Leadership Small Groups

How to Launch Online Small Groups

June 13, 2018


How to Launch Online Small Groups

Over the past 15 years, the concept of small groups has permeated most churches both large and small. While each implementation looks different, one thing is becoming increasingly clear: The world is continuing to change. The question remains, will the church adapt its methods quick enough? Throughout my life, I have personally seen the global church be late to embrace emerging technologies. Sometimes this has meant that we miss the boat entirely and in doing so miss a massive opportunity. I believe we’re on the cusp of seeing one of these transformations happen in regards to how small groups function.

The typical small group model involves just that: small groups of people meeting together to learn about Jesus and do life together. While I don’t believe this is changing (nor should it), I am seeing a new form of small groups emerging. How do these small groups work and appear? They involve an internet connection, web camera, and headphones. What I’m talking about here are online small groups.

I believe that the church has a massive opportunity to integrate online small groups into their existing program with little effort and limitless return. In fact, this is something that the church I’m on staff at, Pantano Christian Church, is talking about right now. Our discipleship team conducted a survey looking for churches that currently do online small groups. The results were that few were doing them and most had never heard of it. Again, this isn’t that shocking considering the church is a couple of years behind when it comes to implementation. However, we’ve got to get on the boat quickly, or we’re going to miss a lot of potential momentum.

Online small groups is a concept that I’ve been familiar with for several years. I was first exposed to it when my wife joined a pastor’s wives online group. They met once a month for a group video chat, had a lesson, and connected throughout the month via chat. She loved this group and felt very connected to each wife. How do I know this? For one, she told me, but I also noticed at Christmas time that we had cards from people all over the United States that I didn’t recognize. She told me that they were from members of her online small group. Awesome!

My own experience with online groups happened when I joined an online coaching group for men called, The Iron Council. While this isn’t a church group, the system functions in much the same way as small groups do in the church. We signed up, joined a team, met weekly for an hour video chat, had discussion questions, encouraged each other, and continued the conversation via chat during the week. It’s been a little over a year since I joined the IC and these connections have made a massive difference in my life.

As I’ve shared with people about the concept of doing online small groups, I’ve heard similar questions. Isn’t “real” connection better? How do you develop trust? Can you feel comfortable with these people? Let me address some of these questions, and then I’ll provide the tools you need to launch your own online small groups.

  1. Isn’t “real” connection better? The concept of “real” connection is evolving. As younger generations become older, they are changing the definition of “real.” Think 3D, AR, FaceTime, Skype, chat, and so on. I do agree that being physically present in the same living room, classroom, or whatever is always preferable, it isn’t the only definition of “real” anymore. I have a real connection with the guys in my IC group, and I know my wife felt a real connection with her online group.
  2. How do you develop trust and can you really feel comfortable? You build confidence in the same way as a physical group. Set confidentiality guidelines and then lead the way with your own transparency. In doing so, you develop a bond and trust/comfort level increases.

So, how do you launch online groups?

  1. Set a meeting time, default time zone, and meeting length. I suggest Eastern Standard Time as that works for the entire world (Even though I’m on mountain time).
  2. Find a topic. You can create your own with discussion questions and share your screen to watch a video together.
  3. Create an online registration form. You can use google forms, wufoo or your church database software. You’ll need a digital way to sign-up because this will be a digital group.
  4. I suggest using a service like Zoom for your call. It’s cheap and straightforward to use. I also believe it’s easier than the other platforms out there. With Zoom, you can schedule your call, share a link, record it for those that missed, have chat going during the call, and share your screen.
  5. Create group guidelines. For example, everyone must have their video connection turned on, everyone must use headphones, and everyone must be respectful. Confidentiality is critical as well.
  6. Decide on a chat service to use for during the week communication. I’ve used WhatsApp, Slack, Google Chat, Texting, etc.
  7. Advertise & Launch

A side perk: Since this group is online, you could ask a missionary on the field to lead a group, or they could attend a small group and still feel connected. Think outside of the box with it!

Have questions? Let me know!


Nick Farr has been in ministry since 2005. He and his family have lived in Tucson, AZ for the past 5 years and serve at Pantano Christian Church first as a youth pastor and now as the Campus Experience Pastor. Nick serves on the teaching team and preaches on a regular basis. He's been married since 2005 to Laura and has two daughters, Grace and Glory.
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