By Eric Seiberling
Small groups can be key to the spiritual development of individuals and growth for churches. However, hectic schedules can make it difficult for individuals to meet regularly.
Social media and digital tools provide new ways for members to build community, which is exactly why small groups exist. Many of these tools are free and make it easy for members to connect outside regular meetings or to share life even when apart.
Here are six ways to connect small groups digitally:
Create a private group where members can participate. You can continue the conversations that began in meetings, share new insights and prayer requests, or post materials that will add to the discussion.
Instagram now offers Instagram Direct where you can send photos and videos to an individual or the group. Send a picture of a page in a small-group study book that you have highlighted. Make a video prayer request to your group. You can use Instagram Direct from your smartphone, so you always feel connected to your group. When someone asks for prayer, take a private video of your prayer. This can encourage other members to pray for one another, even when they cannot get together in person.
Pinterest allows you to “pin” (upload) pictures to your bulletin board. Capture ideas for your small group, find inspirational quotes or Bible verses or take a photo of your small group. Then, pin them on your Pinterest board. Others will see your “board” and comment and add their own ideas. This is a great way to publicize what your group is doing. Make sure you do not post anything that is sensitive or might be considered confidential.
Both Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive let small-group members work on documents or lists – everyone at the same time. You can create forms where people sign up for food or make prayer requests. You can also share your small-group guidelines or create study guides together.
Create a video conference for your group using Google+ Hangout. Plan a meeting, a service project or a new study – without needing to gather everyone in the same place at the same time. Set a specific time for everyone to join. You can even hold a virtual meeting.
Encourage members who travel to join a meeting via Skype, instead of missing it altogether. All you need is an iPad, smartphone or laptop with a camera, and -- voila! -- your absent member is present via video.
Confidentiality is vital for a small group’s success. Digital tools can help groups grow closer, but they can also create issues if not used carefully. Develop social media guidelines to which everyone can agree. Make sure everyone understands what they can share publicly and what should stay within the group’s face-to-face conversations.
For more ideas, read the MyCom article on creating on-line Bible studies.