Moving Your Small Group Meeting Online
Zoom is one of the best easiest to use apps for online meetings, so you will need a zoom account. See the How to Use Zoom App handout for setting up an account and how to start or schedule a meeting. There are also some useful technical tips about the uniqueness of meeting in an online environment.
This is going to be a lot more normal and feel a lot more intuitive to students than it might to you. So don't let the weirdness you feel, make you think that they are all thinking it's weird too. Just embrace it!
The maximum amount of time you have for an online meeting is 40 minutes if you are using a free account. I would plan to wrap it up at around 30 mins. There are three goals for an online meeting like this:
- Connection - How is everyone doing? How is everyone spending their time?
- Scripture - Read a passage together and share a few thoughts or read a quick devotional thought together, or continue in something that your group has already been reading through together.
- Prayer - take a few minutes to get some prayer requests, then close it all out by praying together.
You might want to think about these things…
Get the word out!
It might be helpful to let everybody know when you are going to try to get together ahead of time so they can spread the word. If your group uses a group messaging app like GroupMe, put it on your GroupMe AND text some students to ask them to pass the word. A lot of students have their GroupMe on mute, so they don't go off all the time. That means you need to put the info in GroupMe, but also enlist the help of some individual students in getting the word out. You can also let parents know when you are trying to get everybody together so they can help you get the word out.
Help! Everybody is Talking Over Each Other!
Talking over one another in an online meeting with students is a reality you will need to learn to navigate. Just like it's pretty hard to get students not to do this in real life, it's an even bigger challenge in an online meeting. You can start off by teaching students to mute until prompted or ask them to click the "Raise Hand" button that's found in the Participants list. The mute button is your friend. You could also just allow everyone to stay unmuted but this will likely get pretty crazy. It's important to get this part down. If students are experiencing frustration with the format, they will be less likely to jump into the meeting next time. Just remember, your job in this isn't to lecture or do all of the talking. You are the traffic cop directing the flow of the conversation. Own the "room" that you are leading and set the expectations for how the conversation is going to work. But in a kind and engaging way, of course.
What if I want to share what's on my screen or show a video to the whole group?
That's pretty easy to do with the "Screen Share" option. Once you click the share button there are a lot of options for what you can share on your screen. For simplicity, let's focus on video. Make sure the video you want to share is open somewhere on your computer. You can create a folder on your desktop with every video you want to use. Nothing can be seen until you share it, so you can open them "behind the scenes." Hit Screen Share, and then click on the video from the list of options and then hit share (make sure you click share computer audio!). Then hit play and your students will see and hear the video. If you aren't going to be sharing anything from your screen, it's better to turn the screen share option off in settings. Thanks to Kenny and Elle from Stuff You Can Use for the screen-sharing info.
Practice makes perfect!
If you aren't used to the zoom format, then you will definitely want to make a few dry runs hosting a meeting with a small group of people before you open it up to larger groups of students. Get your family to download the app and jump on with you so you can practice a few times before you send out an invite to students.
Give them a Next Step!
Thirty minutes isn't a long time. Think about how you can help them engage Scripture without being present with them. Give them some kind of next step before you end the call or follow up in your GroupMe with a way to take things a little further. It could be reading another chapter or passage of Scripture on their own that goes further with what you talked about during your group, or a verse to memorize, or something to reflect on or share with someone else.
Creating a Safe Place is still a thing!
Even though the way we are gathering is changing, the importance of maintaining a safe group environment is not changing. Here are a few simple reminders about keeping your online group meeting a safe place.
- The meeting invite can go to the students or parents or both.
- There need to be at least two adults in the virtual meeting.
- If an adult logs on and there is only one kid present, another adult or student must be added immediately.
- Be very aware of who you let into the meeting.
- Be aware of the settings that you have enabled and disabled for your meeting. We have heard about some zoom meetings getting hacked and inappropriate material being displayed. Pay special attention to the following things:
- Enable the waiting room setting so that students can't enter the room before the virtual meeting organizer.
- Be sure to disable private chatting in the settings. There should be no private chatting with participants, as with all online platforms.
- Be sure to disable the setting that allows members to record the meeting.
- Turn off the annotate capabilities except for the host – students can draw pictures on your whiteboard if you are using it – middle-schoolers are funny and clever.
- Disable the remote setting
- Disable the screen sharing option if you will not need to show students anything on your screen, i.e., you aren't playing a video or showing them a PowerPoint or image.
- Click the setting that will not allow re-entry to anyone who is kicked out of the online meeting (even if you aren't screen-sharing, a student could turn their camera towards something).
- If you have to kick someone out, please address it with them later after the meeting.
This article was guest written by Bryan Howell. Bryan serves at Hunter Street Baptist Church in Hoover, Alabama, as the Minister to High School students. Bryan lives in Birmingham with his wife, Amy Howell (YM360's Resident Bible Study Solutions Specialist, and three kids, Micah, Caleb, and Alli Beth.