Virtual Groups

Running Growth Groups online during COVID -19

One of the most important connection points for our church is our Growth Groups.  With the reality of social distancing, what tools are available to us so that we can stay connected?

In this resource we’ll look specifically at Zoom, Google Hangouts, Skype and Facebook Groups. All of which are available on Windows, Mac, and mobile devices and will be indispensable during this time. We want to encourage you and your Groups to make use of technology and continue connecting with each other.

To help you choose the online tool right for you, we have listed some of the more popular choices along with some helpful links.  Any tool is only as good as the internet connections for all users, so do bear that in mind when using them.

How could Growth Groups work digitally?

The Growth Group leader will set up a meeting using a digital platform and circulate a link to the small group.  Each member can then use this link on their phone, tablet or computer to join in, allowing everyone to join together to see faces and hear familiar voices from their Group. 

Discussions, prayer, encouragement, worship, and fun can all happen online, albeit slightly differently.

If you’re not used to using video conferencing tools, it can be intimidating. Fortunately, all the options we have listed are much easier than they sound.

If you’re unsure what you are doing after reading this guide, it may be a good idea to ask for some help. Please send an email to  and we'll get you the help you need.

It’s important to have a dry run with a couple of people before your actual start time. This way you can iron out any problems you may have.

Many small groups around the country are already finding that people who wouldn’t normally be at small group are getting involved online in ways they may not have otherwise.

It may take some getting used to. It’s new to lot’s of people and over time you and your Growth Group will get used to how this works. Keep in mind your group dynamic will also develop over the weeks. Familiarize yourself by having one to one chats over the platform to help you get used to the technology and allow members of your group to get used to it as well. 

Many of the conferencing platforms have chat functions, this is great if you want to send links to Bible verses or other media you are using during your time together.

Close your time together in prayer.  You can use the chat functions to write prayer requests down as people are sharing if you would find that helpful. As the leader, pray and ask God to meet each person’s needs.

YouVersion (the Bible app) has a new prayer function and other ways you can keep in touch with people and their prayer requests during the week. You could also make use of WhatsApp, Facebook or GroupMe to keep each other connected throughout the week.

Make sure you reach out to those unable to be present so that no one feels disconnected in this time; especially those who are vulnerable, at-risk, or self-isolating.

Don’t be disappointed if your group is smaller than expected. These platforms take time for everyone to adjust to.  As it stands we have already seen some Groups grow because families with kids are more readily available and those that travel can login remotely.

Above all, keep the sense of fun and community you would normally have. Be hospitable, we can glorify God through many different means even when we’re not together in person.

Tools

Here are some of the simple to use tools that could work for you. Have a read and work out which ones you would like to try. Again, if you need help with any of these tools just send me an email at  

Zoom

Zoom focuses on delivering high-quality video. Invite your Growth Group onto a ‘call’ and see and hear each other.  Everyone can speak, hear and contribute. 

Zoom is an industry-standard tool and comes with more features than your average Growth Group will need. The quality of video and audio is higher, which is one of its key benefits.  

To use it, all users will need to download Zoom onto their computer or mobile device. Once it’s been downloaded - it is an easy option.  

Zoom offers a free account, which limits your calls to 40-minutes.  To remove that limit it costs $14.99/month. This amount is only payable by the ‘host’, your Growth Group participants don’t need to pay anything.  Maybe those in your Group would be willing to pitch in a couple dollars a month to cover the monthly fee.

If you decide to use the free version, you could plan for two 40-minute calls with a  break in the middle. That way it feels more natural.

Pros

  • You can host large numbers on Zoom.
  • There are no limits to the number of meetings you can have.

Cons

  • Small Groups would be limited to 40 minutes on the free version.
  • Participants need to download Zoom and become accustomed to how it works.

Start with Zoom | Help with Zoom | Tutorials

Verdict

If you can pay $14.99 a month, this is a great option. The free version is limited in time length but does allow for high-quality connection. 


Google Hangouts

Google’s option requires you to have a google account (which is free to create). It works in your standard browser, but also has a mobile app you can download.

The Growth Group leader starts a call and can either invite people in or can circulate a link to Group members that they can join the video call.

Pros

  • Hangouts is free and if you’re used to using Google and Android products it can be a very natural fit.
  • Simple and high quality
  • Free

Cons

  • Google Hangouts works with your existing contacts. You can share a link to your Growth Group if you don’t have everyone’s google email address.
  • Video quality is not as high as Zoom.

Start with Google Hangouts | Help with Google Hangouts | Tutorial


Skype

Skype has been around for a while and the majority of people are familiar with the name.  Skype has continued to improve it’s call quality since it first launched and has a stable and straightforward platform.

You don’t need a Skype account to use it.  It’s now possible to send a link to anyone for a group call. As with Zoom and Hangouts, you can use this on a mobile device. 

Pros

  • People are familiar with the name. 
  • Free for up to 50 people.
  • Participants don’t need a skype account.

Cons

  • Quality is not as high as other free options.
  • Layout and registration can be confusing.

Start with Skype | Help with Skype | Tutorial


Facebook Messenger

Facebook Messenger is more than just a chat feature, it also has the ability to allow groups and individuals to create a video call with no charge.  

Pros

  • Uses a platform that many are already used to. 
  • Can work easily if your Small Group already has a private Facebook Group.
  • Free
  • Works with up to 50 people

Cons

  • You can only see 6 people at a time on the screen.
  • You need a Facebook account to use this and not everyone uses Facebook, so this may make this option inaccessible to some.

Start Facebook Messenger | Help Facebook Messenger | Tutorial


Jitsi 

Jitsi Meet is more than just a video calling tool.  On the desktop browser, there’s screen sharing and document sharing. It also has YouTube live streaming, and recording options.

Pros

  • Free 
  • Works with any number of people
  • Unlimited minutes
  • Simplicity. Just click and join a meeting

Con

  • The more people you have, the slower the speed
  • No notification when someone has joined

Start with Jitsi | Help with Jitsi  |  Tutorial

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Practically, what do you need to think through?

Before Growth Group

  • Make sure you are familiar with the tool you are going to use.  
  • Do a trial run with a couple people before the Group, so you can make this tool easy to use for everyone.   
  • Send instructions and any user guides (links above) to your group.
  • If you have any people in your Growth Group who are not comfortable with technology, help them get setup before hand. Let's do our utmost to make sure no one is excluded.

During Growth Group

  • Welcome your group as people log in. It may take a little while for everybody to get on to the call, so don’t start until you think everyone is on.
  • Remember to pause, give people time to speak, people are a little slower to respond online than they are face to face. It may be helpful to ask individuals their thoughts on a question so other people know somebody is going to speak.
  • As you end, make sure everyone knows that you are ending your time together, let them know to leave the video chat and then stop the meeting.

After Growth Group

  • Thank everyone for joining with you. 
  • Encourage everyone to stay in touch using whichever tools you use as a Growth Group – Facebook Group, WhatsApp group, GroupMe or Email. 
  • Make sure everyone knows how you will be meeting as a Growth Group and where to find instructions for the next Growth Group.
 A Vineyard Church resource