A Free 6+ week curriculum provided by the Church on the Ridge, Snoqualmie, WA and Allen White Consulting.
Cabin Fever Groups are designed in response to the growing stir crazy found all over the globe. Groups will virtually meet each week to hear from an expert in a variety of topics ranging from what to do when your kids are about to make you explode to managing stress in your new environment to balancing this new work from home environment with your family. Following the ten-minute teaching segment groups will have time to discuss practical application, exchange their own tips, and encourage one another.
During the Coronavirus pandemic, pastors have become online content machines. Pastors have always been content machines, we’re just seeing more of it. Phil Cooke said that the church is currently producing more media than Hollywood. How about that?
Our faith is multifaceted. God gave us a book and a brain, so there is no coincidence there. We are people of the Book, the Bible. After all, we are transformed by the renewing of our minds. But, that transformation involves a few other things like our experiences and our relationships, our attitudes and our actions. While nothing supersedes what the Bible gives us, transformation is not merely a knowledge-based enterprise. As pastors continue to pump out content, we must also realize that people don’t grow by content alone.
People are Inundated with Content.
From newsfeeds to blogs to everyone starting a podcast right now, there is content for days. For a society that was already on information overload, quarantine has caused the overload to level up several times over. In addition to content, people need a place to process all of this content and do life together, even while they’re apart.
New Facebook devotionals and midweek services are great, but how can your people talk back? Actually they can. People can join in Watch Parties and message each other. People can communicate with the presenter. Give people time to interact with you and with the content. Offer a question time, or give a question for the group to discuss. Using these simple tools you can turn your content into a conversation. I watched one group of pastors online last Sunday night reading and answering their congregations questions from the chat. Your people need conversation, not just content.
Smaller Churches have the Advantage.
If you pastor a smaller church, you can actually call every one of your members on a regular basis. You can have an actual conversation with them. While you still have the deadline of the Sunday sermon and Zoom meetings, the schedule has shifted. A pastor serving a regular sized church of 90 people could actually have a personal conversation with every member over a 30 day period by just calling three people per day. Pastors with 1,000 or 10,000 can’t do that. While online services are a necessity these days, personal touches count more than ever.
In larger churches, staff and church leaders should be enlisted to make similar contacts. Call all of your leaders. Call all of your regular givers, if you aren’t already. While you should have started this 60 days ago, you can still start now. There are lots of ways to reach out to folks and even practice the “one anothers” amid social distancing.
Small Group Churches have an Advantage.
Online worship services only go so far. While worship and the Word is vitally important during these days of isolation and fear, the reality is that once people go online, they will find a better online worship service out there. That’s okay. These are unusual times.
Small groups, however, are the glue that holds the church together. Many churches are starting significant numbers of new online groups. Remember, people need conversation and not just content. The format of groups is changing. I’ve done online coaching groups with pastors from across North America for years. My online coaching has changed. Rather than just diving into the topic, we take a little time to debrief our current situation. The pastor in Washington talks about quarantine life and ministry over the last two months. The pastor in Nebraska is just now getting into the thick of it. There is a need to talk about what we’re going through.
There is also much to learn as churches are innovating ministry right now. One church developed an online small group study called Cabin Fever to help people deal with living, working, and schooling in quarantine. Another church developed an online resource for members of their community to post practical needs. They are then matched up with a church member or a group who can meet that need. Another very large church has tasked their staff to call 160 church members per week. They are also making N95 masks for medical personnel. If pastors ever wanted to experiment, this is the time. No one is looking for perfection these days.
New Online Groups are Adding up to 50% More Groups in Some Churches.
Sure there are excuses about Zoom fatigue, but there used to be excuses about not having enough time for a group. Some people will always have reasons why they can’t join a group or just don’t want to. That’s okay. Move with the movers. If you make the offer, there are folks who would love to connect with others. Read more on starting online groups.
What is not working right now is assigning people to groups. Let’s face it this has never worked very well. When starting new groups online or offline, the leaders should start by making a list of people they know. They can invite a couple of people, then ask their new members to invite a few people they know. Before they know it, they have a group.
Now, there may be people who want to be in a group but aren’t invited. Normally, I would recommend creating an environment where prospective members can meet group leaders in person, then decide whose group to join. While you can’t do this at a physical location, you could do this online. Host an online meeting where leaders can introduce themselves and talk a little about their groups. Prospective members can listen, then indicate which group they want to become a part of. Everyone knows what they’re getting into.
Content is great. The Word of God is powerful. But, the reality is that people need each other in addition to needing your teaching. Try different ways to help them connect online and offline during this time. Get on the phone and give your people a call. Send them a handwritten note in the mail. Create new online groups. We don’t know when restrictions will end. Every state has a different opinion. We also don’t know if and when another outbreak may occur. If you learn what to do during this crisis, you will be better prepared for the next one.
This post starts with a question rather than a statement because everything seems to be a question amidst the Coronavirus outbreak. Our lives have been defined by phrases like “in an abundance of caution,” “reopening,” and “Zoom fatigue.” I wonder if that last one is just the updated version of “I don’t have time for a group,” but I digress.
Sometime in the future, which hopefully means in year 2020, things will go back to “normal” whatever that may mean. For some normal simply means pre-shelter-in-place life and ministry. But, for others, it’s embracing a new normal of on-campus and online ministry. Some churches have witnessed an online worship attendance that’s 20 times as large as normal on-campus worship. Other churches have increased their small groups by 50% during quarantine. What’s next for those groups? How will they continue, if they continue?
Online to Offline is Awkward
In another post I mentioned my online small group on CompuServe in 1994. You can read it here. Great things happened in that group. Greg got saved. Tricia met her future husband. Allen got married, but not to Tricia. While we knew each other well online, until we converged on Greg’s house in southern California, we had never met face-to-face.
The date was set. I was going to baptize Greg in his Jacuzzi. (It’s the California way). Our online group that met only by message board and chat was going to meet in person. Our joke was that we would all have to sit in a circle with our backs to each other and communicate through our laptops. It’s one thing to take an offline group online, but moving an online group offline is another thing. It was a little awkward at first, but we had some big enough personalities in that group that our online friendship easily transferred. I don’t think that every online group can accomplish this, so don’t expect every online group to become an offline group. Our CompuServe group continued to meet as an online group for one practical reason: We lived in four different states!
Online and Out of State
On a coaching call with a pastor the other day, he mentioned that his new online group was made up of members from Washington, California, and New York. They had agreed to meet temporarily for the Cabin Fever study, but they were unsure of what they would do after that. A lot depended on what the group members needed.
With the church staying at home, ministry has gone from normal office hours to ministry 168 hours per week. (Pastors were already serving on evenings and weekends). Boundaries for small groups expanded from counties to countries and cities to states. As long as the group could figure out the time zone formula, they could meet. Now what? Groups are no longer limited to one locale, so what does the group do after the restrictions are lifted?
Possible Next Steps
There are several options for groups to choose from as they move forward. (1) Groups could move completely offline. Once groups no longer have to stay-at-home, (and provided members live within reasonable driving distance of each other), they could endure that first awkward in-person meeting and meet offline permanently. (2) Groups could stay online. If group members live long distances from each other, then an online group would be the only option. But, some groups might appreciate the convenience of meeting online. They could just put their children to bed and meet online. They’ll have to bake their own brownies, but their meetings could continue. (3) Groups could meet mostly online but also meet in-person occasionally. Groups could gather socially or to serve together on a regular basis, but continue to meet for Bible study online.
What’s the best option for online groups? Whether groups meet online or offline, the bottom line is to let the new groups decide for themselves. They should receive the same coaching and training as any other small group leaders. The only difference is the format. Welcome to the 21st century and your new online small group ministry. You certainly have better tools now than we had in 1994. Use those tools to expand the reach of disciple-making in your church. While online groups may not be your personal preference, they will work for some of your people. Not only did our CompuServe group work, we are still friends today.
People are coping with the pandemic very differently. You might live in a part of the country where everyone has stayed home for more than a month already. You might live in a part of the country where some stores look like last minute shopping on December 23rd. Your people are going through a lot right now.
Working with pastors across the country, I witnessed the response to the Coronavirus pandemic change from week to week. Those living in the areas that were affected first quickly hunkered down and took extra precautions while some in other parts of the country were still wondering if the whole thing was really that big of a deal.
As our coaching group discussed all of this, what we began to witness in different waves were the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. You’ve probably experienced some of these stages yourself. Everyone is grieving a loss. They’ve lost everything from March Madness to jobs to family visits and now they’ve lost Easter Sunday for the first time in the history of the church (as far as I am aware). Your people have lost a lot.
Unfortunately, people are not coping with all of this in the healthiest ways. There’s been an increase in alcohol consumption even with bars and restaurants closed. Many people jokingly post about overeating, binge watching, and other outlets. Pastors are over-emailing (Pastor, it’s a good time to write your book!) The worst statistic is the rise in domestic violence across the country.
Your people are in a pressure cooker. They need a place to process what they’re dealing with. They don’t need necessarily more content, but they need conversation. This is an amazing time to start new online small groups. I want to help you get started.
I’m offering any church the opportunity to join a new free downloadable study called Cabin Fever. This seems to be where we’re at. In partnership with the Church on the Ridge in Snoqualmie, Washington, we would like to offer you this series for free. The Ridge is creating video interviews with experts along with a Bible study for the six weeks following Easter (or longer). Experts are saying to expect the effects of the Coronavirus outbreak to last until the first of June. Of course, we know those predictions change almost daily.
Cabin Fever Groups are designed in response to the growing stir crazy found all over the globe. Groups will virtually meet each week to hear from an expert in a variety of topics ranging from what to do when your kids are about to make you explode to managing stress in your new environment to balancing this new work from home environment with your family. Each lesson will include a 10-minute video session with an expert in the field. Following the teaching segment groups will have time to discuss practical application, exchange their own tips, and encourage one another.