If you’re like most pastors, your small groups are tired of Zoom meetings. If people are working remotely, they are in a series of Zoom meetings all day long. As Nona Jones said, “The problem is that even though the meetings are different the experience is the same.” Zoom Fatigue is real.
Your people are tired of looking at their screens and looking at themselves all day long. But, if they won’t meet with their groups online when they are unable or unwilling to meet in-person, then how do you create community? How do you fulfill your mission of making disciples.
Do Something Different
Zoom meetings cannot effectively replicate an in-person experience. Your small groups are just not the same online as they are in-person. In-person meetings are far superior to online meetings just like your in-person worship service is much better than the streaming service (but the streaming service could be better). So, stop trying to create the same meeting experience for a group on Zoom. It’s not the same. It doesn’t work. People don’t like it…says the guy who wrote Leading Online Small Groups: Embracing the Church’s Digital Future this year!
Change it up. Do something different. Call it something different. Think about offering a short-term group if that’s a different experience for your groups.
• Look at egroups from The Church at the Mill, Moore, South Carolina.
• Start book clubs like The Rock Church in San Diego who are working through The Third Option: Hope for a Racially Divided Nation by their pastor, Miles McPherson. If your pastor doesn’t have a book, then use Miles’ book! This year groups at The Rock Church are up 211% over 2019.
• Take your groups through Financial Peace University, a marriage class, your membership process, or your growth track online.
• Try a Digitally Interactive Curriculum like Get Out of Your Head by Jenni Allen through Studygateway.com or produce your own digitally interactive curriculum using Rali.
This is a different year. Online groups are a different experience. Try something different!
Groups are More Than Meetings
Groups offer the experience of life-on-life, not life-on-curriculum. Fortunately, Jesus didn’t command you to “go and hold small group meetings.” (And, before you say it, I am well aware of Hebrews 10:25. Stay with me here).
Your mission is to “go and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19-20). What do you need to make a disciple? Let’s take this as granular as we can. You need a disciple to make a disciple. I would even venture to say that more discipleship happens outside of meetings than in meetings anyway. Feel free to debate me on that, but keep in mind that my definition of discipleship is not merely book learnin’. It’s teaching people to obey what Jesus commanded.
The best examples of life-on-life are the One Anothers of the Bible. How can you “encourage one another daily” when you don’t see each other every day or even very often? If you’re like most adults, you are never more than five feet away from your phone. Mine is sitting next to my computer as I’m typing this. I have to confess that my screen time has significantly increased in 2020. The same is true for most people. So, since your people are already on their phones quite a bit, why not use their phones to encourage each other? Send a quick text. Make a quick call. Say something positive on social media.
The same can go for the other One Anothers:
• “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 total!
And, here’s the thing: even when all of your people are attending in-person worship services and meeting with their groups in-person, they still can’t practice these One Anothers often enough. Encourage them to use their digital devices and message, pick up the phone and call, and even send a handwritten note in the mail. What if this could become the normal practice of all believers?
Zoom is NOT the Only Way to Meet Online
If Zoom Fatigue is a big issue, there are other ways to meet when you can’t meet in-person. Your people meet in other types of online groups that aren’t fatiguing them. Don’t think so?
Groups could meet on a conference call line. Services like freeconferencecall.com offer the phone number (which is usually long distance, but that’s not really an issue today).
Groups could meet asynchronously. Your people use asynchronous groups all of the time – a group text, Slack, private Facebook groups, Marco Polo, Parler (or not), and even “Reply to All” on email is an asynchronous group. The leader would post the questions one post at a time, then the group would respond probably over a week. This is how I did my CompuServe group in 1994!
My children connect with their friends often over video games like Fortnite. In fact, one article (that I can’t locate right now…) said that people who connect socially while playing video games are doing better in the pandemic than most people. I’m not sure how you’d pull off a traditional small group study, but you can connect! If you have discovered how to do this well, let me know!
Some of this may seem off-the –wall, but 2020 has been an off-the-wall sort of year. This is the year to experiment “because of COVID.” Whatever you want to start doing or even stop doing, do it “because of COVID.”
Some People Really Need an Online Small Group Right Now
You have people who are isolated and alone. You have people watch your online worship service and are ready to take a next step. You have people who’ve watched too much cable news and are freaking out. You have people who need to connect. Offer Zoom groups to the people who need them. It won’t be 100% of your people, but there are people who would love to join one. Move with the movers.
Rather than just herding your current groups into online groups, let them decide how they would choose to meet when they can’t meet in-person. They can go back and visit their group agreement and decide what to do. If they don’t all want to meet in-person or online, then start two groups!
Small groups meet many different purposes. They provide community and connection. They offer teaching and training. They promote conversation and practical application of God’s Word, the Bible. They offer opportunities to serve and to reach others. They provide an environment for encouragement and accountability. But, just like the weekend worship service is not your church’s entire ministry, a small group meeting is not the entire ministry of the group.
When groups can’t meet in-person and won’t meet online, focus on connection. How are your people connecting? How are your leaders connecting with their members? How are you and your coaches connecting with your leaders?