Don't Be Shy

by Carol L. Duff

Do members of your group struggle with shyness? Here are tips to help you minister to them.

Recognize who they are. Obviously, members who avoid eye contact and blush when you call on them are shy. But what about the businessman who ducks out as soon as the group is dismissed? The nurse who never talks to anyone and seems snobbish and bored? Or the professor who is always busy when there is a group social function? These people may also be acting from shyness.

Be sensitive. Activities such as group prayer put shy people on the spot. Even if you explain that it's OK not to pray aloud, they'll fear being labeled unspiritual. Instead of praying around the circle, ask for volunteers, or select people you know are comfortable praying publicly.

Help them connect. Try an icebreaker to reveal things members have in common. You might ask a question and instruct them to go to an area of the room based on their answers. For instance, ask, "Where did you grow up?" and direct city (members) to the front of the room and country (members) to the back. Other questions include "Do you prefer movies or books?" and "Are you the older, middle, or last child in your family?" Allow time for interaction between questions.

Create a safe environment. Don't allow people to be criticized for sharing their opinions. When unassertive members do speak up, listen. Encourage them with a nod or "good point", and allow them to finish their thoughts without being interrupted.

Address everyone. It's easy to direct remarks to those who gice visual and vocal feedback. If you're not careful, however, you may overlook more reserved members. Include them by giving eye contact and directing comments towards them.

Help them get involved. Unassuming members may long to participate in group tasks and responsibilities even if they don't volunteer. As you get to know their gifts and talents, invite them to serve in ways they'll find comfortable. Ask them for input about their areas of interest, or if you learn about something they've done outside the group, give public affirmation. They'll feel valued without having to speak out.

Be transparent. If you're open about who you are and how you struggle, group members will also feel comfortable joining in.

-Discipleship Journal, March/April 2009, Issue 170, pg. 69