The pandemic has taught us very clearly that we cannot always meet in-person. Many parishes turned to Zoom and other platforms to continue Christian formation in addition to worship. But even when we are able to gather in person again, online resources can still be an important place to offer Christian formation to people. Night shift and weekend workers whose schedules and lives don't allow them to make group meetings, elders who no longer go out at night or can rarely leave their homes, parents who can't rely on or afford regular childcare - all these people could travel on their Christian journey with the help of good online formation. Meeting in person could still happen, and this is vital, but it could happen at longer intervals without losing the momentum of relationship building and learning. These online resources can help support a healthy ecosystem of learning for people in the parish at any time. Click here to go to a list of online resources you can use for Christian formation in the parish.
If you're meeting via Zoom or another video conference program, here's a few very quick tips to run a good gathering:
- Follow a basic agenda and stick to it. Most people need some kind of routine to settle into learning and it frees the leader up from having to reinvent the wheel every time. It can be as simple as:
- Welcome, group norms (see example slide)
- Opening prayer
- Intro to topic (e.g. context of biblical passage)
- Discussion (have prepared questions and describe process for facilitating discussion e.g. one person speaks and then invites the next person to speak)
- Closing prayer
- Offer a brief break if it's over 45 minutes. Video conferencing takes a lot of visual attention and that can be tiring. It's ok to give permission to people to look away from the screen or even turn off their video after everyone has gathered and started as well.
- Err on the side of participation over teaching. It's harder to build connection and community online. Structured participation keeps people engaged and getting to know each other. Segments of teaching are important and you can use video and slides to make it dynamic, but make sure you're giving learners time to make their own contributions. Leaders don't need all of the answers. Asking people to add their own petitions or thanksgivings during prayer in a chat function or asking them to prepare prayers beforehand is also good.
- Include a simple practice. Christians grow through learning that engages mind, heart, and practice. If you're doing Christian formation online, you can still include simple practices or actions for people to try out. A bible study could invite people to respond with a simple drawing of their response to the text. People can look up information from concordances, bible dictionaries, etc. and report back to the group. You can give the group quiet time to try out a contemplative prayer practice such as icons or Christian meditation. Psalm chanting can be taught and led. Home scavenger hunts or "show and tell" of theme related items can be fun and formative for all ages.