What do you do when circumstances prevent your group from meeting together? Even though most of us are asking that question due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s a good question to wrestle with regardless of the situation.
For most groups, there just are seasons where the group cannot gather. The typical flu season can stop some groups from gathering, while summer or the extended holidays slow others down. So how can a group still be a group even when it can’t meet as a group? And how do you best use that time to help people grow in their faith, deepen relational connections, and cultivate hearts for others through service?
The easiest way a group stays relationally connected is through their regular group meetings. But when it’s not possible for a season, how can they keep the relationship bridge strong without physical presence?
- Start a closed Facebook group. Most people use some form of social media. For the average person, Facebook is their daily stopping point. Leverage that by forming a closed group where members can privately post pictures, prayer requests, and encourage each other.
- Check up through a group email. Encourage members to interact via email daily or every few days. It’s a good way to share information – especially for those group members who don’t use social media.
- Utilize group text. More urgent matters are better via text. If emergencies arise, don’t rely on social media or email – use your phone’s messaging function.
- Pick up the phone. While young adults prefer text, many older adults prefer the sound of a voice. It can be overwhelming for you as a leader to call each member of your group, so consider empowering others to share in this vital task (more on that later).
- Serve each other. As you communicate with others from your group, encourage them to share how they’re doing and what they may need—listening for ways that you can step up
Encourage Spiritual Growth
When we’re “trapped” at home, it can be tempting to binge-watch a favorite movie or TV series, or finally clean out that cluttered closet. While that isn’t necessarily a bad way to spend a long weekend, it does seem like a waste when the weekend turns into a week or two, or more. All that down-time is a perfect opportunity to invest in your relationship with God. How can we encourage group members to sink deep roots in Christ during this season? Thanks to our digital age, we can easily share:
- Favorite christian podcasts. There’s no shortage of excellent content out there. Make it a challenge by inviting each group member to share a favorite podcast that encourages their spiritual growth with the group.
- Meaningful sermons. Again, there’s an abundance of thought-provoking lessons taught by gifted Bible teachers – in both video and audio formats. Suggest those that are meaningful to you, and ask your group to do the same. Maybe even create a digital “watch party” where you all watch the same message at the same time.
- Current worship music. Encourage group members to post worship songs they’re currently listening to on your social media page or share them via group email. Chances are you’ll learn something new about each other – and be inspired to draw near to Jesus!
Deepen the Relationships
You may not be in the same room but nothing stopping your group from tightening up your bonds with one another. With minimal effort, you can strengthen the foundation that leads to a flourishing group when you get back together again.
- Pair up. If you’re in a couples group, pair two couples. If it’s a group of individuals, pair two people. And if it’s a mixed group, pair a couple with an individual. Encourage your “pairs” to call, text, or email each other throughout the week at regular times.
- The person on your right. Another option with the same theme is intentionally pairing an individual with an individual. If you have a mixed gender group it’s best to pair by gender. Just imagine your group in a circle and assign everyone the person on their right.
- Question of the day. A Facebook friend daily posts a “Question of the Day” on his wall. None of the questions are profound, but they’re meant to spark interaction. If you try something like this, make sure to keep the questions on the lighter side.
- Share testimonies. You might be new to the term “testimony.” It simply means sharing what God has done in your life – whether that’s how you came to Christ or what God has recently done in your life. Using email as a way for group members to share their “God stories” could be a powerful way to grow closer, to one another and God.
Technology has allowed us to meet together even if we aren’t in the same space. Here are a few ways for your group to be together virtually.
- Attend church. Many churches stream their worship services. If yours is one of them, try listening to or watching the same service “together,” interacting with one another via group text or on social media.
- Host a watch party. Since many churches stream services on social media, learn how to set up a watch party (it’s not hard) for your group. Then share your comments or questions in real-time. It’s one of the few times it’s OK to talk in church!
- Conference call. If there’s an extended time when your group can’t get together, consider a conference call. There are various apps and websites that can help make this possible. And if you don’t know how to do it, simply ask someone in your group to accept the challenge and figure it out.
- Video conference. For the more tech-savvy group, consider a video conference meeting. Depending on your profession, you may already use a video platform (such as www.zoom.us). Or you may have a group member who already uses such a system. As with the conference call idea, if it overwhelms you as a leader, assign coordination to a willing group member.
Make the Most of the Time
Until late winter 2020, most of us had never heard or used the term “social distancing.” Maybe it’s a short-term expression or maybe it’s with us for keeps. Either way, this season of “distancing” can actually be a chance to prepare our group for the future. Most of us are usually so busy in the doing that we don’t have time to think weeks or months ahead. Now that we have the opportunity, let’s make the most of it!
- Sharpen the saw. Over time, a saw blade gets dull and requires more effort from the carpenter. So keep that blade sharp! For a leader, this means revisiting that training manual, grabbing a good book on leading (The Essential Guide for Small Group Leaders), or watching some training videos. Here’s one I filmed a few years ago: Small Group Leader Training Program.
- Create a six/twelve-Month Plan. With the opportunity to look ahead, now is the time to ask the group what they want to study over the next 6-12 months. After all, you’re already talking to your group via email and social media.
- Recruit leaders. If you’re like me, you’re tired of doing everything. This is a great chance to ask someone to take on the role of prayer coordinator, refreshment scheduler, service coordinator, or any other role your group needs.
- Find a coach. Most churches need coaches who will encourage and support their leaders, yet most can’t find willing volunteers. If you have one already, great, use this time to connect. If you don’t, pray who you can recruit to be your prayer supporter, encourager, mentor and cheerleader. Learn more about the role of coaches in the Essential Guide for Small Group Leaders.
In times of crisis, the faithful, consistent nature of God is our bedrock of strength, courage, and peace. Because we’re governed by the Lord, the follower of Christ is not to be governed by fear. Not to mention, we are the Lord’s faithful witness to the world. Throughout Church history, God’s people have held steady in turbulent times – His light shining brighter when the foundations of the world have been shaken.
Amidst it all, God encourages his people through the relationships we have with one another. The Apostle Paul, in a vulnerable, personal moment, wrote, “But God, who encourages those who are discouraged, encouraged us by the arrival of Titus.” (2 Corinthians 7:6 NLT).
If Paul was doing ministry in 2020, I can just imagine Paul and Titus connecting via FaceTime, the sight of Titus’s face encouraging the great apostle in the midst of a hard ministry season. In the same way, let’s use the tools we have at our disposal to grow as leaders and to grow the depth and faith of our groups!