Promoting Community While Social Distancing: Moving Your Small Groups Online

Promoting Community While Social Distancing: Moving Your Small Groups Online

Amid the Coronavirus pandemic, people need each other more than ever before, yet they need to avoid each other more than ever. Christians believe faith is more powerful than fear. As the news media and government agencies continue to discuss the critically important topic of the spread and impact of Coronavirus, it’s easy for anyone to give into fear, especially when they are isolated from others.

Courtesy of @kenwmurphy via Instagram

Worship services are forced online as groups of 10 are being discouraged to gather. For smaller numbers, social distancing is encouraged where people should stay six feet away from each other. Whether by mandate or by choice, people are cautious about meeting with any size group. Isolation, though, tends to amplify fear. How can we promote community and social distancing at the same time?

Reframing Life and Ministry

The only thing missing from everyday life amid a pandemic is personal contact. The church may not be meeting within the four walls of the church building for an hour on Sunday, but the church can function as the Body of Christ despite the lack conventional church services.

Paul instructed in 1 Corinthians 12 that every member of the Body is important and that every member has gifts. Rather than meeting in weekend services to check off the church box for the week, members can and should be challenged to embrace their deeper calling. Who can they serve? How can they encourage? How can the church be the church outside of the four walls of a Sunday service? We really should be asking these questions anyway.

When we think of small groups in particular, often we focus on practicing the “one anothers” of the Bible.

“Love one another” (John 13:34; John 15:12).

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love” (Romans 12:10).

“Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10).

“Live in harmony with one another” (Romans 12:16).

“Stop passing judgment on one another” (Romans 14:13).

“Serve one another in love” (Galatians 5:13).

“Carry each other’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2).

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other” (Ephesians 4:32).

“Build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

“Encourage one another daily” (Hebrews 3:13).

“Spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24).

“Pray for each other” (James 5:16).

There are 59 of these statements in all. (For a complete list, check out this post on smallgroupchurches.com LINK https://www.smallgroupchurches.com/the-59-one-anothers-of-the-bible/

There are only a couple of these statements that should be avoided in a climate of social distancing:

“Wash one another’s feet” (Mark 9:50) and

“Greet one another with a holy kiss” (1 Peter 5:14).

All of the other “one anothers” can be practiced among believers even in isolation, quarantine, and social distancing.

Reframing the Practice of the One Anothers

What is available to believers who are in isolation or self-quarantine? We have computers, tablets, smartphones, messaging, social media, telephones, streaming video services, and televisions. People communicate more while they are apart than when they are actually together it seems! Now take the communications devices available to people and pair them with the one another statements.

With this technology, how do we “encourage one another daily” as stated in Hebrews 3:13. The reality is most people don’t see each other every day. But, given the technology in our hands, we could text or message encouragement to one another daily. Just the other day a friend in Florida came to mind. I texted to see how he was doing. He was discouraged. In a short text, I encouraged him. His response was, “I think that’s just what I needed to hear today. Thank you.” I wasn’t in the same room with him. I wasn’t even in the same state with him, but I was able to encourage him. How can we encourage one another daily when we can’t see them in person? Use what we have!

The same goes for these other “one another” statements as well.

“Love one another” – We can do this anywhere at any time.

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love” – We can call to check on each other.

“Honor one another above yourselves” – We can think of others before we think of ourselves. How is the pandemic affecting those we know? How about our neighbors?

“Live in harmony with one another” – Distancing may promote harmony in some ways. But in light of a global pandemic, we can also put our differences aside.

“Stop passing judgment on one another” – Everyone acts differently in different situations. Be as gracious in social media as you would if you were talking to the person face to face. People are already anxious. We don’t need to feed into this.

“Serve one another in love” – Can you spare a square? If someone is in need and you have the ability to help, then help them. You might need to make a “no contact” delivery and leave some toilet paper on their doorstep, but you can serve.

“Carry each other’s burdens” – When you call to encourage someone, you can listen. You can empathize. You can’t give them a hug, but you can care.

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other” – Life’s too short. Let it go.

“Build each other up” – When people are isolated, their thoughts and our enemy can get the best of them. Lift them up. Send a text about what you like about them. Post a verse. Leave a voice mail.

“Spur one another on toward love and good deeds” – We need reminders to move forward and not get stuck. While stuck home from work or school, we have time on their hands. How can we help others?

“Pray for each other” – We can pray over the phone. We can even pray on someone’s voice mail.

Meeting with Your Small Group Online

Hebrews 10:25 instructs us “…not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing…” Often these instructions are taken for worship services, which today have moved online. The author of Hebrews is more than likely speaking to smaller home gatherings. This is your small group. You could take the risk and meet together in-person. But, let’s face it, we don’t know where the Coronavirus pandemic is going to go. Your group might meet, but some might choose to stay away – either out of caution or out of fear (Remember: “Stop passing judgment on one another”). If we can’t meet in person, we can meet online.

I was part of an online small group on CompuServe in 1992. There was no video or audio. It was basically a chatroom and a message board. It seems like ancient history now, but this was back before most people had ever heard of the internet. On my dialup modem, I connected with Greg in southern California, Trish in Chicagoland, David in California, and a couple in Idaho. Greg wasn’t even a Christian at the time, but he joined our Christian forum because it offered low priced, flat rate service. One day Greg informed the group that he received Christ as his Savior. We all converged on Greg’s house in San Dimas, California for his baptism. Years later, Greg was a groomsman in my wedding. Since moving to the East Coast, we don’t see each other very often, but we still connect.

With online technology today, it’s easier than ever to host groups online. You get to see faces and hear each other’s voices. It’s much better than my CompuServe days! To meet in online groups, you have to pick a platform. I prefer Zoom, which offers both a paid and free service. Group members can connect by video, audio, and/or telephone. I use it every day for staff meetings and coaching groups.

To make group meetings work best, you have to eliminate distractions –close other windows and notifications on your computer, tablet, or phone. Use ear buds or headphones to prevent audio feedback. Make sure there is nothing distracting in the environment where you are sitting. Then, just focus on your group meeting.

Over the years, I’ve heard people object that people who meet online can pretend to be anyone they want and won’t necessarily present their real selves. I’ve discovered this is also true in in-person meetings. It’s up to group members to choose how much they will disclose about themselves and how vulnerable they will be. Remember: speed of the leader, speed of the team.

Ministry doesn’t have to stop because of a pandemic and social distancing. In fact, there are plenty of opportunities for the church to be the church. The persecuted church in Acts 8:1 couldn’t stay with the apostles in Jerusalem, but they did spread the message of the Gospel throughout Judea and Samaria just as Jesus commanded them in Acts 1:8. How can we use this circumstance to fulfill Jesus’ command? We don’t need church buildings. We don’t need “official” ministries. We don’t need church staff to lead the meetings. Now is a time to be the church more than ever. My hope is even when we go back to weekend worship services, we will never go back to “normal.” The church should continue to be the church.

For more information on online small groups:

How to Host an Online Group by Jason DeGraaff (Offers a comparison of teleconference services).

How Online Small Groups Work by Jay Kranda

Leaderless Small Groups

Leaderless Small Groups

The number of groups any church can launch and maintain is limited by the number of leaders available. It’s simple. If you have a leader, you have a group. If you don’t have a leader, then no group. The problem is most churches can’t recruit all of the leaders they need to meet the demand for groups. The problem goes even further because most people don’t regard themselves as being any kind of a leader. Without more leaders, how do you launch more groups?

Problem #1: Not Everyone Qualifies as a Leader

Churches place various qualifications for leadership. They may require church membership, leader training, apprenticing in a group, a background check, an interview, or any number of qualifications to lead. For most churches the bar for leadership is set pretty high – as it should be.

In 1 Timothy 5:22, Paul instructs Timothy, “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands.” Commissioning someone as a leader is a serious thing. In order to recognize someone as a leader in the church, they must have good character, and they must be proven as a leader. If you hand out the title to just anyone, then you dilute the meaning and authority of leaders in the church. But, this leads to the second problem.

Problem #2: Most People Don’t Consider Themselves to be Leaders

If they must be a leader to lead a group, then they must fulfill leadership requirements and receive leadership training before they can lead, but they aren’t leaders so why would they do that? My apologies for the run-on sentence, but it’s a legitimate question. How many times have you invited someone to lead a group only to be turned down with “I’m not a leader”?

Admitted non-leaders don’t get excited about meeting leadership requirements or taking leadership training. They’re not leaders. If they have to be a leader to lead a group, then it’s probably not going to happen.

What If You Don’t Need Leaders?

“We’re not recruiting elders here,” said Randal Alquist, Discipleship Pastor, Vertical Church, West Haven, CT. “We started giving people permission to jump in. We’re asking for people who love people and love God. We want people who are willing to facilitate a healthy environment where connections can happen.”

Think about this for a second – what did Jesus call us to do? He didn’t call us to make leaders. Jesus didn’t even call us to start small groups although He modeled it. Jesus called the church to “go and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). What do you need to make a disciple? You need a disciple to make a disciple. How many disciples do you have?

By inviting disciples to make disciples in groups, you can help your people walk in obedience to the Great Commission. Rather than continuing to allow your people to borrow from your spirituality, you can give them an easy-to-use tool like a video-based curriculum and a coach to supervise them. They can live in obedience to Jesus by making disciples. They can prove themselves and learn to lead by doing. You can have more groups ASAP. And, eventually, these disciples can be recognized as leaders.

The bar for leadership should remain high. When you do church-wide campaigns, group launches, or alignment series, these are part of the leader recruitment process. These are not ordination events for new leaders. It’s a trial run to give them an opportunity to prove themselves as leaders. Once they’re ready, then you can commission them as leaders. As one of my leaders, Doug Howard told me, “Thank you, Pastor Allen, for showing me I was the leader I never knew I was.” I hope you hear that a lot!

For more tips on launching more groups, register for the Starting Leaderless Groups Webinar on Wednesday, November 20 at 1 pm ET/ Noon CT/ 11 am MT/ 10 am PT.

Learning by Doing in Groups

Learning by Doing in Groups

What does it mean to learn? Is it merely an acquisition of more facts?Or is it taking those facts and putting them into practice? Meetings are not the only place for groups to learn. Often lessons are learned better by doing.

At New Life Christian Center where I served in California, we challenged our groups to prepare and serve a hot meal every Friday night at an emergency homeless shelter which ran five months of the year. We asked for groups to volunteer together instead of individuals, because the positive peer pressure of the group would guarantee 10 out of 10 group members participating, whereas individual recruitment might have netted 4 or 5 out of 10.

Our groups took this project to heart. Even on the year when both Christmas Eve and New Years Eve were on a Friday, the signup sheet was completely filled up by our groups within an hour of placing it at our information center. My group didn’t even get a chance to sign up!

One group member told me he was very reluctant to participate. His attitude toward the homeless had always been “I started with nothing and pulled myself up by the bootstraps and built a successful construction company. Why couldn’t the homeless work hard and do the same.”

He was part of a small group of middle aged adults who had about 40 years of Sunday school under their belts. There wasn’t much of the Bible they hadn’t studied. Yet, all of this Bible study had done little to change this man’s attitude toward the poor.

He went with his group to serve the meal at the shelter. He later admitted that as he stood in line serving those men and looking them in the eye, he realized if circumstances had been different in his life, then he might be standing on the other side of that line receiving the meal.

Six months later, he was sending his construction crews over to San Francisco every Friday to renovate a building which would be used as a homeless shelter in the Tenderloin. Talk about a change of heart. Not only did he see the homeless differently, he was compelled to do something about it. Instead of his crews building multimillion dollar homes on Fridays, they were renovating a homeless shelter. The positive peer pressure of a small group serving together made a difference not only in his life, but in the lives of many homeless people he might never meet.

In making disciples, Jesus instructed us to “teach them to obey what I have commanded” (Matthew 28:20). In Matthew 25, Jesus tells His disciples, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me” (Matthew 25:45). The words must lead to doing in order to make disciples in the way Jesus directed us. By simply inviting groups to serve together during the Christmas holidays or during Summer break, we can help them apply what they’ve learned and become more Christ-like in the process.

Introducing DIY Video Curriculum

Introducing DIY Video Curriculum

Today, we are introducing DIY video curriculum. Fifteen years ago I learned the power of video-based curriculum when our church doubled our groups in one day. After seven years of handpicking leaders and begging them to raise up an apprentice leader, our groups were stuck. My pastor was headed into a series that I quickly piggy-backed on to launch groups. We found a study guide on the topic, but there was no video component. We knew that if our pastor put the teaching on video, we could equip disciples to make disciples. 

Photo by Allen White

But, the reality is that every church does not have the capacity to turn out curriculum series after curriculum series as momentum builds for groups. DIY Video Curriculum takes the hard work out of producing curriculum. The study guides are written. The video scripts are written. Churches just need to shoot the video with their pastors. The level of production is entirely up to the church. Some churches shoot with an iPhone and upload the videos to YouTube. Other churches will shoot with multiple cameras, stream the videos, and create DVDs. The key is not the production. The key is your pastor.

Why Create Video Curriculum?

Peak Your Pastor’s Interest in Groups.

Several years ago, we were coaching a church’s team on how to create video-based curriculum. They spent a full day recording the pastor’s teaching, and planned to write a companion study guide for their groups. This was a lot of work, but they were committed. Then, something happened that surprised the team.

The day after the video shoot, the pastor pulled us into his office and said, “We’ve recorded these videos. We are writing this curriculum. How are we going to recruit leaders and connect people into groups?” Their discipleship pastor later confided that he had been trying to get his senior pastor interested in groups for two years and basically got no where. Now after a day of shooting video, their pastor was very interested. When pastors invest in creating resources, they will become the champion for small groups in the church.

Energize Your People’s Interest in Groups.

If church members are not connected to each other, the reason they attend a church, other than Jesus,  is because of the senior pastor. They like the pastor’s style. They laugh at the jokes. They like the pastor’s personality. Warning: Don’t mention this to your worship pastor. It will break his heart.

What we discovered in our church in California as well as churches we’ve coached across North America is when the congregation is offered exclusive video teaching from the pastor, they are getting more of what they already like. Members want to hear from their own pastor more than they want to hear from a nationally-known teacher. By offering the pastor’s video-based teaching, members have a great incentive to start groups and to join groups.

Empower Your People to Make Disciples.

When members are invited by their senior pastor to get together with their friends and do a study, they are more than willing to follow their pastor’s lead. Some churches we’ve coached have actually connected twice their worship attendance into groups. By offering an easy-to-use video-based curriculum, people who gather groups don’t need to be Bible experts. The pastor is the expert. (And, the church doesn’t have to worry about what the groups are teaching, because the church supplied the teaching). The video also reduces the amount of preparation time for the person leading the group meeting. People are busy. An easy-to-use curriculum will eliminate one more excuse for leading a group.

Why Don’t Churches Produce More of Their Own Curriculum?

Here are the short answers:

  1. Some pastors feel they must produce the next 40 Days of Purpose
  2. With the pastor preaching every week, there is no time to write scripts and create curriculum.
  3. Publisher-quality materials are time consuming to create.

How DIY Video Curriculum Can Help.

  1. The scripts are already written. The pastor just needs to personalize them.
  2. The books are already written and professionally designed.
  3. The videos can be shot all at once or a week at at time.

For more information on DIY Video Curriculum, Click Here.

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