Around mid-March we realized this was unavoidable, so we endeavored to take our Small Groups online during this pandemic. One of our key missional goals is that as a church we “Grow Together”. As a church leadership team we did not think that being inside the building was necessary to accomplishing this task. Initially, this felt like a pretty daunting project because we had just ended the difficult task to restructure our Small Group. The thought of starting over was a little overwhelming.
However, with a great team and focus on the mission at hand we were able to see the pandemic turn into an opportunity to build deeper and very essential connections! We have now seen twice as many adults join an online Q-Group (Quarantine) than we normally did in our Groups at church!
Here are some of the components we focused on with going to online groups.
Consider the platform
One of the initial decisions we had to make, was how to make this simple and scalable. A great number of resources are available on this, but after our own research and after talking with an expert in this field, we landed on Google Meet. It is not as “fancy” as some of the other platforms, but it is the most ubiquitous across all platforms. Everyone could get on this through a web browser without an account or downloading an app (except on a phone).
Consider function over form
We knew that we needed to connect people immediately. Many of our seniors, singles, and moms were feeling the quarantine isolation hard. Early on we decided we were not going to be as concerned about how “polished” our plan was, as we were about getting people connected.
We could always add and adapt these as we went, but if people got discouraged and disconnected we couldn’t help them no matter how good the “plan” was going to be. (Side note, this does not mean we didn’t write up a plan or provide training. We did.)
We intentionally wanted these to be smaller in size. Our goal was 7-12. Some are bigger, but for the most part this is the number that we wanted to do. The reason was that we wanted it to stay “cozy” and everyone to be on the screen at the same time. The size allows people to get to know each other better, conversation to stay orderly, and people to connect more easily.
We gathered a list of people to lead online meetings and we met with them individually. This allowed them to experience what it would be like to host a meeting. We shared the vision, showed them how to use the platform, and what the next steps were. This was a lot of fun and for many of our “tech-concerned” it was an eye opener to the ease of these groups. We have Group leaders ranging from 20 year olds to mid-70’s. That has been awesome!
Think connection over content
This was something we said over and over as we launched these groups. We wanted our leaders to understand we were not looking for them to prepare a lesson or teach. We want them to encourage and lead the group in prayer. While some of our leaders are gifted in teaching, all of them are gifted in helps and encouragement. With all the online content accessible right now, we weren’t as concerned about people getting biblical teaching as we were keeping them in fellowship, encouraging, and praying for and with one another. Each group has a spiritual goal (i.e. reading a book of the Bible together, watching devotions from our site enoughfortoday.church, etc.), but we are not looking for those times together to be theological teaching sessions.
Think living room not classroom
We also invited our teachers into this by painting the picture of what it would look like if the Group was over at their house. There would be conversation, questions, laughs, and prayer. This was our goal—invite people to your digital living room. Also, this perspective empowered our leaders to be willing to share the vision. Especially for those who otherwise would feel uncertain in leading a group of people. We also encouraged them to keep them brief and talk “with” not “to” your group.
We asked every leader to in turn ask 3 or 4 people to join them in starting a Q Group. As a leadership team, we then added to those 3 or 4. This has worked better than we imagined. It has allowed for so many new connections and cut down on “awkwardness.” Last night someone in my Q Group said, “I love our new friendships and can’t wait to meet you in person.”
Think short, but ongoing
The last piece of advice we have—keep it short! Back to our expert we mentioned earlier, he shared that online meeting attention spans last about 30 minutes. I don’t have any hard evidence or data to back this up, but I have personally observed this in my own life and those in my family who have had different online meetings. After about 30 minutes you start to struggle to pay attention.
Our goal is to keep these “Q Group” meetings short. Most of them consist of seeing how the week is going, asking what God is teaching them, and praying together. Some have done online games, singing together, or other fun ideas. However, we do encourage ongoing communication through personal texts and/or phone calls. Many try to send occasional texts of encouragement.
One of the great benefits of Q Groups has been the real time care updates of our church family. Early on, our pastoral team tried to call our church family. By the time we got done with that, things changed (this pandemic causes very sudden changes)! With our Q Groups meeting every week and a leader staying in touch with a specific few, we are more quickly able to know and respond to care for needs.
These are some areas we tried to focus on learning quickly. I believe God will use these online meetings in a different way as we get past this social quarantine. How is this goin to be? We have no idea yet, but the feedback from our church is resoundingly positive and we look forward to continuing to build more connections in our church family.