How-to: Set up Online Small Groups using Zoom

Technology is now more critical than ever. As we face the crisis of COVID-19 around the world, churches are looking at how they can continue meeting and, more importantly, keep community.  As the Online Campus Pastor at Pantano Christian Church (Tucson, AZ), I have experience in doing church in a digital environment. One of the tools that we use is a video conferencing system called Zoom. I’ve put together a how-to guide for getting your online small groups going using the zoom software.

What is Zoom?

Zoom is a video conferencing tool that businesses have used for some time now. Churches have also started uses Zoom to meet because of the reliability and feature set. While Zoom uses an encrypted service, so your conversations are safe, they also provide the ability to record, share screens, chat, and do “breakout” rooms.


Step 1: Sign-up for a Zoom account

Visit to begin the account creation process.


Step 2: Determine what type of account you’ll need

From what I’ve seen, the most significant factor for churches is the time length limit. If you are ok with your meetings having a 40-minute time limit, then you will probably be ok with using the free version. You can still record (on your local machine), use the collaboration tools, and utilize breakout rooms.

If you think that your meetings might last longer than 40-minutes, then I would suggest going with the paid version. The last thing you want is to be in the middle of a great prayer time or discussion only to have the meeting end due to the time restriction. We use the $14.99 a month version for each of our groups.

If you need to upgrade, visit the billing section after account creation. Under the “Admin” title, choose “Account Management” and then select “Billing.” You’ll need to find the orange “Upgrade” button to change your plan.

*Side note: Zoom Rooms is a different product than the free “Zoom Breakouts” feature. You do not need to purchase Zoom Rooms unless you will specifically use that feature. To learn more about Zoom Rooms, click here.

Step 3: Download the Zoom software client to your phone, tablet, and computer

As the host, you’ll need a working web camera. While you can use the default camera on your computer, I prefer using this Logitech web camera. It’s a little expensive, but the video quality is excellent, and the microphone is fantastic. For your phone or tablet, use the built-in front-facing camera.

You can download the Zoom software using the following links:

Mac (Click Here)

Windows (Click Here)

iOS (Click Here) Android (Click Here)


Once you’ve got the software on your machines, login to the platform using the username/password you created during the sign-up process.


Step 4: Schedule a meeting

First, you’ll want to visit the settings area for your meetings. To get there, look to the left of your screen and find the field titled “Settings” below the heading “Personal.” Once you’ve navigated to the settings area, you’ll be able to set defaults for your meetings. I recommend turning the video on for you and others, allowing people to join before the host (you), and turning on “breakout” rooms.

Using the software client on your devices, you can schedule a meeting in an instant or in advance. Since you’ve already configured your settings, these should be the default when you’re planning a new session.

*While you can schedule using the software on your computer, I prefer going to the website to schedule meetings. Doing your scheduling on the website will also provide you with more options for your meetings.

Settings Menu:

Schedule a Meeting:



Step 5: Let others know

You can now send invites to your meetings. You’ll be able to copy the link, send an email or a text message.


Step 6: Run your meeting

Here are some basic rules that we get our group leaders.

  1. When the meeting starts, talk about how important it is to see each other since you’re in a digital setting. Having the cameras on will help build community. While some people may not turn on their webcam, talking about it at the beginning of the meeting will encourage people to be more connected.
  2. Please put your microphone on mute as a courtesy to others. You might have kids in the background, tv shows, music, etc. People will want to focus, and that’ll be difficult if they can hear what’s going on behind you. I always remind people to mute their microphones when not talking.
  3. Let them know that you might mute them if their audio is really loud, and they aren’t talking. Tell them that this isn’t personal; it’s to help others stay focused.
  4. Be ok with giving folks time to think. Silence in person is more manageable, but silence on a Zoom call can feel very awkward. It’s ok to let people have a couple of moments to think.
  5. As the group leader, do not drive the conversation, be a great listener, and ask more questions than you answer. You’ll want to allow others to talk. It’s easy to step in and take over. Avoid doing this as it will decrease the likelihood that people will want to come back.
  6. When you pray, close your eyes. 🙂 It’s very odd to be praying and having others who might be looking at the screen, and they see you talking to God with your eyes open.


Step 7: End the meeting

You’ll need to choose “End the meeting” for everyone after your call. Doing so will close the session for everyone.


Side notes:


You’ll notice the opportunity to chat on the right side of the screen (if you’re on the desktop version). People might chat while you’re talking, and that’s ok. People can also send private messages to each other unless you turn that feature off in settings.


If you share your screen, be aware of what’s behind the browser window. 🙂


That’s all for now! If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask!

*The link to create a Zoom account is a referral link. The link for the web camera is also a referral link.