This guest blog post comes from Dave Bish and the team at Beeston Free Church
When we moved to our church about four years ago my wife and I wanted to attend home group together, and we wanted our kids involved. So we started a new group, at 6pm. A simple but chaotic formula – dinner, washing up, bible and prayer. All done by around 8pm. A meeting isn’t a community, but we at least edged in that direction.
After a while as we added more and more fellow newcomers things got out of hand. We can’t seat and feed over 25 people easily, so we multiplied the group and started again. Persuaded by Tim Chester (A Meal With Jesus), Robert Farrar Capon (The Supper of the Lamb) and Rosaria Butterfield (The Gospel Comes With A House Key) food has been central for us. We took a wall out of our house last summer so we could sit together more easily.
Thursday 12th March was the last time we ate together. As we loaded mugs into the dishwasher and said goodbye we didn’t realise we wouldn’t be doing this the same way anytime soon.
The following week I spent two exhausting evenings on the phone to our group leaders, and we took our groups onto Zoom. Immediately couples with young children who couldn’t both attend started both turning up. Students sent home when the University went online have kept connecting. When this is “over” it’ll change the way we do groups. Why didn’t we realise we could be more inclusive before – of those who don’t feel able to go out in the evening, of the disabled, and others.
True, some haven’t engaged as much, but we’re family and we can follow-up with people. We’ve bailed a couple of times because another Zoom would’ve broken us, and some are Zoomed out after being on it all day at work. But we can make a phonecall, or meet someone for a walk.
Two weeks ago my six year old burst in mid-call. My wife was elsewhere in the house on a different device so we could go into separate breakout rooms. I left to calm him down. Eventually he was able to say he was upset because he was missing home group. We’re sustaining losses, and only beginning to realise what some of those are.
Sometimes conversation is stilted. Sometimes it’s easier. We’ve shared poems and songs as we’ve reached for hope. As five of us discussed the previous Sunday’s sermon on Ecclesiastes 3 I think it was the first time I’d really enjoyed this new way of being. I miss the people. I miss cooking. I’ve no great wisdom on how to do this, but I’m glad we can. I’m glad we’ve read the Bible. I’m glad to pray. We’re still feeding on Jesus, just with less pasta and without that amazing cheesecake one of our members baked. One day we’ll sit round a table again together – with Jesus at his wedding supper for sure, and hopefully before that
SMALL GROUPS ON ZOOM
Be realistic, it’s different.
Don’t be discouraged if it’s flat or hard work sometimes.
You don’t have to do everything every week. Can you do a quiz, murder mystery, etc.
Using the Waiting Room allows people to arrive together and not repeat all the same initial conversations.
Bring a photo or story to share. During the week share an experience, e.g. National Theatre.
If there are more than 3-4 people, mute on arrival. Expect to be invited to speak.
New role: can someone facilitate welcome and catch up chat? Informal chat is harder online so get to breakouts soon.
Breakout & Bible
Breakouts could be single sex, mixed, random, following friendships. Vary it.
Nominating someone to lead the breakout conversation can help.
Two questions in a Bible discussion can be enough, and more applied than understanding based questions. Share questions before on WhatsApp.
To work the Bible text, use Share Screen and Annotate together.
People need silence to think in person, we need more time online.
Prayer & Singing
Can you share prayer points beforehand on WhatsApp or in the Zoom chat?
Can you invite your linked Mission Partner to come?
Share Screen a YouTube song with lyrics and sing together. Unmute near the end.
Online changes things
90mins in person, 60mins online?
Be aware of members being Zoomed out from work.
Sit near the screen so we see your face.
It can be helpful to Hide Self View so you don’t have to look at yourself.
Can couples/housemates join on separate devices. They can then join different breakouts and serve the group better.
Couples with young children or those not comfortable going out in the evening can now attend. Celebrate that. Can we include online in our group after Lockdown?
Gently follow up on those who aren’t Zooming.
Can you have a Coffee on Zoom on Sundays? Or do some members need space to connect with other church members instead?
As lockdown eases, can you safely meet individuals physically. Knock on some doors of group members so you’re not only seeing one another on zoom.
Remember we meet to grow up together in Christ…. “until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Ephesians 4:13
Dave Bish is fell running secretary of his local running club, lives
on a new build estate with his music teaching wife and three highly
energetic boys, and serves as associate minister at Beeston Free