Distance Discipleship: Facilitating Virtual Group Connections


“Social distancing” has to be the phrase of the month! Yet we all really need social and spiritual connection throughout the current COVID-19 event. Many churches are using online tools to maintain vibrant discipleship ministries that provide meaningful connections.

One idea that’s taking off is moving Sunday School and other discipleship groups to virtual meeting spaces. This can be done at no cost and just takes a little practice with whatever app you use (Zoom, Skype, Google, or others). 

The “first-time parents” group my wife and I lead met last Sunday morning using Zoom. With 16 adults, 8 babies, 2 three-year-olds and several dogs, we

  • had the normal Sunday morning chit-chat over coffee
  • took a quiz on the apostle John with PowerPoint
  • shared an outline for prayer during the COVID-19 event
  • laughed at verbal “input” from babies. (Parents used their mute button during prayer time. Most of them. A few. But it was all good.)

Here are some tips for a good group video conference: 

  1. Practice. Get comfortable well ahead of time with the app in a practice meeting. 
    • Prepare to help participants find settings for video, sound, chatbox, etc. 
    • If the app you are using allows screen sharing, only incorporate PowerPoint and other graphics after you are comfortable with the format and controls.
  2. If you are not tech-savvy, let someone else in your group serve by setting up and running the meeting for you. You can still teach/lead.
  3. Be OK with a different “feel” as you lead.
    • Take time at the beginning to put people at ease with the format.
    • Physical/visual cues between people are not as obvious as face-to-face. Acknowledge it will be different, but do not let this dampen discussion.
    • Larger classes should consider keeping everyone on mute except for the person leading. The chat feature can be used for asking questions or making comments.
  4. Share the time.
    • Ahead of time, assign others to lead parts of the lesson. This works well in an online format. Lengthy lecture by one person typically does not work as well.
    • Give time to your prayer, fellowship and mission leaders to guide the group in those areas.
  5. Personally invite people who have not “been to class” in a while (or ever) to join you online. The new environment may help them reconnect.
  6. Remember that God is still at work in your group. The format may be unfamiliar to some, but the connections you make are just as real—and possibly even more important during these weeks of social distancing.

Finally, scripture provides this example:

Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah. (Acts 5:42, NIV)

During some particularly stressful days, the apostles “never stopped” their mission of making disciples. We don’t need to either. Even when government recommendations and good judgment makes meeting in “the temple courts” unadvisable, discipleship can still be vibrant “from house to house.”

Pastors and staff members are invited to join a Discipleship Roundtable led by David Adams this Thursday, March 19, at 1:30 p.m. to share ideas for keeping discipleship strong in your church through the COVID-19 event. 

Read more articles in: covid 19, great commission, vol 8 issue 2