Leading a small group online can be really hard and different than in person. So whether you’re a pastor trying to equip your small group leaders, or a small group leader yourself, here are some best practices to keep your groups healthy when everything is so uncertain:
Choosing a meeting platform that is accessible and easy for everyone can be difficult, but there are a few solid options to choose from. One, of course, is zoom, which totally exploded last year and has had some growing pains. Overall, however, it’s a solid option and most people know how to work it.
An old and dependable option is Skype. Skype feels dated but still works and, depending on who’s in your group, might be a safe bet.
At Ministry Pass, we use a third option, called Whereby. You can just set a link and send it out to whomever you’re meeting with- they don’t have to download software, so it’s very accessible.
Whatever platform you decide to use, get the premium membership for your small group. You want to make sure you have all the functionality and time you’ll need, and you’ll want to make sure you have to ability to mute people if they forget they’re not muted.
Finally, when you decide on a platform, have people who are NOT tech-saavy test it for you. That’s the best test of whether or not it will be accessible for people in your group- we all have off days, and you want to make showing up to small group as easy as possible for the people in your church.
When you’re leading a small group, always take time to really dig into Scripture. Don’t ask people “what it means to them” without teaching what the context. You can sometimes do this easier digitally than you can in person because other people are muted during the teaching part. You don’t have to teach for long- maybe spend 10 minutes giving the background, then go from there. Online discussion can be difficult, but if you lay that foundation for discussion it’s going to be an easier transition to talking.
If you have leaders who are great facilitators but don’t see themselves as teachers or leaders, you might have to create a workaround. Some options for “teaching” that don’t involve the facilitator preparing a lesson are:
What you choose will ultimately depend on a couple of factors. You will have to gauge your group’s commitment to preparing ahead of time if you want to send out a video for people to watch beforehand. If you give most people a video to watch ahead of time, they won’t watch it, so you’ll have to provide a workaround.
The amount of time and energy you spend on teaching will also depend on your group goals. Is this small group primarily about Bible study or about getting to know people?
Whatever your group goals are, make sure you set the expectation that everyone is going to share or talk one time. In order for a group to be the best it can be, you’re going to need to hear about different people’s perspectives, thoughts, and lives. However, online calls can be really silent sometimes, so call people by name to get them talking. When you set the expectation that everyone will talk and you actively give other people the floor, you’re creating a healthy environment where people can share what’s going on in their lives and have healthy discussions.
If something is important to your church, it needs to be promoted- this applies to small groups just as much as anything else! Don’t just promote them by saying, “Come to small groups at this time and place!” on your social channels. Instead, share stories of life change. Create videos that tell how small groups have helped people grow and develop community. The idea is to have benefit-driven messaging, not detail-driven messaging.
This might sound counterintuitive, but having structure allows you to be flexible when things don’t go as expected. Switching between in-person and digital meeting is hard, but sometimes the weeks with fewer people have the best discussions. Prepare leaders for what to do if one or two people show up, and encourage them that God can still move. Conversations of substance can still happen. Online Small Groups are definitely worth the extra hassle and effort.
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