All I need today is a little bit of coffee and a whole lot of Jesus.

It’s a slogan on signs, t-shirts, and oversized coffee cups. Sunday morning coffee hour at church has a whole lot of coffee and Jesus, but what this introvert also needs is a whole lot of words for the small talk.

Take one of my most awkward after-church coffee-hour conversations. It was with a girl and her grown-up whom I hardly knew. They did a brave thing to enter into a place where most people knew each other, but no one knew them.

“What grade are you in?” I asked the teen.

I had to ask twice.

“Ninth,” she whispered. 

Conversation stopped.

I looked at her grown-up and asked the one thing I knew about the high school extra-curricular she coached. “How’s your season going?”

“It’s a winter sport,” she said. That day was not winter.

Conversation stopped.

We looked at each other, then at one another’s shoes, and then scanned the circles of people surrounding us who were enjoying seemingly effortless conversations. And there we stood. Silent.

After a few more tries, we said our good-byes. I walked away, caffeinated and agitated. Did I help or hinder their visit? How could I improve at small talk?

Here are three things I’ve learned since that coffee-hour fail.

  1. Small talk matters. It’s anything but small! I needed to flip the script that a conversation matters only if it goes deep. Not every chat will result in a meaningful connection, but when you look someone in the eye, she will know she’s been seen, valued, and welcomed.
  2. Show interest. It’s more important to be interested than to be interesting, which takes the pressure off anyone who thinks that small talk demands a storehouse of trivia and tales to carry on a conversation. Be genuinely interested. Ask thoughtful questions. And then ask more, building on what they’ve shared.
  3. Speak life. That amazing conglomeration of muscles between our teeth may be small, but it is mighty. Proverbs 18:21 (NIV) says, “The tongue has the power of life and death.” Choose life. Speak hope, love, and words that point people to Jesus. And if you have a small-talk fail, walk away and speak life to yourself. This conversation does not define you; the Author of Life does.

For those who are energized by chitchat, the thought of needing help with small talk is laughable. For the chatters, it’s natural and fun. Become a student of their engaging ways!

But don’t compare. The fact that you struggle to make small talk doesn’t make you small. Words may fail you, but God didn’t fail when He created you to be you.