7 Things to Keep in Mind When Hosting an Online Connection

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When hosting an online small group connection there are a few things to keep in mind.

Note: Click here to register for TODAY'S live demonstration of an online connection.

1. Careful Stewardship of Participants' Time Will Pay Off

When we hold a Small Group Connection on-campus (or some other physical location) at Canyon Ridge, we work hard to have groups formed and participants walking out the door in 75 minutes.

When your connection is online, 75 minutes is too long!

What's the right amount of time? Although we're still testing, we're promoting the connection as a "59 minute experience" and actually trying to make it happen in 45.

2. The Format of an Online Small Group Connection Can Be Abbreviated

The shorter time to connect people is accomplished by abbreviating the format. Here are the components:

  • We're gathering everyone in a Zoom Meeting (with Breakout Rooms enabled). A host team can welcome participants in as they arrive and show them the ropes (where the chat feature is, how to mute and unmute, etc.) Once everyone's had a chance to arrive, there is a brief explanation of the format.
  • Depending on who shows up to get connected to an online group, there may need to be a quick determination about dividing into Breakout Rooms (i.e., will you only be starting women's group(s)? Do you have enough to start more than one? etc.).
  • The admin uses the Breakout Room pop-up to open the Breakout Rooms and begin moving participants to the right breakout room.
  • Note: When we host a connection on-campus we like to gather 12 to 16 people in couples' groups and 8 in men's or women's groups. So far in our online version, we're shooting for 8 in a Breakout Room (with the knowledge that 25% may not show up for the first meeting and those that do show up will be encouraged to invite a friend).
  • Note: Breakout Rooms have to be enabled in the account settings. Every Breakout Room needs a facilitator. If you're familiar with our Small Group Connection strategy, this is the person who guides participants' conversation.
  • While we normally ask three questions in an on-campus connection, we're testing a shortened discussion online. Once participants are in the Breakout Rooms, room facilitators can ask a couple questions. What prompted your interest in an online group? What do you hope happens in your life as a result of joining? The facilitator is much more engaged in the conversation than when we are on-campus.
  • Once they have worked their way through the two questions, the facilitator has the sense of who might be the best candidate to organize the group as it begins (At this point, even our online groups are started without a provided leader).
  • In conversation with the newly recruited "organizer/admin" the facilitator helps the group confirm when they will meet.
  • Once they've determined when they will meet and we've verified that we have the best email of everyone in the room, everyone is free to leave while the facilitator talks through next steps with the newly recruited organizer. This will include what they'll be studying, how to invite everyone to their first meeting, etc.

3. When You Hold the Online Connection Determines Who Will Join

Although the current conditions may have many people on more flexible schedules, it is still important to remember than when you hold the online connection will determine who can join and how many can join. We're currently holding connections on Wednesday and Thursday nights at 6:00 p.m.

4. Time Zone Is an Affinity

Depending on the reach of your online service, you may find that not everyone who attends the online connection will live in your city (or in your time zone). If you find that there are some from other time zones, be on the lookout for the right way to connect them.

5. Geography May Not Be an Affinity

While geography is often an affinity when connecting people into groups that will meet physically (in a home, office or coffee shop), geography may not be an affinity when meeting online. I say "may not" because if there is the thought that online is temporary and groups will migrate to a home in time, then you should keep geography in mind.

6. How You Define the Group They're Joining Determines Who Says Yes

In the beginning stage of our online group strategy we've begun by simply inviting people who need to "find some friends" to sign up for the connection (which we're calling What Now?). You can see our current webpage right here.

7. What your new online groups will study determines who can "lead" and who will say "yes" to joining

While this is not unique to the online connection format, it is important to pay attention to this basic reality. The topic (and the format) determines a LOT. If the topic is an easy fit for the interests and expectations of potential participants it will be easy for them to respond to the invite (and to return for their first meeting). If the topic isn't right, they may not leave the connection but it will be even easier not to come back for the first meeting.

At the same time, if what you're expecting the "leader" to do in preparation for the online meeting is too difficult, you shouldn't expect a high percentage of them to continue.

This post is part of a growing series:

What To Do When You Can’t Meet in Your Auditorium

Can Your Small Groups Meet Online?

How Are You Offering Community to Unconnected People?

5 Ways to Encourage and Develop Leaders and Coaches (during challenging times)

How to Take Your Life Group Online

Social Distancing + Need to Belong = Opportunity

5 Ways COVID-19 Encourages Small Group Ministry to Innovate

Report: Zoom Meeting with Breakout Rooms Enabled Works Well for an Online Connection

3 Things COVID-19 Is Teaching Me about Small Group Ministry

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