When the topic of online small groups comes up, people typically think of video-based platforms like Zoom. While this format is popular for some, it’s not the only way to meet online. When my first online group met in 1994 on CompuServe, there was no option for audio or video. You could only do so much with a dial-up modem. Yet friendships were formed, members were encouraged, and one guy came to Christ as a result of that group.
When you think about types of online small groups today, consider these two questions:
What is the purpose of the group?
How can groups meet online?
Online Small Groups – Which Method is Best?
What is the Purpose of the Group?
Groups meet for a variety of reasons—connection, encouragement, Bible study, and even support. While in this season of Coronavirus, every group needs an element of support. When meeting with the groups of pastors I coach, we start with a check-in on how everyone is doing. These are crazy times, and not everybody is doing great. Allow time in every group for members to check-in and process what they’re dealing with. While content is at the center of the meeting, people also need conversation.
Recovery groups, DivorceCare and GriefShare, have also gone online meeting the needs of a record number of people including those who might never darken the door of your church. These support groups are finding amazing results, despite initial reluctance to meeting online. Ministries like Celebrate Recovery and the Alpha Course never imagined online groups would work, but they are seeing numbers like never before. In a recent interview, Nicky Gumbel, founder of the Alpha Course, mentioned one pastor in New York is starting a new Alpha group every day.
How Can Groups Meet Online?
Online groups can choose from a variety of meeting formats—video, audio-only, or asynchronously. As with in-person small groups, one size does not fit all for online groups either.
1. Video-based Platforms
Groups meeting via video conferencing platforms offer a multidimensional online group experience. Members can see each other, hear each other’s voices, text chat during the meeting, and share a teaching video. While Zoom is very popular, there are several other paid or free services including: GotoMeeting, Webex, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangout, Google Meets, and Facebook Groups among others.
Now, in the world of working at home and schooling at home, people have begun to experience Zoom fatigue. Fortunately, if people struggle with Zoom fatigue or are technologically challenged, there are other options.
2. Audio-Only Groups
Audio-only groups meet on a conference line via phone. Free services like freeconferencecall.com are available to anyone who would like to set up a conference line. Typically, these services offer a toll-free number.