With the COVID-19 pandemic underway, many of us are now finding ourselves members of online small groups. We used to gather in someone’s living room or a church hall but now we’re supposed to meet in an online “space” using new technology and apps. How is this supposed to work? Will it be good for Christian growth and community or will it be just too different?
Those questions still lie ahead for many of us, but for now, a more urgent question is practical: “How can I love my online group?”
I think that’s a good way to phrase the question. The pandemic feels like a time of fear and anxiety but we need to make this a time of love. Jesus told us:
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
This is a simple point we can hang on to. Let’s love each other during the crisis, remembering that Jesus has loved us. So how can we do that in our online or virtual small group? Here’s 9 ways (mostly very practical):
1. Be enthusiastic: Your leaders are going to be making lots of suggestions during this time. Be keen to have a go at whatever they’re suggesting.
2. Prepare your technology: For your online group you will need a device (computer, tablet, smartphone), you will need audio and video, and you will need internet. Your leader will suggest a program/app/platform for the group. All this will take time to set up well, but it’s a great expression of love to make the communication as smooth as possible.
If you’re not technically minded (like me), ask people for help and search online. I’ve found a lot of good “how to” videos on YouTube for the different platforms. Experiment, practise and find ways to make it fun.
3. Prepare your space: You can love your group by finding a comfortable and well-lit space where people can see you clearly. The visual side of online groups really matters! Think about how you can find some privacy in your home if you have family or flatmates around. Headsets can help by reducing background noise and preventing everyone in your home from hearing the group.
4. Do the homework: As we move to online groups you might be asked to read the passage or questions ahead. Embrace this with enthusiasm and love for your leaders and fellow members.
5. Take the event seriously: You can really love your group by making it an important part of your week. Join the meeting on time, get rid of other distractions and give it your full attention. One way to communicate importance is to dress like you normally would for group and attend to your regular personal grooming (smiley face).
6. Speak up: It’s easy to feel like a spectator rather than a participant in a video meeting. Resist this feeling and help out your group and leaders by speaking up. Have a go when the leader ask questions and encourages discussion. Once you’ve contributed something, listen to what others in the group have to say.
Be patient with your leader as they get used to this new way of doing group. Don’t stress if they ask you questions personally during the group time – they’re just trying to involve everyone.
7. Look into the camera: Help people understand that you’re really talking to them by looking into the camera while you’re speaking (rather than the screen). Direct eye contact is much more powerful than having our eyes look off to the side.
8. Hang around afterwards: After the formal meeting, your group leaders should invite everyone to hang out casually in the online space. Give as much time as you can to just listening, relating and encouraging like you would normally. When it’s time to go, make sure you say goodbye to people and thank them for spending this time with you.
9. Initiate your own meet ups: As you get more familiar with video meetings, take the initiative in organising your own meet ups. For example, you could arrange a daytime meet up for an hour over coffee with a couple of other members.
I’m sure there’s more to say, but there’s a few ideas on how you can love your online group. For more on being an awesome group member you can check out these articles: