For the first time, I'm using a private Facebook group to foster connections within my small group—and it's been an extremely useful tool. If your group members have Facebook accounts, consider using this free tool that will allow you to connect in new ways throughout the week.
When setting up a Facebook group, be sure to make it a "secret" group. This will ensure that only the members of the group will be able to see posts. This means they will not show up on newsfeeds or on individual members' profiles. A secret group will allow your group members to share with confidence.
Smart Phone Ready
If you're looking for a way to instantly contact all your members at once, look no further—especially if your group members have smart phones. Group members' phones will alert them that there's a new message for them on Facebook.
Easily Add and Remove Members
When someone new joins, it's easy to add him or her to the group. I was once part of an e-mail chain that constantly added and removed people. They were always sending out e-mails with the updated information so that all the members could update their e-mail address books. With Facebook groups, there's no need to do this. Simply add a new member and all messages are sent to him or her. In the same way, if people leave the group, you can easily remove them.
Connect Throughout the Week
Set posting permissions to allow all group members to post on the group's page. This allows all group members to like comments, post comments, and share photos and documents. Let everyone contribute to the online discussion just like in your actual meetings. Group members can share prayer requests or other needs throughout the week. On a practical note, you may want to set up some guidelines for what to share—for instance, you may want to make it clear that posts about personal businesses are not welcome.
No long reply all threads to read through on Facebook. Simply scroll through the comments posted. It's a lot cleaner and easier to look through than a reply-all e-mail. Even better—you won't "lose" comments by accidentally deleting your e-mail. Simply scroll down the page until you find the information you're looking for.
See Who Has Read Posts
Have you ever sent out an e-mail and wondered if anyone actually read it? With Facebook groups, you'll never wonder again. The page will show you exactly who has seen your post. I once had to cancel our meeting last minute. I posted the information to our page and could check to see who had seen the post. Everyone quickly saw the message, and I could rest assured that no one would show up accidentally.
Keep the Conversation Going
I love being able to write a quick post about the chapter we'll be discussing at our next meeting. Something like, "I loved her description of grace on page 45" can spark discussion before you even get together. One week I came across a YouTube video that was on the topic of our study and posted it. It came out in our discussion that week.
Post Links to Resources
I've found myself frequently saying "Let me get back to you on that" in meetings. One of the great things about Facebook groups is they allow you to get back to them sooner. For instance, one woman asked me how to access the podcasts our church offers. The next day I posted a link to the podcasts on our group page. Or perhaps your church is putting on a special event and has a webpage with more information. You can link to the page so everyone in your group can check it out.
This is one of my favorites. Instead of talking about when to have our Christmas party in a meeting when no one had calendars to look at, I asked a poll question on our Facebook page. The poll feature allows you to ask a question, offer several possible choices, and allow group members to add their own choices. So I asked when we should meet. Within a few hours, all my group members had seen the post, checked the box for when they were available, and even left comments with other ideas.
Share Videos, Photos, and Files
Whether it's a group picture, a video from a recent service activity, or the PDF of your next study, you can share it through your Facebook group. No need to send it over e-mail and worry about file sizes. Plus, how often do we say we'll share our photos from an event but never get around to sending them out? Now you can each upload them to the page and let other group members use them as they'd like.
Have an event coming up: a party, service day, or prayer walk? Create an event on your page that allows members to RSVP, comment, and see all the details in one place.
Empower Connections Between Group Members
Sometimes leaders can serve as a bottleneck for relationships between group members. When you're all connected through the Facebook group, members can contact one another directly and deepen relationships. In fact, the page has everyone's profile pictures across the top so group members can simply click on the face of the person they want to connect with.
Information in One Place
If your group members are already using Facebook, their birthday, interests, and work information are already entered. Learn more about your group members and their interests and passions. And let group members get to know one another too.
Too often leaders do all the work. Facebook groups send the message that everyone has something to contribute. If one person has an idea for a service project, he or she can post about it. When someone shares a prayer request, group members can respond themselves through a comment or private message.
—Amy Jackson is the Associate Editor of SmallGroups.com; copyright 2012 by Christianity Today.