Dealing with a Sunday School Dominator, Part 1

Saturday 2nd August, 2008

Have you ever been in a Sunday School class or small group Bible study with a person who dominated group time? That is bad enough when it is the teacher. It is not healthy or best for one person to do all the talking in any class. Assuming the overly talkative person is not the teacher, what can be done?

I read a couple of interesting articles on this topic. One written by my friend, Josh Hunt, is entitled How to Muzzle the Overly Talkative Person. The other, written by Ken Matthews, is entitled There's One in Every Crowd: Dealing with a Dominant Person in Your Group Study. I commend them both for your reading. In Part 1 I will share from Hunt while in Part 2 I will share from Matthews.

There are many direct and indirect approaches in dealing with a dominator. Some involve group members and some involve the group leader. Josh Hunt lists three approaches in all capitals followed by my commentary:

  • INDIRECT. Unfortunately, many persons do not know how to do this well. And some individuals don't understand you are directing comments to them unless you are direct. Indirect done poorly only drags out the problem. Indirect is best done by the teacher. This involves a statement made to the group about everyone participating and asking them to monitor their own amount of talk. And asking them to cut back if they have not allowed everyone else to share. I like Josh's closing direction: "Get everyone to nod and agree. If the problem persists, you can probably get away with reminding everyone one time during class about the goal. Beyond this, I would go to the Private Appeal." Another indirect approach is to sit next to a dominator. Without eye contact from the group leader, some dominators reign it in.
  • PRIVATE. This can be done by a group member or the teacher. Explain to the dominator that the group goal is involvement of the entire group and help him/her to see how his/her too-frequent responses prevent that goal. If you are the teacher, ask the dominator to help you. Thank him/her for his comments but ask him/her to allow at least three persons to respond before he/she makes a second comment. Explain that you want others to think before getting such quick answers.
  • DIRECT. Obviously, private was also direct. But private was also more personal and confidential. There are some times that demand other direct and more public responses. Remember, we want to be kind but we must care not only about the dominator but also the group. Prayer should preceed all of our actions. As Josh put it, "Courage is necessary." We must sometimes act for the good of the group. You may take a quick break in the middle of group time to talk privately with the dominator. You may just have to be more forceful about pointing out the dominator's actions and impact on the group. Or you may have to do more.

For ideas on how to involve the group, check out Keys to Increasing Verbal Participation in Sunday School. How have you dealt with the dominator? Many groups have dealt with this issue and worked to a good resolution. Share your tips and ideas. In Part 2 we will look at some other ways of dealing with a dominator. Care enough to deal with the dominator for his/her good and the group. Be revolutionary!

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