Talking Small Talk

  • Tara Sing
  • 30 December 2014

In my last article on small talk, I established that there is a need for small talk in our churches alongside spiritual conversations. Both need to be used in careful, thoughtful and loving ways in order to build up the body of believers. Small talk is a great way to help people feel familiar, safe and build trust.

So if we can see that small talk has value, why can it sometimes feel so awkward? Some people just may not be the conversation-starting types. Others may feel like discussing trivial matters like sports teams and the weather are a waste of time. And while some thrive on chit-chatting away, others may simply not enjoy it. Whichever category of people you identify with, if we agree that small talk is important then we need to start doing it.

Here are a few tips that might help you:

Remember the purpose

It’s easy to hesitate and not be keen to strike up a conversation with someone you’re not familiar with. What will you say? What will they say? What if you run out of things to talk about? But when we talk to others at church, we need to remember why we are talking to them.

Our purpose in everything we do in church should be to love and care for other people and help them to mature in their faith. This applies here too. We are not simply striking up a conversation about the weather because we have to, or because we are being forced to. We are trying to love and care for others. Taking the time to listen and make conversation is a loving thing to do. And through our small talk, perhaps other opportunities to love them will arise, from ways to practically serve them, to simply being a friend.

Talking the talk

But what will I say? I hear some of you ask. Here are four things I do when I am striking up a conversation with someone I don’t know:

1. Have a collection of open ended questions ready to ask. Here are some that I ask people after church.

  • Instead of “How are you?” I tend to ask “What have you been up to this week?”

  • If they are someone who is clearly new, instead of saying “Is this your first time to our church?” I prefer to ask “What brings you to our church today?”

  • If I know they are visiting our church I try not to ask “Did you like church today?” but instead “What did you think of church today? Was it what you were expecting?”

2. Be warm and open. Conversation is a two way street, so it’s important not to just fire the questions. Share your own answers and experiences, be open and comfortable with them. Warning: don’t be too open and overshare! Try and match the other person’s willingness to share initially.

3. Find common ground. I try and do this as quickly as possible. Obvious common ground includes things like the weather and the time of year (is it nearing to Christmas, is there a public holiday coming up etc). You might discover as you ask how their week was that they too are caring for an elderly relative, or saw a particular film, or have an unhealthy obsession with peanut butter.

4. Don’t make assumptions about people. And if it’s too late for that, don’t let them know that you’ve made assumptions about them. Get talking to them, and get to know what they’re like and how they tick, leaving your judgements at the door.

Practice makes perfect

And if you’re still not confident to start talking to someone, let me share a secret. Not many of us are confident and brave! I know I’m not. I am generally happy to talk to people, and I love meeting new people at church, but this doesn’t mean I don’t get nervous.

The unknown is scary, and I don’t know how this person will respond. However, all it takes is a simple greeting accompanied by a smile to make someone feel at ease. Yes, I get nervous, but when I remember the purpose behind making conversation, I am more likely to make that first move. I want to love this person, so I take a deep breath and say hello.