Recently, I said yes to leading a virtual small group for a group of brand-new kindergarteners in our church’s kids’ ministry, and it has been an incredible experience. In just one month, it has become something I’m grateful I committed to lead. Thanks to technology, all of those social distancing guidelines and restrictions on group gatherings no longer make small groups out of the question! 

To be honest, when I first said yes, I was nervous about the time commitment, and I was feeling a bit rusty. It’s been longer than I can really recall since I sat on a circle rug leading a group of kids face-to-face. And, when I said yes to leading this group, I was a bit apprehensive about where I was going to find the time to lead and how I was actually going to lead well. I knew there were going to be some obstacles in this new virtual space, but I figured since I spent my weekdays coaching leaders on how to do this very thing in their kidmin environments, it couldn’t hurt for me to put my own advice into practice on the weekends. 

After serving for a few weeks, here are seven things I’ve learned about leading virtual small groups:

  • Be intentional about getting kids to show up.

I’m happy to report that my kids did show up and, most importantly, that was not accidental. Great vision had been cast by our kidmin leaders about the importance of being part of a community. They reminded parents why relationships matter, and that relationships are best formed in small groups. After the vision had been cast, parents signed up, my group was created, and I officially became a virtual small group leader. I sent everyone an invite to our first virtual meeting, crossed my fingers for a few days, and miraculously they all came! I truly believe that casting vision to the parents and getting them to sign up to participate was key to getting these kids to show up for that first virtual meeting. 

  • Prioritize building relationships within your group. 

The week before our first group, I received a virtual guide from our Small Group Director. It was packed with fun conversation starters, games, and activities to get to know each kindergartner in my group (check out some of those here) and it also had some really great questions to unpack what we learned in our online large group experience earlier that morning. I was thrilled to see so much attention given to building a community before we jumped into the lesson. In small groups, we get to create a safe place for everyone to be seen, heard, known, and have fun! 

As I’ve gotten to know my little group better and better over the last few weeks, I’ve even taken steps to personalize the content to generate better responses from my group. When we know our groups better, we can lead and engage them more personally. Spending more time getting to know these kids in the beginning leads to bigger conversations over time, so don’t skip out on fun, silly, zany games. These seemingly playful moments are unlocking each kid’s personality and creating a safe place for them to belong no matter what. 

  • Show up consistently and make it personal.

I discovered that if we want our kids to come back week after week, we need to make sure we are present weekly and engaging them week after week! Stepping into my first meeting, I was apprehensive about engaging a virtual room of kindergartners, because let’s face it, that’s probably just as challenging as it would be in person! I was also a bit worried they would be experiencing the now famous “Zoom fatigue.” Instead of Zoom fatigue, I was pleasantly surprised to engage with a group of kids who were very well adapted to talking and participating in Zoom calls. (I feel like we should thank all the digital teachers for that one!) I just needed to remember that I needed to be present, both physically and relationally, make the conversations personal and fun, and not to go too long. And, I think it’s working!  My kids have come back four weeks in a row, so I’m going to call that win!

  • Think of virtual group like every other group. 

People seem to think there’s a huge difference between virtual groups and face-to-face groups. Don’t allow yourself to think that these online groups are something different, separate, or less-than groups than the ones that meet in physical locations. Really, thanks to technology, there’s very little difference at all. My key takeaway: What’s true for face-to-face groups is still mostly true—if not even more important—for virtual groups. 

  • Ask parents to commit to a set time for a short season. 

When we know what the commitment is up front, we’re more likely to say yes and actually stick with something. I think virtual groups are no different. Offer small groups on multiple days and then create a virtual small group season. If parents know from the start when these will begin and end, they’re more likely to show up consistently (and so are us small group leaders!).

  • Envision your virtual group as a step toward face-to-face gatherings.

As community is fostered in these small virtual communities, our kids naturally want to see their new friends and leaders face-to-face. These could lead to fun times meeting together in the church parking lot or other small outside gatherings. Obviously, you need to follow guidelines and get permission from your leaders and families, but this could be the first opportunity for your kids to see their small group friends face-to-face in months. That’s huge!

  • Build virtual groups now, and they could become mainstream later. Although virtual groups are somewhat novel today, they could be considered normal if we lead them well! Truth be told, the online community is already normal outside the church—it’s time for us to catch up! These groups could provide a safe, consistent leader and essential community to all the kids in our churches who can’t attend in-person church on a consistent basis long after this pandemic leaves. We no longer have to have a group of kids who we never see on Sunday morning—we may just see them in a Zoom room at a date and time that works better for them!

At the end of the day, I’ve discovered that kids will show up for virtual small groups. They want to be part of a community. Maybe we’re learning something new that’s helping us now during this pandemic and, quite possibly, even after it’s gone. I am so glad I said yes to being present for my few during this season. And, honestly, I wouldn’t mind saying yes to another season with them!