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Guidance for parish groups online



“A new reality”

On 21st September 2020, Bishop David gave a talk as part of the diocesan Autumn Webinar Series.  In it he said: 

“the real question is not about the Church in a new reality. The more pertinent question is about the Church as a new reality, continuing to reflect upon what the Lord is saying to us through the circumstances in which we find ourselves.”  

Part of the new reality that we find ourselves in is an emphasis on online engagement.  This is a new world for many parishes, fraught with technical, practical and pastoral issues.  At the same time, we have had hundreds of people across the diocese accessing talks, rosary groups, Zoom praise, with thousands joining online Sunday services.   This guide aims to help parishes overcome difficulties and open up new opportunities as we move into a new digital reality.


The benefits and drawbacks of online ministry


  • Continuation of our ministry and catechesis even when we can’t be physically together
  • Includes people who might have found it difficult to attend sessions, eg those who don’t like going out after dark, people with young children
  • Reaches beyond the existing parish community
  • Resources – Enables the rapid and flexible use of digital assets eg youtube clips
  • Savings on costs and travel time



  • Excludes some people 
  • Home environments may not be conducive to good participation
  • Vulnerable to tech failures – depends on a reliable Internet connection, can be poor audio quality 
  • Second-best – Not a complete substitute for physical interaction. 




What does it mean for my parish to be online? 

Parishes can have multiple online presences, such as 

  • Websites
  • Facebook
  • WhatsApp groups,
  • YouTube channel. 

These presences can be formal (live-streaming Mass, SVP and committee meetings over zoom) or informal (e.g. a mums’ prayer group on Facebook). 
Many parishes are looking to more digital engagement, not just to keep parish groups going for the next few months, but as a long-term part of parish life.  

This guide covers running parish groups across a variety of online platforms.   See the Diocesan Communications Technology, Photography and Filming Policy  for help with live-streaming services, parish/group websites, parish communications by e-mail / text/WhatsApp, using social media, filming and photography. 




What do I have to think about when going online? 

There is a range of important issues to think about.  Much of our guidance for groups in “real life” also applies online (eg safeguarding, GDPR), but there are extra considerations of technology and pastoral care as well.  We hope that this document helps to answer most of your questions, but there is also a lot of expertise in the diocese, so don’t hesitate to get in touch.

It’s important to spend a bit of time planning what you want to do, and we have provided a Ten-Tips checklist to ensure you don’t miss out anything. Much of what we are setting out here is help with getting online, but there are also helpful tips to make sure that parishes comply with their legal obligations, especially in Safeguarding,  Data Protection, and health-and-safety. 


How do I use these pages ? 

Our guidance is in four sections: 

  • This quick Introduction to online ministry, with. below, a 10-tip check list for essential planning. At the end you select whether your intended activity involves adults-only or involves young people or adults-at-risk.
  • For each of these options there are case studies of typical real-life scenarios; then guidance on what you have to do and best-practice tips and tricks..
  • We’ve gathered together links to the best training options.
  • Finally there is the main Diocesan Digital Communications, Filming and Photography Policy which is the definitive reference and authority for all these areas.  There are many links to this policy throughout these pages.





Ten Tips for planning how to Get Parish Groups Online


1.   Who is your group for and what is its purpose?

Once you’ve worked this out, the choices you have to make will be clearer.  Eg if your group is for young people, you may want to use a platform they are familiar with, safeguarding rules will kick in, and you’ll need to think carefully about your content.  If for adults, different choices will apply.  This is a key step, and one we often miss in parish ministry.


2.   Work out what platform to use – Zoom, Facebook Rooms, Whatsapp, etc

A general rule of thumb: use whatever is most familiar to your members/potential members.  If your group already is on Facebook, then Facebook Rooms may work best for you.  Be aware that different platforms have different age restrictions which may be a consideration with young people.

We’ve gathered together links to the training pages of the various platforms here. They are an excellent place to start.. There is a lot of good guidance to these platforms at the UK Safer Internet centre.



3.   Recruit moderators/hosts

The role of the moderators and hosts is to lead the group: to ensure that the activity goes to plan, that everyone feels comfortable, and that the group is a safe place to be.  Every group should have at least 2 moderators or hosts.


4.   Think about online security

 This is not as complicated or scary as you might think, especially as the platforms themselves have made a lot of improvements over the past few months. For up to date information on this, see the individual platforms, s.3 of the Diocesan Policy and the national Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service guidance:


5.  What are you going to do? Choosing appropriate content

Think about the purpose of your group, and what kind of thing you’d like to do. If it’s something like an Alpha group, all the resources may be there for you. On the other hand, for an existing group there may be new things that you can do in this online environment, eg showing videos or presentations, or using music, that would have been difficult in physical settings. What opportunities are there for your group?  


6.  Inviting people to come along

How will you get people to come along? Maybe there can be a spoken announcement at the end of a streamed Sunday service, or a written invitation that appears as a caption on the video.  Or you could use the newsletter, website, a parish Facebook page or WhatsApp group.  Personal invitations are always the best. Be creative!  


7.   How to make your group interactive

Think about what you will want to do in your group and the kind of activities you might have, eg, a presentation, small group discussion, watching a video.  How do people get involved?  This can vary from asking a question with video and mic on, to using the “chat”  function.  Here is an excellent set of zoom friendly ice-breakers:

There are tutorials for different platforms, and blogs with helpful tips, eg:


8.   Maintaining mometum between meetings

Keep the momentum going with your group by scheduling regular meetings and by posting regularly on any social media the parish has, especially because at the moment we don’t bump into each other at church.  Encourage people to share thoughts, Bible verses, prayer intentions etc between meetings, if you have a way of doing this (eg a WhatsApp or Facebook groups). 


9.   Don’t be afraid to pray with your group

Praying on a digital platform can feel very weird, but there are some top tips to make it easier. a) Start simple – perhaps by asking people to say or write in the chat a name or something they’d like prayer for (b) ask people by name to say a prayer rather than asking for volunteers (and only ask people you know will be comfortable doing it) (c) if you have a moment of silence, mute all mics, including your own. See Case Study 1 for more ideas. Any church group should have some element of prayer, perhaps to begin and conclude. 


10.Safeguarding in your group

Safeguarding applies in the same way in person as online.  There is detailed guidance for running groups with young people here on the Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service website and a case study on our own site.  However, disclosures and other personal difficulties may occur in any group, and it’s important that moderators and hosts are aware of safeguarding guidelines, and where they can go for help


Next steps:

  1. Download a blank planning sheet to get started with planning your group.


2. Then for more planning helps go to either:

3. Or:


4. Watch the recording of our online workshops to help people get started.  Week one addressed the fundamentals: what is my group for, what online platform shall I use, what do I want to do?  Week 2 was about the nuts and bolts: how to adapt material to online use, how to make your sessions interactive, what to do when things go wrong, and how to lead prayer online.  With Martin Campbell and Joanna Hale.





5. Find a collection of training resources here.
6. Find the full diocesan communications, technology photography and filming policy here.