For those who work on remote teams, virtual meetings were commonplace prior to the spring of 2020. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, they, and more specifically the platform Zoom, have now become a conduit for connection across nearly every sector of life. As those who serve in congregations, many of us have leveraged this technology in more than one ministry area: Bible study, board and staff meetings, visits with homebound and hospitalized members, even worship for some.
Though many are now familiar with this web-based video chatting platform, it can still be a challenge to use it in an engaging and productive way. Of course, the purpose of your gathering will impact your approach, but there are some general principles to keep in mind. Whether leading or participating, it’s all too easy to become distracted, disengaged, or fatigued—or often a tangled mess of all three.
Read on for ways to combat these challenges, build a culture of connection and mutual contribution in your Zoom meetings, and serve your neighbors well through this platform.
We’ve likely all been in a virtual meeting and experienced a sense of disconnect that can be frustrating, even defeating at times. As meeting hosts, there are things we can learn and do to set the tone and expectation for engagement as we lead by example.
Using video is a key factor, along with how your camera is placed. Some folks are hypervigilant about curating just the right framing of their space and face. Others seem unaware of what their fellow participants are seeing through their Zoom window, showcasing their forehead, chin, or maybe even a ceiling fan.
Try to keep your camera as close to eye level as possible, and avoid the perception of looking down on those you’re meeting with. Also be aware of the lighting in your space, as it helps to highlight facial expressions that are key in fostering connection and engagement.
Using video also provides accountability when it comes to drifting off into the land of distractions. When others can see what you’re doing, you’re less likely to pick up your phone for a text message or start working on unrelated paperwork off to the side. The less distracted you are, the more likely you are to be engaged in the work or conversation at hand.
Strive to involve others as you would in a face-to-face gathering. Ask for volunteers to read Scripture passages during Bible study. Have a time of prayer, allowing others to offer petitions. Build in times for people to share how they’ve seen God at work in their families, workplaces, and neighborhoods.
Zoom has a handful of built-in features that can help to facilitate these ideas in a virtual meeting:
- Polls can be used to guage interest, check comprehension, obtain feedback, or simply see which ice cream flavor is the most popular amongst your group (more community building).
- The virtual whiteboard is great for brainstorming sessions, sharing prayer requests, gathering class input or questions, or otherwise illustrating something that’s being taught or discussed. The notes or final product can be saved for later reference.
- Breakout rooms allow for small-group discussions or more focused content delivery within a larger Zoom meeting. Participants can be randomly assigned to a room or the host can create and assign rooms ahead of time. This is a great tool for engaging Bible study participants or those in other classlike settings.
- General screen sharing and video playback allows you to incorporate presentation media, along with a chat function for participant questions, sharing links, and general group discussion.
Fight the Fatigue
Not too long into the pandemic, there was a noticeable drain from what seemed like endless Zoom meetings—for work, school, church, even family functions. What’s now known as “Zoom fatigue” has several contributing factors, which we’ve likely all experienced at some level.
In an interview on KFUO’s The Coffee Hour, Deaconess Heidi Goehmann sheds light on the matter, noting that God has created us to connect with others, not just verbally but through our physical bodies. Video conferencing brings an awareness to the disconnect that happens when we are not actually sharing space with those we meet. The intuitive nonverbal communication that happens in person doesn’t translate one-for-one into the virtual world. And for those nonverbals that are utilized over Zoom, extra work is required in both the sending and the receiving. It can just be exhausting.
Others have explained that the amount of eye contact made and close face-to-face interaction (exacerbated if your computer monitor is on the large side) through Zoom meetings is at a level beyond what’s normal for an in-person meeting. Seeing your own face for an extended period can also be tiring. A lack of natural movement contributes to declining energy levels over the course of a long day of virtual meetings too. Fashioning a setup that allows you to stand and move around the room can help to break up the physical stagnation and to combat overall fatigue.
Being the Body of Christ and knowing that we’ve been created to be in the presence of others, the Zoom meetings we host can be places of grace, acknowledging both the gift of technology and its drain on us. By integrating and encouraging practices that refresh or offer some relief, we can cultivate digital spaces that respect how God designed us.
Think creatively about how you can serve others well and care for yourself, in the various ways you use video conferencing. As you begin a Bible study session or church board meeting, remind those you’re gathering with of tips like using speaker view to provide focus when someone is teaching, sharing, or asking a question; stopping video feed if needed; and adjusting screen brightness to a more comfortable level. If you’re conducting a service with liturgy, include the usual prompts for standing and sitting. Incorporate movement into a lesson plan or meeting agenda, or invite people to get up and stretch as needed.
Don’t Forget the Basics!
Finally, keep in mind some Zoom basics:
- Control the noise you bring to the virtual environment by muting yourself unless you’re speaking. This is especially helpful if you have an uncontrollable background soundtrack (like your neighbor mowing the lawn).
- Check the name in your Zoom square. If you share an account or device with family members or switch back and forth between work and personal Zoom accounts, you might not be labeled correctly. Sometimes this doesn’t matter at all and can be the source of a chuckle or two; other times, like when breakout groups are being used, this can cause confusion.
- If you’re hosting the meeting, be sure to send the link out to participants well in advance.
- Plan to log on a few minutes early if at all possible, allowing time to work through any technical difficulties that pop up.
- Only share meeting links with those who will be attending for security reasons. Meeting passwords and the waiting room feature also guard against “Zoom bombers.”
- Strive to be as interactive and concise as possible, both as a leader and a participant.
- Engage in premeeting chatter as participants log on and settle in, just as you would in a face-to-face meeting.
- Try to limit visual distractions in your background space.
How have you used Zoom or other video conferencing platforms in your congregation? What are some of your favorite ways to engage, connect, and facilitate productive virtual meetings? We’d love to hear from you!
To learn more about making your church office run smoother and more efficiently in this digital age, download the free ebook below.