Technology and Small Groups, Part Two

by think on February 24, 2010

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Continuing from the last post… here are some additional ideas on how technology can support small groups:

An exciting recent development is the maturing of online video chat services like Skype and TokBox. Plagued for years by spotty service and poor video quality, they’re now ready for prime time. Live video has a “face-to-face” benefit over email, text-based chat, and voice-only conference calling. It’s a great way to do an online group with people who are physically separated and have a strong affinity.

But is it “real” community? Well… yeah! Alan Danielson launched a TokBox group for group life pastors around the country, and we experienced a deeper level of intimacy and accountability than I have experienced in some living room groups. Even though some of us have never met in person, we’ve supported and encouraged each other… and grown together.

Churches could encourage the formation of online groups to serve highly specialized affinities like moms through adoption, dads of ADHD boys, or left-handed accountants… groups that may never meet in person. But the greatest benefit may be to provide an intermediate connection point for groups that do gather, but infrequently. TokBox huddles (coach with leaders) are just starting to be explored, and there is huge potential here.

YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr, PhotoBucket, and other media sharing sites (even FaceBook or a group blog) let you post videos and photos of members, group events, and serving projects. Be sure somebody grabs some video every time your group does a serving project. Posting these can encourage others to engage in serving. Keeping an online record of group activities lets new or potential group members get up to speed on the group’s common history very quickly. It can reduce the amount of time that a new group member feels like a visitor.

Short videos, shown during weekend services and later posted online, can spotlight the latest all-church curriculum or to set up each week’s study when using a sermon-based curriculum. Great (sometimes funny) videos are a great way to encourage your unconnected attendees to join and participate in groups. You can even use videos to train your leaders and coaches.

The Big Caveat: Use technology where it makes sense, but don’t replace face-to-face contact. Sometimes a quick phone call beats texting, a DM, or an email. You can hear and respond to the emotion in a person’s voice. This reduces the possibility of misunderstanding a hastily written email or an overly terse DM. Even with high-rez video chat it’s easier to “hide” online, not letting your real feelings and emotions show. For spiritual direction, friendship and coaching, there’s nothing like looking someone in the eye. And for me, a real hug is still more satisfying than a trackpad.

If you’re in the Chicago area, Alan Danielson and I will be leading a workshop on “Online Community” at Breakout! Chicago on April 10. The City is also doing a workshop with online demonstrations. Click for details.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Kevin Davis February 24, 2010 at 10:25 pm

Good thoughts.

You didn’t mention another area that we’ve been leveraging tech in small groups – which is actually using technology during the small group meeting itself.

We’re moving away from the paper/print conundrum and getting our group leaders to us a laptop-tv connection to present PowerPoint. We’ve found that it opens up conversation, especially in newly formed groups.

It also opens the door for more creativity to be infused with the lesson – from video content to quizzes and creative opener/icebreaker stuff. The video content has been really cool as a way to coach and cast vision directly throughout our networks of small groups. Lots of opportunities and possibilities to explore.

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Dave Treat February 25, 2010 at 6:31 am

Great idea, Kevin! Have you posted any of the PowerPoints? Feel free to share a link here so we can see an example of what you’re talking about.

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Kevin Davis February 26, 2010 at 10:21 am

Yeah, if you go to groups.242community.com – we have our Small Group Leader Blog there and what we call Life Lesson for our Life Groups – which are message based and follow the current teaching series. You can see both the leader’s guide and the group questions, which is the powerpoint.

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