One of the ways to continue to experience life change together while we can’t be together in-person is to use online tools like these. While it’s not the same as being face-to-face, technology still allows us to see each other, grow together, and encourage one another. In fact, you may find that you’re able to dig deeper into some relationships now that you don’t have the weekly programmed gathering time. Hosting an online discussion group takes a little getting used to, so here are some tips to help your first one go well.
Acknowledge that it’s different. Duh! Meeting online is way different than meeting in-person. Looking at someone on a screen isn’t the same as looking at someone across the dining room table. It’s different. But that’s okay. Don’t expect that everybody will take to it right away. Conversation may be a little awkward at times, but enjoy it. Laugh at the weirdness of it. Be okay with different. In fact, why not take a few minutes at the beginning of your group conversation to celebrate the fact that you can actually still see each other!
Use the Sunday sermon questions as a guide. Hundreds of people are watching our Sunday services either live or later online. Using the sermon discussion questions that are posted every Sunday is a great way to follow up with your group after the Sunday message. If everybody has watched the message, then everybody will come to the discussion with a response – or at least something that stuck out to them. Using the sermon questions also allows you, as the leader, to focus your time on building relationships with people in your group throughout the week – calling them, praying for them, writing them an encouraging note – instead of putting extra time into studying for a group discussion.
Assign a question to each person in your group. When you meet online for your group conversation, ask specific people to answer each question. Say something like, “Hey Bob, why don’t you read question number two and then let us know what you think.” This way, you’ll be able to include everybody in the conversation, you’ll get some good response from each person, and you won’t have to worry about fighting for screen time! Don’t forget to ask follow-up questions too, like, “Thanks Bob. That’s great insight, how would everybody else respond to what Bob just shared?”
Focus on truth, not trivia. In times of uncertainty, it may be easy for your group discussion to drift into areas of fear, concern, or even speculation. Although we certainly want to address real fears, your online group isn’t the place to debate the finer details of government regulations, conspiracy theories, or the latest presidential speech. Be sure to pull your group back to God’s Word, God’s character, and what we know to be true.
Ask for a take-away from each person. As you wrap up your conversation, go around your group and ask everyone to summarize their thoughts. Sometimes, being forced to put our learning into a key phrase or sentence really helps us focus on the main application. Encourage your group to individually narrow down their thoughts into one main take-away for the night, and then to apply that take-away to the rest of their week.
Pray one-by-one or one-for-all. Don’t end your online group gathering without praying for one another. Prayer builds togetherness – even when we’re not physically together. Assign prayer partners for the week, or ask your Co-Leaders to follow up with half of your group over the upcoming few days. Stay connected through text messaging, emails, or even calling people in your group to pray together.