLY BAD. We don’t really know what we’re doing, and that includes those that are considered leaders.
Here we’re going to cover one such reason. While it’s not the only killer of organic and small groups, this particular thing is in ALL of them and may be the top reason they die if allowed to be present for a considerable amount of time.
That serial killer is MONOLOGUES.
Every group has word hogs
A monologue is basically a one-sided conversation. We’ve all been with groups of people where specific individuals consume a disproportionate amount of the speaking time. Whenever they have something to say (which seems to be always!), it takes them more than a minute (many times much more!) to express themselves. If someone has a story to share, they have a better story. If someone has a point to be made, they also have a point to be made. If you try to cut in on their monologue, they’ll just keep right on talking until you stop and let them continue. If they have already made their point, they’ll ramble because it feels awkward to stop talking.
Now, not all people that talk too much do all of these things. Some may only do one or a couple of them. While I don’t do many of the things listed above, I know I tend to cut people off if I think I have a better point to be made or a better way to explain the point they’re trying to make.
These are your word hogs, and every group has them. The percentage of them present in a group will depend on the group, but in my experience it’s usually around 30 to 50%.
When a group meets and discusses any topic, the conversation tends to bounce around between the word hogs as they fight it out. The non-word hogs sit and listen, often having something valuable to contribute, but never getting the chance. What you’re left with isn’t an experience of Christ working through a group, but a few domineering personalities continuously spewing words. It’s tiring. It wears people down, and groups don’t last because of it.
Talking is easy & listening is hard
Let’s admit it, it feels good to talk about ourselves or what we know and think. It feeds an emotional desire for attention and self-worth. Let’s be clear. It’s NOT a personality type. You’re not “a talker.” Yes, you may have an outgoing personality, but talking too much isn’t a personality trait. Talking too much is an emotional issue.
Because of that, talking is easy and listening is hard. Talking is like drinking a great Cabernet. Listening is like doing squats. Talking is like eating a cinnamon bun. Listening is like reading a corporate report.
But as we all know, truly valuable conversations and relationships are a collaboration, not people cooperating with you by listening to what you have to say.
I’m pretty sure my wife is the best listener I’ve ever met. She’ll sit and ask a person questions and listen to them longer than you can imagine. The people she listens to consistently feel really connected to her. They consider themselves friends with her. Do you think she feels the same way about them? Nope. The people she considers friends are those that also make an effort to ask her questions and listen as well. 50/50. She’s got tons of fans, but only a few friends.
It’s the same in a organic or small group setting. When a few people dominate the conversation in meetings, it chokes the breath out of them.
Now, this doesn’t mean some people won’t talk more than others. That’s inevitable. But when word hogs take up large chunks of time trying to explain the point they’re trying to make, or going down bunny trail after bunny trail, it kills the dialogue and snuffs out the chance that others would contribute to a fruitful conversation.
That’s what we’re trying to avoid. Everyone having the motivation and the opportunity to function in a gathering as the Lord leads. Word hogs can take away both.
From sharing to monologues
In my experience, sharing turns into monologues in a few circumstances…
- A thought turns into a sermon. A word-hog has what they perceive to be a brilliant thought. Instead of just sharing the thought, they go off on bunny trails and tangents until awkwardness sets in. Problem is, everyone else felt awkward way before they did.
- A thought turns into rambling. They either feel like they haven’t quite been able to make their point as clearly as they thought, or they don’t know quite how to end their point.
- Empathy turns into trying to fix. When people hear about other’s problems and challenges, many will mistakenly try and fix the other by giving advice or action steps that they’re not looking or asking for. Because the word-hog has taken the responsibility upon themselves to fix the situation, they can break into monologues in an effort to thoroughly and accurately dispense the information they perceive is needed. Leaders are notorious for this. Since we’ve labeled them “leaders” (and they typically don’t quite understand leadership like they should), they believe others expect them to try and fix everything (especially if they’re paid). They think that’s what they’re paid for. (It’s subconscious though, so they would never admit that.)
I’m sure there are many other reasons. These are just those that come to mind.
It’s hard to stop
Unfortunately, this serial killer is hard to stop for a few reasons…
- Very few think it’s them. How many people that talk too much actually admit that they talk too much and take steps to do anything about it? Not many.
- Everyone’s afraid to confront it. Leaders are typically word hogs. The stronger personalities are typically word hogs. So, who’s going to deal with the situation? It’s easier to just stop showing up, a.k.a “the Lord is leading me elsewhere!” 🙂
- People don’t know it’s happening. Our culture is infiltrated with monologues. We see them in school, church and basically anywhere we’re looking to learn something. Because of this, we assume they’re appropriate for any environment. But they’re not. They are good for SOME contexts, but not the routine small group meeting.
Just like all parts of our lives and relationships, your group has to have boundaries and enforce them. It’s OK for word-hogs to talk just like everyone else. So, start by listening to them. But if they start to break into a monologue, that’s a boundary you need to enforce. Someone has to put a stop to it.
But, this doesn’t mean you have to interrupt in a rude way. One technique I like is to jump in and summarize what they’re saying for them. I’ll say something like “So what you’re saying is…” After you summarize for them, many times they will confirm what you’re saying is correct and someone else then takes over.
Another technique is to jump in while they’re talking and ask a question of someone else that’s not them. For example, I might say “What do you think about that (person’s name that’s not them and doesn’t talk very much)? This steers the conversation on to someone else in a natural way.
And if necessary, someone has to be willing to straight up ask them (nicely) to let others talk. If you’re truly brothers and sisters, you have to be able to say things to each other that brothers and sisters say. You have to be willing to take the chance that you might offend people. And if you’re the word-hog, you’ve got to be willing to receive correction. Otherwise, this isn’t going to work.
It isn’t advised that you use this last approach right when you start meeting though. You all are presumably just getting to know each other. Use discernment as to when you might be close enough with each other to be direct.
Practice the Traffic Light Rule
Do the members of your small group get glazed, seem uninterested and not ask you follow up questions to elaborate? Do you talk disproportionately more than the average member of your group?
Be honest. If so, you’re likely driving them into listening submission and contributing to the likelihood that the group won’t survive.
A career coach named Marty Nemko came up with a creative way to both know if you talk too much and to be aware of when to stop called the Traffic Light Rule…
During the first 30 seconds of an utterance, your light is green: your listener is probably paying attention. During the second 30 seconds, your light is yellow—your listener may be starting to wish you’d finish. After the one-minute mark , your light is red: Yes, there are rare times you should “run a red light:” when your listener is obviously fully engaged in your missive. But usually, when an utterance exceeds one minute, with each passing second, you increase the risk of boring your listener and having them think of you as a chatterbox, windbag, or blowhard.
Almost no point you’re going to make (unless you’re telling an engaging story) should take more than a minute to share. If it regularly does, you’re a word hog. You need to consider that you focus too much on yourself and not others. Work on making your points more quickly and your conversations, relationships and groups will have a chance of survival, and they might even thrive.
There are times and places for monologues
Does this all mean monologues are bad? Nope. There are times and environments for them. There may even be situations within a small group meeting where it’s appropriate for a single person to share for an extended period of time. For example, soon after we started our church, we took turns sharing our personal history one at a time.
Or there are times when a group agrees that a special message or teaching about particular matters are needed. At those times, it’s appropriate to let an expert share for an extended period of time. (But please, make sure they’re actually an expert or that will be rough too.)
In both of these cases, the group members have all made the decision and had an expectation in their minds about what was going to occur. Therefore, it’s much easier for them to be engaged in the communication.
But when the group thinks and desires a meeting where there’s open sharing and a few word hogs always dominate, it sucks the breath right out of the group.
Dialogue gives a small group a chance
In the end, the people that attend for the right reason aren’t looking to hear the thoughts and feelings of a human, or even a few humans. They’re looking to hear from Christ. Christ isn’t “a few parts that do all the work, one body.” He’s “many parts, one body.” This will be one of the biggest challenges your small group will face, because the only way to truly lay hold of His mind and heart is to have a dance of dialogue and participation between ALL members. This gives a small group a chance.