Sunday School, small groups are discussed during online event hosted by TBMB
By David Dawson
Baptist and Reflector
Not only are worship services being streamed online, but essentially all areas of ministry — including small groups, Sunday School, business meetings, children’s events, youth functions, etc. — are being held on digital platforms such as Facebook Live, Zoom and other programs.
In hopes of helping church leaders find the most effective and efficient ways to make this transition, the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board recently held a webinar (a seminar conducted over the internet) that focused on “Tips for Successful Online Group Meetings.”
The webinar, which was available for church leaders statewide, featured six panelists: TBMB Sunday School specialist Mark Miller, LifeWay director of Sunday School Ken Braddy, TBMB technology services specialist Doug Finch, TBMB collegiate ministries director Bill Choate, LifeWay team leader Dwayne McCrary and adult Sunday School teacher Wayne Ashworth, who leads a group at Grace Baptist Church, Nashville.
“I believe that we can use our online presence as a way of opening new front doors,” said Braddy, “and provide new levels of ministry or worship.”
Miller and Ashworth each echoed those thoughts, saying the pandemic has actually created new avenues of outreach.
“I think there are a lot of people who feel it is easier to invite people to online meetings and gatherings then it is to invite them to church,” said Miller, noting that an invitation to an online meeting seems to carry less pressure.
“This (situation) truly gives us a chance to invite people to ‘attend’ an online meeting who might not ever consider actually attending Bible study,” he said.
Choate, who served as the webinar’s moderator, summed it by saying: “Crisis creates opportunity — and we are seeing that happen right now.”
The webinar focused on “learning how to lead discipleship small groups well” and the panelists focused on answering many frequently asked questions, such as:
- What online platforms are available and best to use?
- How do we bring curriculum to the small group?
- How do we increase interest and commitment from leaders and group members?
- How can a church grow while forced to move to online small groups?
The panelists also answered questions from the attendees, who sent in questions both before and during the meeting.
Finch, the TBMB technology services specialist, handled many of the questions that involved the technical aspects of online meetings. Finch touched on the rising popularity of “Zoom calls” — which many churches are using to host conference calls and group gatherings.
“The learning curve is pretty shallow when it comes to using Zoom,” said Finch.
In addition to the user-friendliness of Zoom, the fact that it allows both audio and visual of all attendees has also added to its appeal.
Many churches are finding that hosting online gatherings are perhaps easier than they had envisioned.
“We are definitely seeing a heightened interest in the digital curriculums,” said Braddy, the LifeWay director of Sunday School. “I think this pandemic is allowing the opportunity to break the mindset that Sunday School has to be held in a classroom.”
Hosting Zoom calls, and other similar “conference call” meetings, are beneficial in numerous ways, the panelists said, with perhaps the most crucial aspect being the social connection that the meetings generate.
The meetings don’t just provide the opportunity to talk, but also affords attendees the chance to see the faces of the people who they are unable to fellowship with right now — such as other church members, co-workers, friends and teachers.
“People are so separated right now under the COVID-19 restrictions and they are starving for community,” said Choate.
“So, these meetings are a chance to pull people together and really allow them to engage,” Choate added.
Ashworth, who is leading an online small group/Sunday School class, said he has had to “shorten his lessons” because the attendees are spending a lot of time chatting with each other.
“Understandably, they all want to talk to the people that they are used to seeing (at church and gatherings) because they don’t get to see them now,” Ashworth said.
Ashworth added that he is considering adding an additional online gathering time during the week “just to give everyone a chance to talk and catch up with each other.”
Choate, who also leads a small group that is now meeting online, noted that his group has held “Game Nights” on certain Friday nights. “We need to find ways to build community,” he said, “and keep people connected.”
McCrary noted that there are several ways of ensuring that the group makes the most of its time together. “I try to send out the ‘assignments’ (regarding study passages, etc.) ahead of time so that the (attendees) are prepared for discussion. This is a good practice for online meetings — and really, it’s a good practice for any time.”
Miller said that having a regularly scheduled meeting time, and sticking to the plan, is vital: “The key is, we need to continue to meet. We have to make that a priority.”
Miller added that staying in touch and informed about the class members should be a high priority for teachers and leaders.
“It’s all about relationships and maintaining them,” Miller said. “Having a relationship with the members of your (Sunday School) class is always important, but right now, it might be more important than ever.
Braddy pointed out a positive trend that can emerge from the pandemic restrictions. “I am hoping this situation allows Sunday School to recapture the idea of caring for one another.”
McCrary added: “This is a call for us to return to the basics of what is important.”