How to Gather Together Virtually

| Cristy Bird |

Just two weeks ago you may have met with a small group or gathered together Wednesday and Sunday to worship with 5, 10, 50, or hundreds of your fellow Christians and church members. Today, in the days and weeks of social distancing and mandated quarantine measures due to Coronavirus, in-person meetings and gatherings have been put on hold. The importance of church community and gathering together virtually to support and lift each other, especially during a tumultuous time such as this, is imperative to the health and growth of any group but especially church or Christian groups. We need only look to Hebrews 10:24-25 (see above) for evidence on the importance of gathering together virtually while we can’t meet in-person.

The timetable on this hopefully temporary social distancing is unknown but we know right now we need to adjust and pivot the normal gathering approaches. The great news is we live in a technologically savvy generation and culture. We have advanced streaming andvideo options at our fingertips!

Let’s explore some of the ways churches can make these temporary changes. Let’s keep growing and supporting each other while we have to keep our distance from meeting in person.

Gather the Flock

If you don’t already have established small group meetings now is a great time to reach out to all your church members. Through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Email, or Call Train you can start weekly small groups, virtually or online. Groups can encourage prayer for each other and ensure that church members don’t feel abandoned or left out. These small groups would ideally consist of 10-30 people who know each other and can rely on each other, pray for one another, and study the bible together. There’s nothing more powerful than prayer, fasting, and engaging God’s word together.

How to Keep In Touch

So you’re onboard with keeping in touch or already have been trying to rally the groups together but you aren’t sure how to get everyone on the same page. There are a lot of technology options to have virtual meetings and virtual face-to-face engagements. Plus most of these offer free options:

  • Skype
  • Zoom
  • Google Hangouts
  • Join.Me
  • Slack
  • Apache’s OnlineMeeting
  • TeamViewer
  • ezTalks Meetings
  • FreeConference
  • Jitsi
  • Cisco Webex Meetings
  • LifeSize

Here are a few additional resources comparing free and paid products and their capabilities:

Owl Labs Blog—Video Conferencing Tools
Tech Radar Blog—Best Video Conferencing Tools
PC Mag Blog—The Best Video Conferencing Software
Communications Software Blog—Video Conferencing Software
G2 Blog—Video Conferencing

There are a lot of options but most people include these three at the top of their lists: Zoom, Google Hangouts, and Skype. We recommend Zoom, we use it frequently.  However, everyone’s needs such as the number of participants, length of call, quality of audio, experience with software are different. Be sure to explore a few and chose what works best for you.

Sample Size and Testing

Once you’ve chosen the tool you want to use it is important to reach everyone with specific instructions and offer support for those who have technology troubles. Not everyone has the same experience with software, computers, or general technology. Support will be needed for 40-60% of your members so expect and be ready with information on how to help.

We recommend the following steps:

  • Set up the software and process with elders, leadership teams, and/or any technology experts you happen to know in the church prior to launching it to everyone
  • Test it out a few times, ensure you know exactly how to help your sample group get all set up
  • Take notes and write out what you did to set up the software
  • Consider creating a video or written instructions to share on your social and in emails

Getting the Word Out

Once you’ve tested and confirmed you have the software and a plan that will work best for your groups you will need to share it with everyone. Whether you usually communicate via newsletter, Facebook page, or your website, you will need to put the communication you create for them in all of the places available. Make it as widespread and known as possible. We recommend updating your site so this new information is front and center. Update your homepage to call out these changes right at the top or create a pop-up message each time someone comes to your website. This is a quick and easy way to share that there is new and important information. Let us know if we can help you.

Sermon Video and Podcasts

While you develop a plan for gathering virtually (remotely), you may also want to keep sermons coming, getting into the word and diving into the comfort and peace of the Lord is more important now than ever, so keeping members engaged with sermons is another way to keep “gathering” in a sense. Many churches record audio and/or video as well of the weekly sermons already, if you do be sure to keep that up and make sure everyone knows how to view them. If you’re new to this idea there are some easy ways to publish videos for free.

We recommend the following ideas:

  • YouTube for keeping your videos available
    • Set to private and invite members or have the video public
  • We recommend linking any videos on your site and social platforms as well, let us know if you need help doing so
  • Go Facebook/Instagram Live! If many of your members are on facebook it’s a great place to share instant updates, bible verses, and short words of encouragements
  • Be sure to add all of the changes you make to any email or newsletter or app you have with notifications

With all of that said, we have some time to kill before everything goes back to normal. Use some of these tips to stay engaged and continue to love one another. Gathering virtually will make a huge impact on the health and wellness of church as a whole. Let’s not allow this to stop us from moving forward, continuing what we do, and continuing to grow alongside each other in the Word.

We’re here to help!