By Laura Stephens-Reed
By now you have not only become acquainted with and even proficient at Zoom, you are likely Zoomed out. That is understandable. Still, online meetings are the best way to build and maintain relationships during this season of social distancing. That includes your peer learning group connections, which is likely more vital now than ever for many pastors. (If you don’t have a peer learning group and would like to find or form one, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.) How, then, can you make best use of technology for the sake of community? Here are a few thoughts.
Find the best-fit platform. You’re no doubt hearing a lot about Zoom, but it’s not the only game in town. What accounts and software can your participants easily access? What works best with everyone’s internet speed? What funds are available to purchase new services?
Consider the length and frequency of your gatherings. It’s important to strike a balance between meeting enough so that everyone feels connected and supported but not so much that people look at their calendars and think, “Another meeting? Sigh.” Asynchronous means of communicating in snippets are also options when longer conversations aren’t needed, including social media or video messaging apps like Marco Polo.
Think about lighting, camera angles, and backgrounds. Does your lighting make you look like you’re in the witness protection program? Does your camera angle show only the top of your head? Are there people popping up behind you like in a Whack-A-Mole game? All of these things are distracting and not conducive to good conversation. (On the other hand, if you need some levity, upload a backdrop from your favorite tv show or create a video background in Canva.)
Give thought to format. Ask the people in your gathering what they really need right now. Is it space to say things they can’t elsewhere? Is it to glean as many resources as possible? Be ready with an agenda – and then be prepared to toss it as needed.
Ensure all voices are heard. In times of anxiety, people will default to what is most comfortable, whether that is dominating conversation or saying little to nothing. Construct a container that allows everyone to participate. That might mean asking people to refrain from speaking again until everyone has contributed, or it might look like requesting each person to repeat the gist of the previous speaker before sharing.
Community is needed now more than ever, so let’s get creative about how best to create it using the gifts of technology.
Laura Stephens-Reed is Peer Learning Group Regional Director for Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. She also serves as a clergy coach and congregational consultant.