The call to make disciples never stops, but the way we live out that call sometimes requires change. In practical terms, that has never been more evident than it is right now as we plan fall Bible study groups for women who are ready to meet in person and also for those who are not.
As a leader, one of your most challenging roles in these days is to create environments conducive to disciple-making for both physical and digital groups. That said, there is a strong likelihood that the two groups will merge in some fashion. Women who aren’t ready to meet in person want digital access to the physical Bible study group.
Here are some tips that will help you “MERGE” the two into one in the best possible way.
To truly merge the digital and physical groups, it’s important to engage both in the discussion. Being acknowledged only at the beginning and end of a meeting will have digital members feeling disconnected and uninvolved. Consider the following ways to mingle the two groups throughout your meetings:
• Ice breakers. As you begin your meetings, ask questions, invite discussion, or play games that involve everyone and help them get to know each other. Examples: Ask women to share one high point and one low point from the past week and give everyone a chance to share whether they are in the room physically or joining digitally. Play a game of Guess Who? by asking women ahead of time to share one little known fact about themselves. Then read them to the group and lead women to guess who that fact describes. Create small physical groups and one digital group for a game of Five Things, where teams discuss to discover five things they each have in common and then share those with the larger group. A quick Internet search will yield numerous creative ideas for icebreakers and games to help your physical and digital members connect. (Need more ideas? Check out our recent blog: 12 Ice Breakers and Ideas to Shake Up Your Digital Meetings.)
• Bible study discussion. When you ask questions, call on both physical and digital members to share their thoughts. At the very least, you should leave open the opportunity for digital members to respond using the raise hand or chat feature on Zoom throughout the lesson. Check periodically to address those comments or assign someone to monitor the digital meeting and share those with the whole group in real time.
When you give some thought to potential issues, it allows you to consider solutions and proactively address them. You can, and should, expect good things, too! Your expectations will help you circumvent or handle problems that arise, and they will also help set the stage for positive outcomes like spiritual transformation and a sense of community. Here are some things you can expect in merging physical and digital Bible study groups:
• You will encounter technology issues. Become familiar with your digital platform and find a helper to manage the online group each week.
• It will be difficult for physical members to connect with digital members and vice-versa. Plan for ways to ease that tension.
• You must lead by example. The way you engage physical and digital members will, in many ways, determine the way they engage each other. Set an expectation for connection between the two groups by modeling it, and others will find it less awkward and follow.
• God will move in the lives of group members. You can be encouraged that God is not inhibited by logistics. As His Word goes out in your physical meeting space and across the Internet into individual homes, it will not return to Him empty, but it will accomplish what He pleases and will prosper in what He sends it to do (Isa. 55:11).
Utilize the resources that are available to you! Consider the following:
• SmallGroup.com. This robust and growing library of resources allows you, as the leader, to choose studies by text, topic, or author at any given time. Many video-driven women’s studies are included in the library. One unique thing about SmallGroup.com as it relates to merging physical and digital groups is that it includes the functionality of sending a link to group members to watch the videos, either in advance of the group meeting or simultaneously and remotely as you meet.
• Small Group Network. Join this Facebook group of small group leaders like yourself and find a forum for sharing ideas. Not only will you gain new insights just by being there, but the Small Group Network is a community that is always ready to help answer your questions about merging physical and digital groups.
• Group members. In addition to securing someone to manage your digital group each week, invite the help of other group members. Consider asking a digital member to plan the icebreaker one week. Ask another member to record prayer requests and send those in a follow-up email each week. Acknowledge the challenges you face in these new circumstances and open the door for all group members to share ideas as you go forward.
Consider investing in some gear to help merge groups and learn how to use that gear well:
• Large screen. It’s much easier for the women in the room to feel connected to the women at home if they can see their faces, so use a TV screen for your Zoom meeting rather than a mobile phone or laptop.
• Speaker attachment. If you must use a laptop or cell phone to host your meeting, use a speaker attachment so digital members can be heard by physical members.
• Position camera. Helping digital members see and hear physical members is more challenging, considering members will be distancing themselves outside the narrow view of your camera lens. Play around with your room setup to find the best spot to position your camera and chairs.
• Microphone. Physical members will need to speak loudly for digital members to hear them well. A good microphone is an option, but you don’t want to pass it around. If you do use a microphone, place it on a stand and designate one volunteer to move it each time someone wants to share.
Because it is a new circumstance, learning to merge physical and digital groups is a process of trial and error. Don’t be afraid to try new things and scrap them if they don’t work for your group. Here are a few ideas you might want to experiment with:
• Buddy system. If the above section on gear made your brain want to explode, try this instead. Partner every digital group member with a willing physical member and have them FaceTime each other for the duration of the meeting. Then have physical members set those phones in the empty chair or clip them to the chair back beside them. This works especially well when chairs are set up in a circle.
• Breakout room for digital group discussion. Encourage smaller group discussion by utilizing the breakout room feature in Zoom.
• Wi-Fi. If your church Wi-Fi is insufficient, have a digital member host the meeting on her end, instead.
Cynthia Hopkins is a writer and content editor on Lifeway’s Custom Bible Study and smallgroup.com team. She is a speaker/Bible teacher and the author of two devotional books, What Now? and Side by Side. Cynthia is also the founder and president of Platform 320, a nonprofit ministry for women. Cynthia’s husband Clay is the associate pastor at FBC College Station, TX. They have two young adult children, Brandon and Abby.