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It seems people are less engaged with Church than ever before and yet people are more digitally connected than ever before. So it made sense to me to start a short term, online small group at my church.

I was astonished with the results (and it became my favourite hour of the week.) It changed people in our church from being ‘viewers’ into ‘participants.’ And I quickly I discovered that discipleship wasn’t a location-specific event or experience. It’s every day, all day. And it lasts a lifetime.

Don’t just take my word for it…

In an interview Nicky Gumbel did with Carey Nieuwhof, he admitted he was shocked with how well online groups worked at HTB. Something he’d never considered until the pandemic hit…

“Right from day one people were being honest, open. I don’t know what it is. Whether it’s less threatening because you don’t think you’ll necessarily see them again… but they were right from the beginning saying thing like ‘I’m at narcotics’ anonymous or ‘I’m doing this or that.’ People were talking very openly about their personal circumstances. Therefore the relationships within the group formed so quickly. I mean, it was amazing.”

10 reasons why I loved my online small group…

  1. I could attended in my PJ’s

  2. There was no travel time (apart from the 30 second walk from my lounge to my study)

  3. Everyone was much more relaxed (because they were in their own home)

  4. There were no child care issues for my attendees (or baby sitting fee’s)

  5. Its easy to opt out (although no-one did)

  6. People were more vulnerable (why is it easier to be honest online than in person?)

  7. Its been a great way for new people to dip their toe into group life

  8. We weren’t limited to online only (everyone come over for lunch after church one Sunday)

  9. Portability was king. I was able to lead the group from hotel rooms when I was away from home. (And everyone else could take the group wherever they went.)

  10. Shorter meetings. We found 75 minutes was about right (so you can be done in time for Love Island or Monday Night Football.)

Added to everything, this group was the most honest & raw experience I’ve ever had at a Church. Who knew you could create a sense of deep connection and community in just 10 weeks? Who knew you could inspire people to go on a lead a group themselves in just 10 weeks?

Short term, online small groups might feel like a simplistic solution to getting more people engaged (or re-engaged) in your church but its so much more. I’ve found it to be fun & life giving for me as a leader (who has lead tons of small groups over the years). But more importantly, its been one of the most effective tools I’ve found in moving people in a divine direction. I tell people from week one that this won’t be a Sunday school picnic but an adventure that will take them out of their comfort zone at times as they go deeper with God, each other and themselves.

So what’s stopping you from finding that kind of new adventure as a leader and starting a short term group at your church?

10 practical tips for leading a great online small group

  1. Cap numbers at 8-10 max (Otherwise people switch to mute and treat it like a seminar.)

  2. Pick spicy, memorable content that really connects (and creates great conversation. We used Right Now Media & Anthology)

  3. Use WhatsApp to carry on the convo during the week (Probably the most helpful part of our group experience)

  4. Confirm the joining details with everyone each week (even if they know them already)

  5. End on time or earlier (always best to leave people wanting more rather than looking at their watch)

  6. Involve as many people as possible (Get others to lead in your absence; ask someone each week to come up with an ice breaker; and get everyone to chip in with food when you have a physical meet up)

  7. Always give homework (people loved this part. I know, right? And they were all happy to present their work the following week.)

  8. Start week-one by reminding everyone this isn’t a prison sentence. They can opt out whenever they wish and they don’t need to tell anyone. (The more you give them an ‘out’, the more they lean ‘in’.)

  9. Take the time to set up your gear well. (Make sure you’ve got good lighting on your face and some decent computer sound – otherwise people drift)

  10. The week-one homework should ask everyone to write their ‘warts & all’ life story and be ready to read it to the group next week. But make sure you read your story first as an example to follow. (The more honest & vulnerable you are in your story, the more they’ll do the same.)

5 fun things you can try to ‘break-the-ice’ each week.

  1. Zoom Bake-Off. Compete with each other to make the same thing. Appoint a panel of judges!

  2. Two Truths – One Lie. Jot down two facts that are true about you and one that is fake. Read them to the group and have them guess the lie.

  3. Theme Night. Do whatever you can to hit the theme. (Movies, Music, Kids TV Shows)

  4. Zoom Cribs. Pick someone to show everyone around their house (and fridge!)

  5. Zoom Karaoke. Pick someone to sing to their favourite YouTube song. (

What’s your experience of online groups? What have I missed in my descriptions or my ideas? What’s been your best content videos that start great discussion? I’d love to know…

And if there is anything I can do to help you start your own group or help your church connect people relationally in order to grow them spiritually, don’t hesitate to hit me up!

Duncan Banks

Director, The Further Faster Network

PS If you are curious enough to read the ‘warts & all’ story of my life that I read to my online group, then email me and I’ll send you a copy…

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