My friend and I recently started an online small group, and it's been an incredible experience. In a very short time it has become one of my favorite hours of the week. Thanks to the internet and webcam technology, small groups are no longer limited by geography.
To get things started, here are some reasons why I LOVE my online small group:
- I get to do group with some great friends from across the country.
- It's simple.
- I attended once in my bathrobe when I was sick!
- We don't have to coordinate a snack schedule.
- We hold each other very accountable.
- It's one of the rawest, most honest group experiences I've ever had.
Any Church Can Have Online Small Groups
Great news: you don't have to be a 9,000-plus member church and have a crack Web Development team in order to have online small groups. A church that thinks they have to build their own software or applications for online groups is like a church that thinks they have to build an educational wing on their campus to have physical small groups.
Most small groups meet outside a church building in places that are being funded by something other than the church budget—like homes and coffee shops. So I got to thinking, why can't online groups do the same?
There are several free websites and applications out there that can be used to facilitate online groups. Here are my thoughts on a few:
- Adobe ConnectNow. Adobe ConnectNow is designed to be more of a business application, but it can works well for online groups.
- TokBox. TokBox is a social-networking webcam site and is simpler to use than Adobe ConnectNow.
The catch with both Connect Now and TokBox is that everyone needs headphones. Without them there will be a distracting echo.
- Google Chat and Skype. Google Chat and Skype are also great for online groups, but only for two people. These applications are perfect if you emphasize accountability and/or mentoring in your church.
See? It's not hard. I dare every pastor reading this to go out and start some online small groups! I even challenge every small-group leader to try and have your physical group meet online a couple of times just for the experience. The technology for online groups exists and is free, so what's holding you back?
Making Online Groups Part of Your Ministry Strategy
In my opinion, the debate about whether or not online groups work is over—it has been decided conclusively, and the answer is yes. The question now is, "How can we incorporate online groups into our church's regular small-group strategy?"
Below are some steps you can take to fully integrate online groups into your church's strategy quickly and effectively.
- As the ministry leader, start an online group of your own. By doing this you'll learn how to navigate the joys and challenges that your future online group leaders will experience.
- Think of online groups like every other group. Don't allow yourself to think that online groups are something different, separate, or less-than groups that meet in physical locations.
- Add "online group" as a location or group type category in your small-group database.
- Market online groups to the congregation. Specifically target groups like business people and stay-at-home-moms. The convenience of online groups is especially relevant for them.
- Give away a few webcams and headsets to the first few online groups that start.
- Use an "online small group tip sheet." Create your own or download mine by clicking here.