Virtual Meetings . . . Real Relationships
Virtual Meetings . . . Real Relationships

A Step-by-Step Guide for Leading a Discovery Bible Study (or Any Group or Class) While Social Distancing

By Rick Lowry

In this season of social distancing, getting your small group or class together for an online or “virtual” meeting is a great alternative. If you are a computer novice, this can sound intimidating. But many simple tools are available to assist even those among us with little Internet experience.

Since technology is the greatest concern for those who haven’t yet tried virtual meetings, we’ll discuss the technical details first. After that, we’ll look at some ways virtual groups are different from in-person groups.

THE TECHNOLOGY
Several products are available, but Zoom.us has a free, simple way to host a meeting. After we walk through Zoom’s basic steps one-by-one, you can get started. [EDITOR’S N0TE: While the writer and others have found Zoom to be a relatively easy-to-use virtual meeting app, we are not endorsing Zoom. Do your homework and be aware of any potential security issues.]

HOW TO SUBSCRIBE TO ZOOM
1. Go to Zoom.us in whatever web browser you use (Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari, etc.).

2. Click the big, orange button that says, “Sign up for Free.” Follow the directions through a few simple steps. Congratulations, you’re a Zoom member!

HOW TO SET UP A MEETING ON ZOOM
(Before explaining this, I’ll note that the Zoom site has videos that walk you through these steps in more detail. So, if you prefer, you can go to the black bar at the top right of the Zoom.us screen, click “Resources” and then “Video Tutorials.”)

1. Make sure you are signed in at the Zoom.us site. Click on “My Account” at the top right. This takes you to a new screen. Click “Meetings” at the far left, and then, “Schedule a New Meeting.”

2. You will see choices that help you define this meeting. When you’re just getting started, keep it as simple as possible. Just experiment by filling in each line.

3. Then click “Save” at the bottom. If something about the meeting you scheduled isn’t quite right, don’t worry; just click “Delete the Meeting” at the bottom and start another meeting page.

(This free version of Zoom allows for 40-minute meetings. There is a way to pay a small fee that allows for more time, but you can look into that later.)

4. After clicking “Save,” you will see a screen that summarizes your meeting info. You are now set for when the meeting time rolls around!

(There is no need to click the button “Start the Meeting” until it’s actually time for the meeting.)

5. If the meeting isn’t scheduled until a future time, you can safely leave Zoom.us. When you come back to Zoom later, click on “Meetings” again, and you will see the meeting you scheduled.

SEND A NOTE TO EVERYONE IN YOUR GROUP
1. Before writing to your group, look again at your meeting summary (by clicking “Meetings”). At the far right is a little blue link that says “Copy the Invitation.” Click it, and on one of the lines a web address like this will appear: https://us04web.zoom.us/j/636721668888

2. Send an email to your group members a few days before the meeting that asks them to also subscribe to Zoom.us using the same instructions you used to sign up.

3. Once a group member has signed up for Zoom, they can use the web address you copied from your meeting summary (step one, above) to access your meeting. They just have to click on the link, and their computer screen will go straight to it.

4. Remind group members that if they join the meeting before it is scheduled to start, a screen will tell them the host has not yet opened the meeting.

5. You may want group members to look at the Discovery questions (as well as the Study and Application associated with that lesson) in advance, or to have it in front of them at the meeting. If so, send them the materials in advance, or provide them a link to the lesson via ChristianStandard.com. (The weekly lesson material is accessible in two places—as part of the free digital magazine and via The Lookout Lesson page.)

WHAT GROUP MEMBERS WILL DO WHEN IT’S TIME FOR THE MEETING
1. Look at the invitation in their email and click on the link for the meeting.

2. A screen will pop up that includes a little box that gives them the choice to “Open zoom.us”—click on that box.

3. Until you, as host, start the meeting, the group members will see a screen that says, “This meeting has not yet started.”

4. When you admit them (see your instructions below), they should:

  • Click the little box that says, “Join the video.”
  • Then click the box that says, “Join with computer audio.”
  • They will then see you and the other participants, and they’re all set to go!

WHAT YOU AS THE HOST WILL DO WHEN IT’S TIME FOR THE MEETING
1. Get on Zoom.us. Click “Meetings” on the left. Choose your meeting. Click “Start the meeting.”

2. A screen with your face will pop up.

(Wait until it’s almost the announced time, because the 40-minute clock starts as soon as you initiate the meeting)

3. Click the little box that says, “Join the video.”

4. Click the box that says, “Join with computer audio.”

5. You should start seeing little boxes from other group members with requests to join. Click “admit” for each one.

6. You’ve just started your virtual meeting!

HOW VIRTUAL DISCOVERY GROUPS ARE DIFFERENT
Now that you’ve mastered the technical side of virtual Discovery group meetings, here are a few tips on how to lead a virtual group.

(For a more detailed treatment of this topic, see Chris Surratt’s recent blog, “How to Host a Small Group Online.”)

Don’t skip the small talk. The folks in your group have missed being together, so take time to catch up with each other. In this unusual season, allow a few “rabbit trails” (as small group leaders call them). You might not get to as much of the Discovery Bible study material as you usually do, but that’s OK.

The connection is not virtual. Even though the meeting is virtual, the connections, community, fellowship, and relationships are real. Create connections outside the meeting time . . . in a text group, for instance.

Timing is different. When people interact online, there are often accidental interruptions or awkward silences. Just inform the group ahead of time that this will be the case and tell them not to worry—it’s all part of this format.

Model transparency. As group leaders, we do not always have it “all together.” We have many of the same worries and concerns as others during times of crisis. Sharing worries and concerns gives group members permission to freely share their own.

Give jobs to group members. Assign someone to record prayer requests and send them to everyone via email. Another option is to assign a “technical director” who can handle all the technical aspects about meeting online.

The goal is community. In this unique setting, in-depth Bible study can be more challenging. Take off your “teacher” hat and put on your “discussion leader” hat.

This might be harder than you think. It will take some time for group members to adjust to this virtual setting. Don’t become discouraged. Stay with it and things will soon start clicking!

CLICK HERE for more information about leading a Discovery Bible study.

Rick Lowry has served as spiritual growth pastor at First Church, Burlington, Kentucky, since November 2011. His favorite part of church is seeing people grow in small groups.

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