Thriving in an online small group

Picture a small group… Where are they meeting? How long are they meeting for? What are they doing? Do they have food?

I imagine there will be many similarities and differences as people consider those questions. But, almost certainly the picture is of people together. It’s still likely to be our default picture, even though the reality has changed our small groups over the past few weeks.

For many small group members they are a vital support spiritually and practically. Meeting together is a key part of how we build those relationships of trust, challenge and love. So, while people are appreciating being connected, these video meetings can be viewed as ‘better than nothing’ or ‘second best’. And in many ways they are but it is also an opportunity to develop relationships in new ways if we take the opportunities.

Here are eight ways we can help our small groups thrive rather than just survive as we meet through video:

Keep the language of togetherness.

We know we are separate and many of us will use that language as we talk. But focussing on the joining is important. So talk about ‘meeting at 7 tonight’, say ‘it was lovely to see you’ and ‘does anyone want to do something next week?’

This is an opportunity to reduce loneliness.

Priorities can become possibilities.

Parents, carers, shift workers, people with long commutes etc may hold coming to small group as a high priority. That doesn’t mean they can always attend. But now parents can be at home and at small group and far more people are at home instead of work and able to come too. 

This is an opportunity to be all together.

Invest in the one to one relationships.

Even in small groups the deepest conversations tend to be in twos and threes. These are lifelines. But multiple conversations on a screen is just noise. This means we need to choose to invest in those smaller relationships in calls and messages. This is actually a brilliant thing as relationships go far deeper when they go beyond the ‘designated meeting time’.

This is an opportunity for daily life relationships.

Speak up and ask around.

Asking for help is hard, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need it. In fact being willing to receive help can help other be more open about their own needs. So make a space to ask each other what they need and be willing to receive help, whether its prayer, practical help or something else. There is a depth of relationship that comes from relying on each other.

This is an opportunity to learn how to rely on others.

Use the pauses.

Together in a room we can view pauses as awkward and a sign to move on. Video calls have far more natural pauses as people avoid talking over or overlapping with each other. A pause is not an awkward sign to move on and can be an opportunity to invite others to share in a way that feels more open than it may in a room together.

This is an opportunity to value every voice.

Be flexible.

Perhaps a 7.30 start was manageable before, but did it include rushing dinner, not putting the children to bed and arriving without a break? If so, perhaps consider what time you can start so everyone can arrive feeling prepared and ready.

This is an opportunity to slow down.

Length is not everything.

Many groups watch the video or read the Bible passage together and it works. But this may be an opportunity for people to arrive with that done in advance. It means people have had time to think and reflect before arriving for the discussion questions. It may lead to shorter and more focussed conversations because people have already done some of the thinking. It may lead to longer conversations as people bring more complex questions to the group.

This is an opportunity to come prepared.

Try new things.

If you are happy with something, why change it. But, that can limit growth in new and unexpected ways. But video calls are new for your group, not everything you did will work now. So experiment with socials (click for ideas), asking about the impact of you last session or praying in new ways. Whether they work or not, they open up freshness and new ways of exploring and growing in faith and relationships.

This is an opportunity to grow deeper together.

What else would you add?


Anna Naish
Learning Mentor for Loving Relationships and Holistic Small Groups.