By Chris Surratt
After several weeks of social distancing, most of us are now accustomed to gathering with our communities online.
It took us a few attempts to understand how online conferencing platforms work, but we did it, and now it’s time to utilize this new normal for more than just catching up with our groups.
For a lot of small groups, that means figuring out how to successfully choose and work through a Bible study virtually. It’s not always an easy task under normal circumstances, but now it’s especially difficult.
What worked well with a group sitting around a living room or classroom, may not translate as well to a video call. Here are a few things to think about as you decide what study might work best for your online group.
Type of Content
There are natural limitations to how deep a conversation can go in an online format. It’s more difficult to read body language and have the back-and-forth necessary to get too far below the surface of a line of discussion. That limitation will narrow the choices for the type of study content you offer.
Sermon-based. If everyone in the group is a member of the same church, then a sermon-based discussion is an easy option. Most church services are now online only, so it’s easy for a group member to watch the message before the group meeting–even if they didn’t catch it on Sunday.
If your church doesn’t offer discussion questions to go along with the messages, Smallgroup.com is an easy-to-use website to help you write your own. You can get a free 30-day trial with no obligation to continue.
Short-term. If you would rather do a short-term (6-weeks or less), stand-alone type Bible study, this is a great opportunity to poll the group to find out where the felt needs are right now.
They may be battling feelings of anxiety, loneliness, and/or depression during this uncertain and isolated time, so choose a study that brings biblical truth to those very real issues.
Video Study. Video supported studies are always a good choice for groups. It takes the burden of teaching the content off of the group leader, and allows him or her to facilitate a conversation around the teaching.
However, watching a video online with a group is more difficult than in-person. There are sometimes technical and legal issues with sharing a video, and longer videos will take up too much discussion time.
Look for studies with shorter teaching videos (10 minutes or less) or ask the members to watch them ahead of the group meeting. Smallgroup.com allows you to easily distribute the video by email or post a link anywhere on the web to share.
You’ll even see teaching from past live events you can incorporate into any small group experience.
The way the group engages the content will be slightly different in an online environment. This will require the host/facilitator to be more active in bringing people into the discussion.
Where making eye contact with someone in an in-person group is sometimes enough to encourage them to speak, that is not possible online.
Until the group is more comfortable with the format, the facilitator may need to audibly call on someone if no-one jumps in. This will get less awkward the longer the group meets virtually.
The number of questions you get through will probably be fewer than normal, and that’s okay. Don’t feel pressured to finish every question in the study.
Choose two or three in advance that will adequately cover the topic in the allotted time, and give the rest as “homework” for the group to work through during the week between meetings.
Follow-up with group members is more important now than ever before. Because the online group discussions will probably stay more on the surface level, it’s important to connect by phone or text with individuals for those soul check-ins that we all need right now.
Some group members will be more open with their feelings, and others will need some in-between the lines discernment. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you wisdom as you make these phone calls.
It’s time for our online groups to continue the mission of creating disciples within the context of community. The study of God’s Word is an important part of that process.
CHRIS SURRATT (@ChrisSurratt) is the discipleship and small groups specialist for LifeWay Christian Resources, a ministry consultant and coach with more than 20 years of experience, and the author of Leading Small Groups: How to Gather, Launch, Lead, and Multiply Your Small Group.