What is Online Small Group & Does It Work?

What comes to your mind when you hear the phrase “Online Small Groups”? What does that look like? Does it work? Or Can it work? I certainly believe that churches can incorporate online small groups as a strategy to help people get connected to the church. One of the most effective things we can do as ministers/pastors for unbelievers is to remove barriers that prevent them from going to church. In a culture that mistakenly values busyness and isolation, having an online small group as an option will very effectively remove barriers.


To explain online small groups, I am going to borrow my friend’s, Jay Kranda (Online Campus Pastor for Saddleback Church), definition of online small group here. Online small group is a gathering of people through a video conference software facilitated by a small group curriculum.

So let’s break that definition down.

“Gathering of people”

Just like any physical or face-to-face small groups, online small group is gathering of people. It’s for people and by people. It’s not people talking with Siri or Alexa. Just imagine you and your friends hanging out in an online space.

“Video Conference Software”

What is video conference software? Zoom.us, Skype, or Google Hangout are some great examples of video conference software. You may be familiar with them. Businesses are already using these platforms to communicate and run meetings. Here’s a snapshot of what a Zoom Meeting looks like (used with permission):

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In a small group, “facilitation of discussion” is the key for dynamic interactions and energetic atmosphere, and it can’t be any truer for online groups. It’s because emotions and subtle cues are amplified in an online meeting. A face-to-face conversation that one may feel a bit awkward will definitely be AWKWARD in an online meeting. So when the host or the leader of a group is the one talking the most, it’s so easy for other members to disconnect. They may seem interested because they are on screen, but they might have checked out in their mind. Facilitating discussion so that all members equally participate should be the focus for an online small group.

“Small Group Curriculum”

So where can you find some online small group curriculum? Check out platforms like Ministry Grid, RightNow Media, and smallgroup.com. These platforms are perfect because the whole small group can receive teaching from the video and are given topics and questions to talk about. If you want to align your small group curriculums with your weekend messages, create an email list of your online small groups and send discussion questions weekly. Check www.saddleback.com/talkitover to see what this looks like.


Online Small Group is a great way to engage our culture and give opportunities for people to be connected. It’s easy to discount the validity of community formed in virtual meetings, but our members may not feel that way. They are using virtual meetings to communicate and connect in their companies already. Some of my members know how to use Zoom better than I do. So, I would love for you to start thinking about what this may look like for your church.

Question: What’s the most difficult thing to execute in your church context from the list above? Comment below.