For many of us, attending small group has been a regular routine for years. This past spring brought that routine to a screeching halt. While we all hoped COVID precautions were just a temporary inconvenience, for many churches the need for virtual meetings has remained.
The apostles Paul (2 Tim. 1:4) and John (2 John 12) each spent a portion of their ministries distanced from their beloved communities. Reading their words reminds us that we too were made for community (Gen. 2:18; Ex. 25:8).
It’s not a character flaw to feel outmatched by the emotional, physical, and relational toll of this pandemic. Sharing a seat on a sofa is far preferable to sharing a square on a screen. Until that’s possible, though, how can we maintain a vibrant virtual small-group community?
Why Small Groups?
Digital fatigue is a kind of suffering. Still, Hebrews 10:19–39 encourages us to draw near to God and each other, even in the midst of our suffering. While small groups may look different right now, their importance in the life of the church has not changed.
It’s not a character flaw to feel outmatched by the emotional, physical, and relational toll of this pandemic.
Small groups are a way to for us to build each other up (Gal. 6:1–2; Eph. 4:11–16), pray with and for each other (James 5:13–16; Col. 1:9; 4:2), and study God’s Word together (Acts 2:42; Deut. 6:4–9).
Though they should not replace the Sunday gathering, small groups contribute to our endurance in the faith by allowing us to find and forge friendships centered on God’s Word, prayer, and accountability (Heb. 3:12–13).
Tips for Virtual Meetings
Here are some general tips to help your group navigate the unique challenges of meeting virtually.
- Keep the purpose of your group well-defined. Is it a meeting for prayer? A Bible study? An article discussion? Or is it mainly a time to encourage and share? People learn best when they know what to expect.
- Keep virtual meetings shorter than in-person meetings. An hour is usually plenty of time. When groups meet in person, they build in time for small talk, for grabbing coffee or snacks, and for participants to reconnect—all prior to diving into the meeting. But virtual platforms make these interactions nearly impossible, and extended digital meetings can lead to a loss of focus.
- Consider limiting your group to around 10 or fewer. If your group has previously been larger than this, consider breaking into smaller groups for your virtual meetings this semester. As the number of participants in a virtual discussion increases, each one’s sense of being a vital part of the discussion decreases.
- Plan to include time for discussion, and make sure your questions are substantive questions.
Small-Group Leaders, We Need Your Endurance
Bearing one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:1–10; Col. 3:12–17) is a heavy task—even without a pandemic. Small-group leader, you may feel inadequate for the task, but your Lord is not. His mercy and grace are always available in your time of need (Isa. 43:1–3; Heb. 4:14–16).
When planning a small-group meeting, leader, keep the following in mind:
- Don’t assume everyone has used virtual meeting platforms like Zoom. Make sure your group members know how to access, download, and use the features of the platform (e.g., Gallery View vs. Speaker View).
- Consider enlisting a co-leader. Virtual meeting platforms can require attention to several different places in order to ensure that all of the meeting’s technical aspects don’t distract from the meeting’s purpose.
- Send a few questions to the group ahead of time. This allows members to think through the topic in a deeper way, which can boost participation.
- Make expectations clear for how you will engage during your time together. For instance, make it clear whether or not everyone will be muted, how you want people to indicate they’re ready to speak, or if you might call on people during open discussions. This will eliminate the awkwardness that can arise from the absence of physical social cues.
- If you’re asking a reflection question, allow people a minute of silence to think about their answer and even write it down. Then you can invite people to share their fully considered thoughts.
Small-Group Members, We Need Your Active Presence
Dependability, authenticity, and respect are all critical parts of building trust—and small groups thrive with trust. Small-group member, your attendance and active presence is crucial to the health of your group.
Small-group member, your attendance and active presence is crucial to the health of your group.
In order to get the most out of small group, practice these things:
- Encourage and pray for your leaders. Remember that, just like you, they are navigating the varied complications of work and family during this pandemic.
- Eliminate multitasking and be mentally present.
- Download the virtual meeting platform at least 30 minutes prior to the first meeting, and become familiar with the basic features. Trying to solve technical problems at the start of a meeting can affect the whole group.
- Find the “Hide Self View” option and use it. Watching yourself during a meeting can be distracting.
- Commit to praying for those in your group. While others are sharing, take note of the fears, anxieties, or needs being voiced. Even though we are apart, praying can draw our hearts together.
Continue the Journey
One day we’ll be able to physically meet together again with ease. Until then, don’t let your yearning for the physical presence of other Christians keep you from meeting together.
Let’s continue to encourage, support, and sharpen each other while we journey forward as Christ’s beloved community.