It goes without saying, but these are unprecedented times we are living in. Due to widespread concerns about the spread of the COVID-19 virus, churches near and far are closing their doors on Sunday and midweek gatherings in an effort to protect the most vulnerable members of their congregations from infection.
The current strategy most churches are employing to continue spreading the Gospel is doing “church-online,” streaming sermons from their churches or even living rooms to their congregations. This has been a great approach, but many pastors are wondering: How can we minister to people on a more individual level?
I’ve actually got some experience in this department, and so Kellen Criswell, our director over at Calvary Global Network, asked me to write an article about this very issue.
So with that, here are three simple methods for doing discipleship online.
1. Facebook Groups for creating an online community.
If your church doesn’t have a Facebook group, now is the time to get one. They are easy and free to set up, and they allow you and your leaders easy access to your people on a platform 90% of them probably already use.
The FB group creates an online hub for your people to connect with church leaders, and equally important, each other, in a spot that is isolated from the rest of the endless scroll of baby pictures and political rants that is FaceBook.
I’d say set up a group, appoint some of the leaders in your church as admins and moderators, promote it to your people, and start posting updates and encouragements. Link people to the content you are putting out. Let them know they can use the group to ask for prayer requests and to offer each other support during this time.
FB groups are, in my opinion, your best bet at a centralized spot for your body to engage with one another.
2. GroupMe, Voxer or Instagram Group Chats for small group discussion
For those who lead home groups and small groups, both GroupMe and Instagram Group chats are fantastic ways to keep quality conversations going. I’ll cover each.
GroupMe is a great free tool for group chats. You set up a new group and add people via phone number or email. You can engage with GroupMe chats through their website or their simple app. For those old schoolers who refuse to add “one more dang app” onto their phones, they can opt to receive the group messages as a group text thread on their phones. The app and web interfaces support features like sharing videos, audio and photos (great to pass along encouraging content during this time), and you can easily “like” people's messages, a great way to make everyone feel connected.
Voxer is a great app that functions as a group chat with the ability for people to push down a “talk” button like a walkie-talkie and leave voice messages as well. Excellent app for text and voice conversations.
These are great, especially if your small group is comprised of a lot of millennials or gen z since they currently live on Instagram. Features are pretty much the same, but with the added bonus, you can also record vocal clips and send them into the group chat, in case you guys want to actually use your voices to talk as well.
My personal testimony of how this works:
In case you’re skeptical... I can tell you first hand how much these kinds of mediums can help you do ministry.
In 2017, my wife and I went on a two-month missionary journey throughout Southern and Northern Ireland. I was a youth pastor at the time at Calvary Vista, and though I had good people watching over my flock at the time, I still wanted to connect with my students!
So my wife and I formed a co-ed Instagram discipleship group chat with 12 students, six guys and six girls. Each day, we had a different person in that group share something God had put on their heart. The discussions were epic! Everyone was engaged and got a lot out of it, and we grew closer to those kids, as a result. We used to group chat not just to preach at them, but to empower them to encourage and edify one another.
Don’t knock it until you try it. You just might be blown away at how effective it is! My advice would be, just make sure you are being intentional with it and shepherding the chat as you go. Prompt good discussion. Ask leading questions. Encourage others to speak up. Don’t let it be something where they are just reading what you write. Invite them to be a part of the discussion.
3. Video Chat apps for face to face interactions.
Seeing people face to face can be a huge plus. Here are some of the apps we’ve found most helpful:
These apps let you add your contacts and create an online video chatroom with both small and large groups. Zoom has a 45-minute limit, though before you have to restart the meeting, so keep that in mind!
This is a really fun app for video chat. It works differently than the other ones mentioned in that everyone takes their turn to respond (which is actually nice, no one ends up talking over each other). So if you record a 10-second video, each person in the chat then can reply with their own message. The app informs you who is watching you live at the time of recording. It all works very seamlessly and intuitively, so much so that even my sweet grandma has become a pro at using the app!
These two work like Skype and Zoom, but with the bonus of also being great for text messages and voice clips, as mentioned above. There’s a video icon in the top, right corner that allows you to turn the text thread into a video chat instantly. Each person’s phone then rings, allowing them to answer and join the video! These features make Instagram and FB Messenger great one-stop shops for small discipleship groups.
FaceTime (iPhone Only)
If all your group has iPhones, FaceTime can be a great solution as well.
I hope this list is helpful! If any of you reading this want further assistance on facilitating discipleship while online, I’d be honored to chat with you. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Praying for all of you doing ministry out there in this wild, cultural moment. May God be with you as you navigate these new frontiers, and may He lead you to the best ways to reach the specific people he’s placed in your care.
CalvaryChapel.com does not necessarily endorse or agree with every message or perspective in the diverse web links attached to this article. By providing these web links, we hope to provide tools for you in ministry.