Small groups have long been an important part of Christian life, but prolonged isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic has caused us to change the way we meet. Previously, we covered how to find or form a new small group during isolation, but there are unique challenges for those groups once they’ve been formed.
There are a lot of challenges that go along with meeting online instead of in person. It’s harder to pay attention and the meetings can seem impersonal, to name just two challenges. To get the most of your online small group meetings, there are some things that a leader can do to improve the experience. On the most recent episode of Indigitous PULSE, Patrick Martin, a team leader, and Cheryl Boyd, a digital strategist with Cru, shared some best practices.
1. Communicate the purpose
“If people are coming thinking it’s going to be a deep content meeting … and then it ends up being a relational touchpoint, they’re off-balance the whole time,” Cheryl says. If you communicate the purpose of the meeting in advance, people know what to expect and can engage better.
2. Help people prepare
Whatever technology you’re using for the meeting, help people in your group get comfortable with it. If you’re studying content, help everyone find that content. Send a rough agenda or schedule if necessary.
3. Honor people's time
Everyone in the group should know when the meeting will begin and end. Don’t assume their schedules are flexible and can start or end late. If the meeting is going well and you want to continue after the allotted time, be sure to ask if people are okay with going longer rather than assuming it.
4. Agree on norms
It helps people in the group if they know what is expected of them. This can be norms about preparation or tardiness, about whether to mute your microphone when not speaking, about interrupting others, or anything else that you want to be a norm for the group. It helps to address these up front. “It’s a lot better to set those expectations ahead of time than to have to correct someone after the fact,” Cheryl says.
5. Use unstructured buffer time
“People don’t feel like it’s community if they just show up and they leave at the allotted time and everyone just plays their role and does what they’re supposed to do. That’s like a class,” says Patrick. “People don’t look back on college and think that their community was their Biology 101 class. It’s those places where you can say, ‘hey, how’s it going,’ and the conversation can go wherever it wants to go.” For that reason, it’s good to have unstructured time on the beginning and end of the meeting for people to catch up, socialize, and make personal connections. You can always leave the meeting room open at the end of the meeting for anyone who wants to stick around.
6. Welcome and break the ice
If the group is coming to your house, you wouldn’t ignore them when they walk in, wait in silence for everyone to arrive, and then begin the discussion. That would be weird. When meeting online, welcome everyone who joins, use unstructured buffer time to catch up with them, and use ice breaker questions is necessary.
Following these best practices should lead to better online small group meetings. In the next article, we will cover how to connect with your group in between meetings. If you want to get more tips and best practices for digital missions, evangelism, and discipleship, make sure you’re signed up for our mailing list.
Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. (Habakkuk 2:2)