How handy are you? I am not. Our bathroom drain plug that has not worked for over a year. My solution was to not use the plug. That changed last week when I dropped a small thing in the drain and had to get it out. That made me think, “How does this plug work?” Looking under the sink, I noticed an assembly that moves up and down. From the top-down, the drain has a lever, but when I put the plug into the drain, it was backward. I was looking at it the wrong way this whole time! All I had to do was rotate the plug 180 degrees. No tools. No YouTube videos. No running to the hardware store. Amazing! All I needed was a different perspective.
During COVID19, when we are all asked to be socially distant, how do you stay close to God and people? You might think, “Our small group can’t meet. It won’t work.” Perhaps you have been meeting with work or school or family, and you think, “I am sick of these meetings.” Or you might think, “I am too old. We will start up when we get back to normal.” Friends, we might not get back to “normal.” When groups and churches start meeting, some people and groups may continue to need this virtual technology to be connected. Why not consider virtual small groups from a different perspective today? Let’s use this time of social distancing to decrease the distance between each other and God.
How? What can we do to redeem the online community for God’s glory? Here are seven tips for doing small groups virtually that will help to bring people together.
Like anything, practice makes perfect. Don’t assume that since you are good with technology, you can do a virtual small group, and it will work out fine. Try it out first with a family member or colleague to see what the other person sees and figure out the bugs. I have been on numerous small group calls where one deviation or experiment takes fifteen minutes to figure out because no one worked the kinks out ahead of time. Working the bugs out in advance can be a great time to connect the generations. If technology comes easy for you, help others out. You could do a trial run with parishioners who are hesitant. If technology is a bit scary, reach out for some help. This is where Millennials can be a tremendous asset to the church body — practice, practice, practice.
2. KNOW YOUR TOOLS
Some people use Zoom, while other people use Google Meet, or other platforms. Find an application that works for you and your people. Each has various ways to help you lead a group. As a host leader, think through when you want to mute people, pin a speaker, encourage the chat functions, send people into small groups, and share screens. A key or password option helps keep random people from popping in. Familiarize yourself with the tools ahead of time. If the application doesn’t seem to be working for your group, try another at your next meeting. Talk it through with your group via text, email, or phone. Maybe your group has some creative ways to use technology that you haven’t thought of. We are all learners. There is no perfect platform.
Bringing socially distant folks together starts with an invite. People won’t attend a meeting they don’t know about. Technology offers several ways you can invite people to your meeting. You can share it from a calendar, email, text, or website.It is essential to send out the date, time, link, phone alternatives, and passcodes. Don’t assume that once is enough. People forget. Remind people a week in advance, a day before, and the day of. Use various reminders and include the necessary details. Some people check their email regularly; others only check their texts; some use messenger or the phone.
I love the Boy Scout motto, “Be Prepared.” Hop on the meeting platform early. Have an agenda for the meeting. Know where you want to lead your group. That doesn’t mean you will stick strictly to that agenda, but at least you have a starting point. Share your agenda ahead of time and let people know what the plan is. If you want input on the agenda, ask.
5. POINT TO JESUS
Having fun and hanging out can be great for a community. Do that. But when it comes to a spiritual small group, we want to point people to Jesus. Begin and end in prayer. Don’t do all the pointing. Delegate. Assign people to pray. Ask for prayer requests. Have people share Bible verses. Discuss the Sunday sermon, a book, or a small group study. New Growth Press has excellent small group resources that you can work through as a group and books to read. Share a worship song. Shepherd the moment by pointing people to God. He is our hope and help. Remember: be flexible. It may be that someone in the group is hurting, and they need prayer. Be attentive, listen to God’s leading, and point people to Jesus.
6. BE THANKFUL
Thank people for joining the call. Look forward to the next meeting. Be gracious and grateful. The Bible encourages us to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Perhaps, you end your time remembering what you have to be grateful for and praying your thanks to God. Thank your people.
7. ENCOURAGE YOUR GROUP TO KEEP REACHING OUT
There are many ways to connect with people after a meeting. The other day, a person in my small group dropped cookies off to everyone. Another person organized a drive-by birthday parade. Someone else began a mail writing campaign of encouragement. One person asked each husband in the group to identify the favorite foods of their spouse. For Mother’s Day, she made gift baskets for all the ladies in her group with those foods. You can text answers to prayer and prayer requests during the week. Just like usual, you and I will get out of a small group what we put into it. Encourage connecting outside of the group to make the most of the group. Meeting together is just one part of the puzzle in building a healthy spiritual community.
Hebrews 10:24–25 (ESV) says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” We will be looking forward to a future day until that day comes, but that doesn’t mean we can’t touch base today. God calls us to encourage one another regularly. Take a moment this week to pursue someone else, use technology for good, and serve each other. The wonderful thing about these seven steps is that they relate to this season and the next. God may be using this season to create a hunger for a deeper community that lasts beyond these days of social distance. Carpe Diem, seize the day, as long as it is called today. Let’s turn this pandemic 180 degrees for God’s glory and our joy, decreasing the distance between us.
LAST WORDS: SEVEN SAYINGS FROM THE HEART OF CHRIST ON THE CROSS
In this powerful book, author Robert J. Nash explores a fresh perspective on a familiar event, guiding readers into the forgiveness, hope, comfort, and compassion of Christ’s words in his final moments on earth.