Are you are getting bored of meeting online? Wondering how to inject new life into your gatherings? In my line of work I help students and staff across Europe communicate the good news of Jesus Christ. We often run online topical events gathering people from a diverse background. But is there any point in running events like this with so much Zoom fatigue and screen exhaustion? Can we create something online anywhere near as good as what we used to be? In person gatherings feel like they are a long way off and a distant happy memory of a life once lived. So what are we going to do in this inbetween time?
How we gather says something about the purpose of our gathering. But it also says something about the message we want to communicate. So the question I want to ask… “Is it possible to create online gatherings which communicate goodness, beauty and truth?”. Priya Parker a sociologist of professional gathering says “every event starts with the invite”.
As you plan an event, which of these triad do you spend most time preparing for? A helpful essay by Andrew Fellows reminds us that goodness, beauty and truth are realities that point to God. But are these all possible online? A friend Fearghal recently said this about inviting people to events. “Inviting people to online events is both easier and harder than inviting to in-person events. You can’t exactly arrange to walk with someone”. I think he’s right, with a click of button you can invite someone, but what do you do next?
Back to the invite as that is where the event starts. Priya says “bland gatherings cannot be saved by one-off interventions and tricks that are disconnected from the context of the gathering. A gathering’s blandness is a symptom of a disease. That the gathering makes no effort to do what the best gatherings do: transport us to a temporary alternative world.” But can we transport people to a temporary alternative world online? I’m sure if you’re like me its beauty that gets dropped in our events. Andrew Fellows says something here which reminds me of Priya’s words. “Through Beauty we are led to a joy which belongs to another world”. More than anything we need to hear how Jesus can do this. So how do we invite people in a way that communicates something of the heart of the event itself? How do we invite people in a way that communicates goodness, beauty and truth?
Each week in lockdown I’ve gathered parents from school together. Have a look at these two invites, what do they communicate to you about the event and which would you prefer to go to?
I’m sure the second is more appealing, but why? Well it communicates that friends are coming together, to relax, to chat and to have fun. And thats exactly what we do. Every week 4-8 of us meet and chat, for hours and hours on facebook rooms. We use facebook rooms from within our facebook group of 90 parents. We do this because it opens up a room in a community that already exists, this makes it really easy for anyone to join. We could send a zoom link, but we don’t, the time lag means conversation is more stilted and its one more step away from where our community exist.
Seven top tips on inviting a friend to an event and making them feel welcome throughout…
- Invite enthusiastically – Create an invite that communicates how good the event will actually be, then send it personally, online or in the post with a message of why you want them to come.
- Invite warmly – Send event snacks ahead of time, or order some ice cream to arrive by Uber Eats during the talk. Communicate with your generosity the heart of the message that is being talked about. We run a weekly film club for our kids, three families take part. Each week we take it in turns to drop off boxes full of treats; cakes, popcorn, movie glasses and anything fun that we can find. Consider if you were to run this event in person, what snacks would you provide that would add to the atmosphere and communicate something of the purpose of the event?
Here are some photos of snacks sent in the post to accompany events.
A 3 course meal sent in the post to accompany an event on “Where is God in a COVID world?”
Snacks – brain filled jellies, love hearts for friends joining me at the FEUER conference. This conference is meant to stretch your brains but also to give you a heart for others.
A friend was sent pastry and coffee mid event recently by Uber Eats!
4. Attend an event together – Check in with your friend before by text or phone. A friend recently went for her first COVID test. Knowing she was nervous I sent her some extra instructions, a photo of the signs, what happens on arrival, how it would make her feel. Maybe you need to think in the same way for your friend.
5. Check in with your friend during the event – I love making an event whatsapp. I usually set up a group specifically for the event, then we chat as we watch an event together. This makes it much more enjoyable and gives you chance to discuss what is being said.
6. Check in with your friend after the event – a quick phone call, a walk around the park or text message asking how they found it.
7. Love your friends for the long haul – the apostles in 1 Thessalonians say this so helpfully “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us”.
For most of us, we still have a few months ahead of us where we’ll be gathering online instead of in person, whether this is for a birthday celebration, a community group or regular chat with friends. I encourage you to give this a go and see the difference it makes.
Building Relational communities online – The Art of gathering online