Online Groups

An online Home Group is an incredible tool to help people connect with each other when an in-person group is not possible.

Your first meeting may take some adjusting as everyone gets comfortable with the technology and the format, but we think you’ll be surprised at how quickly people figure it out and how good it feels to be together!

Technology

If you have experience with a video chat platform that you’re already comfortable with and you know supports the amount of devices you’ll have present, go for it! Here are two great online options:

Zoom

Pros:

  • Great gallery view to see everyone
  • Unlimited time (with paid plan)
  • No account needed for participants
  • 100 devices at a time

Downsides:

  • $15/month
    (you can have everyone Venmo you $2+)
  • 40-minute limit for free plan

Zoom

Devices:

  • iOS
  • Android
  • Browser on computer

Google Hangouts

Pros:

  • Free
  • Unlimited time

Downsides:

  • Less hosting control
  • Requires a Google account for all participants
  • Harder to see everyone well at the same time
  • 10 devices at a time

Devices:

  • iOS
  • Android
  • Browser on computer

Best Practices/Online Chat Etiquette

Make sure every group member has their app downloaded, account created, and is signed in the DAY BEFORE your first meeting.

There’s no buzzkill worse than waiting 10 minutes on that last person to get it all set up…

Lighting works best in front of your face, not behind. And don’t put the top of your head in the middle of the screen… or your nose hairs… fill up the screen with your face and shoulders!

  • Turn off anything making noise in the background (TV, radio, appliances).
  • Put pets in a different room or have them in a place where they will be most quiet.
  • Most importantly… MUTE YOUR MICROPHONE while others are talking! These apps actively cancel out sound sometimes to prioritize the loudest person’s sound. So your dog barking will effectively mute whoever is sharing!

When two devices are used in one location it produces feedback.

  • MUTE your microphone unless you’re talking.
  • And when muted, make sure to nod your head and listen well so people can recognize you are following them.
  • You will be muting and unmuting A LOT, so get used to it.
  • Also, you’ll get called out if you don’t unmute, so don’t be offended.
  • Or maybe, the moderator will mute you, so don’t take that personally.

The facilitator of the group will need to be extra welcoming and extra in charge. Make sure as host you jump on a few minutes early to welcome everyone.

When multiple people talk over each other or are waiting to talk, be directive about who goes next and who you haven’t heard from yet.

You may try something like raising a hand or another visible signal. Since participants will often be muted, having a plan will help you know when to mute and unmute. As facilitator, jump in and direct the conversation by calling on people, reminding others to mute, etc.

If it’s rude to fold laundry in the middle of an in-person gathering… it’s rude on video too. When participants are not paying full attention it can be a big distraction online, and attention really matters to people. It shows honor, care, and respect. 

When talking, spend some time looking at the camera, not just the screen. It feels more like eye contact for everyone else and it’s surprisingly helpful.

If you haven’t created an ongoing message thread as a group, do it! It’s an amazing way to stay connected as a group, centralize information about what’s going on, and bring each other into more parts of your weeks and lives. 

This is another crucial way to stay connected while we’re not meeting in-person! Check out our guide for the best communication tools.

Format/Schedule Ideas

Practice Session/First Meeting (30 minutes)

  • It can be helpful to have a 30-minute practice session together, your first week, or plan on using the first half of your first online group to get everyone acquainted with how the experience will work.
  • Review online etiquette/best practices (listed above). You may want to review some of these talking points the first several meetings until people figure it out.
  • Help people learn how to use the technology and answer any questions.
  • End by sharing prayer requests; have 1 person pray out loud. 

 

Typical Meeting (45-60 minutes)

  • CONNECT – 15-20 minutes 
      • Welcome people as they login. 
          • People tend to arrive late online, just like in-person groups.
        • Begin icebreaker or check in with each other about your week so far. 
    • DISCUSS – 30-40 minutes
        • Discuss whatever content you’re doing as a Home Group! (probably either the Sunday Message Reflection Questions or something from Right Now Media)
        • IF YOUR CONTENT HAS VIDEOS…
          • Make sure everyone watches it beforehand, then recap it quickly together. 
          • Everyone at Stateline has access to Right Now Media. 
            • Send out the link to your group so they can create their own account. 

  • Remind them that most likely, your group meeting will be about 30 minutes shorter than normal, and there’s no travel time! So you can even meet about 30 minutes later than you normally would, ensuring everyone has time to sit down and watch the video beforehand. 
  • WRAP UP – 5 minutes
      • Ask for any prayer requests.
      • Have 1 person wrap up in prayer.
      • Encourage people to text each other afterwards for further prayer requests and to pray together. 
        • Some fun prayer Ideas: men’s group text, women’s group text, whole group text, prayer partners.

Group Communication

Now is the time to rethink how our groups communicate. 

Our mission is to connect people to Jesus and to one another. But with social distancing (and isolation) happening, our calendars are becoming a lot emptier… but so are our living rooms. 

But there is good news. We have technology! 

Here are some ways to have RICH communication during these isolated times and live life together in a very real sense.

1. Don’t wait for the group meeting to do a virtual hangout. 

Have a lunch break? Bored of binging Netflix? Want to go out for coffee? 

Just text everyone in your group and let them know you want to hang out! Set up a time to video chat for even just 15-20 minutes. No agenda. No goals. Just be together, check in on each other, have a laugh, and let that be it. 

2. Check out Marco Polo

Marco Polo is like a video walkie talkie. And it’s AWESOME. It combines the richness of video communication with the ability to communicate in real-time OR whenever you’re free. You can do it 1-on-1 or with a whole group. 

 3. Don’t wait. Get a group chat that everyone likes. 

Random email threads aren’t very personal and mainly for information transfer. And most often, a text thread isn’t the best way to communicate. It can work, but it often has some drawbacks like people limits, endless notifications you can’t mute, and those random second threads that start for no reason… 

Consider an app that was built JUST for group chats! GroupMe, WhatsApp, and Messenger are all excellent platforms that are easy enough to set up and will serve your group well as a home-base for communication.