Small groups and Sunday school classes form one of the most powerful connections and means of support for members.
Many people are asking: What happens to these connections during times of social distancing? How can leaders maintain these essential care mechanisms in the lives of members?
Here are some tips to help you select the needed tools and assist your transition from in-person to virtual meetings.
Address the video question
Meeting platforms allow group members to see — as well as hear — each other. Before jumping into a video conference with your class, it’s important to consider these questions:
- Do participants have access to a camera-enabled device (smartphone, tablet or laptop)?
- Do they have reliable, high-speed internet access?
- Are participants comfortable enough with technology to participate?
If the answer to any of these is “no,” find another option from this list of low- to no tech suggestions.
While virtual meeting platforms offer enhanced features, many may not be necessary for your distance meetings. Though Zoom (for example) is helpful, you’ll want to share connecting information in secure channels or closed groups to avoid the new “Zoom-bombing” phenomenon. Virtual meeting platforms require downloads, and not all of your members will be comfortable with that.
Using a platform familiar and accessible to people across generations (apps like Facebook Groups) may be your best choice.
Plan for a slow launch
No matter how tech-savvy your group may be, there are bound to be glitches. Rather than stressing out, plan for them. Once connected in your first meeting, give a brief tutorial on how to use the chosen platform’s features. Remind people to keep their devices fully charged. Teach them to use the links provided rather than typing in web addresses or chat codes. Explain how you’ll work to overcome the challenges while apart.
Mute! A thousand times mute!
As part of your tutorial, make sure everyone knows how to mute and unmute their device microphones. To have a successful meeting, everyone needs to commit to muting until they need to speak. This will keep the noise distractions to a minimum and keep conversations on track.
Keep discussions structured
In person, it’s easy to have no-holds-barred discussions. That can create chaos in remote meetings. To manage that, ask discussion questions that invite a single response at a time. For example, instead of saying “What does it mean to love your neighbor?” ask “Who has an idea of how we can define loving our neighbor?” That small change in wording broadcasts that you’re inviting one person to answer at a time. If you want to offer more back-and-forth discussion, manage that with a follow-up question like “Anyone have thoughts on that or a definition of their own to share?”
Try a recorded video and text chat
Record a leader-led lesson and post it to Facebook. Invite your class to watch the video, and log in at a specific time to chat about it. Facebook Messenger works well as a free chat solution. Add members to a Messenger group, and send the invitation. If your members aren’t on Messenger, use a free app like GroupMe or a free private chat room service like Chatzy to create a private web-based chat.
Have a conference call
Call-in services use the telephone system (landline or cell). Services like Free Conference Call focus on audio calls but offer basic video conferencing options. Conversely, video conferencing platforms (like Zoom) offer free but time-limited group audio calls.
Believing in the power of relationships is part of our DNA as United Methodists. From the earliest days of the class meeting until today we have divided up to grow together in our faith. Whether you recover the practice of making phone calls or log into your first small group video chat, the key is to keep caring for each other through this season of uncertainty.
Jeremy Steele is the teaching pastor at Christ UMC in Mobile, Alabama, as well as a writer and speaker. You can find a list of all his books, articles and resources for churches, including his most recent book All the Best Questions, at his website: JeremyWords.com.