With small groups hosted remotely are a way of life. Calling for a real need for a conferencing tool that enables two-way conversations. As an online meetings host  there are unique concerns and demands to consider compared to sharing a space in a home or public venue. Following a few simple guidelines can help ensure your attendees feel welcome and engaged. 

Inviting your guests to your online meetings

Prior to your meeting, send out a few housekeeping notes. Let everyone know which platform you are using and advise them to perform any installation at least 30-minutes prior to the call to troubleshoot any technology issues.

If any participants are sharing a space, let them know they should not use more than one device as this can cause feedback or other sound issues. Ask your attendees to follow NHS guidelines on indoor group meetings by reminding them of social distancing guidance

For small group meetings, keep your online meeting invitation and credentials secure. If the meeting is open to all, suggest potential attendees contact you for login information rather than sharing this publicly to avoid potential spammers. This will also help you have a better idea of how large your group meeting may end up being so you can plan for the flow. 

Share any resources, such as readings, links, or music, in advance and prepare your attendees to take an active part in your online meeting. On the day of your small group or other church event, send a reminder email with a quick overview of the agenda. For example:

  • Our meeting will start promptly at [time]. 
  • I will open with housekeeping notes and a brief prayer
  • We will have X minutes to do a round-table and share something from our week
  • We will discuss [topic] and answer this week’s small group questions
  • Everyone will have an opportunity to speak, but may remain silent
  • We will reserve X minutes for free talk
  • I will close in prayer, acknowledging your requests.
  • Close with an alternative form of communication “if you have trouble logging in, call me at X”

Preparing to host your online meetings

As the host, you will want to make sure you are creating an optimal space both online and in your physical location:

  • Choose a quiet space where you can avoid background noise and interruptions.
  • Set up your space to make sure you have lighting optimised. Lighting works best in front of your face, not behind it!
  • Place your computer so that it centres your face. Depending on your camera, you may need to move things on your desk.

As a moderator or host of an online meeting, it is your responsibility to welcome your guests as they arrive. Be early and leave space to welcome each attendee if possible. For larger group meetings, you will want to identify a co-host to monitor your chat and answer questions on the side so you can focus on the delivery and flow of the meeting.

With meetings over 10 attendees, it might be best to mute participants and manage who can talk so the conversation can stay within the set timeline. 

Be respectful of time and start with an agenda. Even if the meeting is more of a free-flow conversation, keep track of your time with planned intervals. As a moderator, prepare to keep the conversation on topic. Some participants may be more talkative than others, so it is your job to provide a space for everyone to join in equally.

Sharing a piece of scripture with your church small group using an online conferencing tool.Deliver housekeeping notes at the beginning 

As online meetings typically start with a few minutes of buffer time, use the first one to two minutes to set ground rules, or deliver housekeeping notes. These include:

  • Introducing the meeting, the topic, and possibly the participants
  • Provide guidance for the tools you will use in the meeting:
    • Let everyone know how to mute themselves if you are not muting all attendees. Advise them to stay on mute unless they are speaking.
    • Offer users to use the “raise a hand” feature on your platform and do a quick test run to make sure all participants are aware of how to use this feature
    • Test and use chat for posting questions, off-topic ideas, and relevant resources
  • Advise users if you plan to record the meeting

Recording online meetings for later viewing

Whether you want to save a meeting for others to view later, record and produce transcripts, or save a meeting for posterity, you have the option to record. As a best practise, make sure all participants know you are recording the meeting in case they have sensitive information they may not want to share in such a setting. 

Most technology platforms will allow you to pause a recording within a meeting. Consider using this feature if you get into topics that are personal or if you are sharing housekeeping items a later viewer may not be interested in.

Two-way conferencing with Faith Online meetings platformChoose your online meeting platform

A platform should work well and support your needs without placing undo pressure on you or your team.

Google MeetUsing Google Meet for your church online meetings

Pros:

  • Accessible via a web browser on any computer or mobile device
  • Tile display allows you to see up to 16 participants at once
  • Intelligent background noise filtering
  • Users with a G Suite application enjoy integration with Google apps like Docs, Drive, Sheets and Notes.

Cons

  • Requires all users to have a Google account
  • Slightly more difficult interface
  • Not as reliable with Mac users

Pricing

  • Google Meet: Free accounts, limited to 60-minute meetings up to 100 participants. 
  • G Suite Basic: £4.14 per user per month. Includes Meet plus business-level G suite of apps, 30 G of cloud storage and the ability to host up to 250 per meeting.
  • G Suite Business: £8.28 per user per month adds the above plus unlimited cloud storage.

ZoomUsing zoom for your online meetings for your church.

Pros

  • Only hosts need a Zoom account
  • Tile display allows you to see up to 49 participants at once
  • Clean, easy-to-use dashboard
  • Ability to host a recurring meeting daily, weekly, or monthly that automatically starts with the same URL and settings

Cons

  • Zoom is not available in a browser but must be downloaded as an app
  • No phone in option for free accounts

Pricing:

  • Zoom Basic: Free accounts, limited to 40-minute meetings up to 100 participants
  • Zoom Pro: £11.99 per user per month. Adds the option to create personal meeting IDs and meeting recordings in the cloud or your device.
  • Zoom Business: £15.99 per user per month. Adds branding features including vanity URLs, company branding and transcripts of Zoom meetings recorded in the cloud.

Faith Online faith-logo

Pros

  • Designed specifically for churches
  • Only hosts need an account
  • Included in your Faith Online live stream account
  • Allows you to host pre- and post-service break outs while supporting your live streams to multiple platforms
  • Clean, easy-to-use dashboard
  • Ability to host a recurring meetings

Cons

  • Your attendees may not be familiar with Faith Online so may need to give them a brief introduction to the platform
  • Currently cannot host concurrent events

Pricing:

  • Included with your Faith Online account.

Set up your settings and perform advance actions. 

By updating your settings before hosting a meeting, you can eliminate some distractions and background noises. Here are a few to check on your platform of choice:

  • Enable Mute participants upon entry (especially for large group meetings, may not be necessary for a small group)
  • Disable Play sound when participants join or leave (this can be distracting as people come in late or drop off)
  • Set your screen sharing preferences (If no one is presenting materials, you can keep this to Host only. You can also share specific screen sharing rights during a meeting)
  • Enable Display Names so you can always know who is speaking
  • Check for assistive technology such as captioning (available for paid plans)
  • Adjust video resolution or layout for optimal use

Hosting meetings helps you continue to serve your community and build valuable connections. Between small group meetings, continue to communicate with current or potential participants.