Having an online small group is a critical component for a successful digital presence. Just the fact that you have ongoing groups is a massive win for your church and community, so please do not read this and think you are not good enough; cause you’re crushing it! What I want to do is help you crush it even more by helping you lead your meeting effectively. Most online small groups fail when they are not set up for success ahead of time. A lack of structure, poor audio and video quality, and out of control group members can all doom a group to fail. But what if I were to share with you from my experience of leading dozens of successful long-term groups, how I have made them flourish from start to finish (successful hand-off to new group leader)?
Here are my four keys to online small group meeting success:
1. Prepare your group members in advance by making sure they know how to show up and engage. That means they understand the platform you are using, have the right audio and video equipment (even making sure they are using headphones who their speakers do no echo in people’s ears), and know the week’s outline (link to your resource ahead of time, so they can complete their “homework”).
2. As the leader, you have the added weight of making sure your excellence level is one notch above everyone else. That means your room needs to be clean, extra noises are removed from the environment, your audio, video, and lighting are on point, you are presentable, and you can focus only on your group for the next hour without distractions (your phone is on vibrate, door to the room is closed, your home knows you are meeting and cannot be disturbed). We’re not looking for perfection, but we are looking at setting the standard high.
3. Stick to a 60 minute framework. While in-person small groups can go for 90 minutes without too much complaint, most cannot function well while sitting for anything longer than an hour (I start fidgeting after 15 minutes, so get to know each group member and help fight video conferencing fatigue). If you provide a 60 minute framework, you can make sure the meeting runs on time, you pay attention to the questions that matter for your specific group, and everyone has an opportunity to engage. You can create a waiting room of sorts for people to show up ahead of time for small talk, but when the meeting starts, you stick to a plan and you respect their time.
4. One of the easiest ways for your online group to go off the rails is if one of your group members gets out of control. While one person can alter the night for he group, most of the time it is because they do not know the group standards. You can get ahead of this by applying a covenant to your group and making sure every member adheres to it. People can often be brought back into alignment by being shown the standards they are missing the mark on, like a group covenant.
Here's a sample "Small Group Covenant" for you to copy/paste.
Please feel free to make it your own, add or subtract values, sign it on your own or as a group. Remember: the goal here is not to have a large set of rules, but rather a set of standards that can help structure our meeting.
Faith is a living and active journey meant to be lived out in the context of a loving and committed community. This then is our small group covenant. It’s just a simple piece of paper, but it holds much meaning. It is what bonds us together. These are the principles our group will live and breath for the next year. Below are some essentials that we feel we need to have present within our group. Think you can add to the list of essentials? Then do it. Just discuss it, then if everyone agrees that it is necessary, write it down. When everyone is in agreement with these essentials, sign and print your name. It may be a piece of paper, but if it’s also something we hold in high value, it can help shape this group and help transform lives.
I, as a member of our small group, acknowledge my need for meaningful relationships with other believers. I agree that this small group community exists to help me deepen my relationships with God, Christians, and to other people in my life.
I commit to the following:
This is a covenant, or promise, that I am making between myself, God, and the people in my group.
Additional values specific to our group: ____________________