Online groups with adults are fun, surprisingly effective and easy to get going. No need to get the key for the hall, or remembering to switch the heating on an hour before! Online groups can be much more accessible for parents with young children, people who don’t like going out after dark, and the housebound. Nevertheless, the more time you spend planning and thinking ahead, the better the whole group experience will be. Here are two case studies looking at different kinds of group: one a new group using a simple platform, and the other one getting an existing group with some elderly members only. Use these examples to work through your own situation from tech platform to content to getting your members online.
Case Study 1: New Parish Prayer Group – starting a new group, using a simple platform, ethical issues around confidentiality
St Helen’s Parish
- Purpose – to start an intercessory prayer group for the parish, where anyone can request prayer
- Platform – a WhatsApp group would work well here to pass intentions to the group. A more involved version could have a meeting on Facebook Rooms, or Zoom. (This would depend on participants already being Facebook-users.)
- Moderators/hosts – If using a Whatsapp group, it is quite a simple role of collecting the prayer intentions and sharing out to members, and keeping an eye on the “tone” of written exchanges, spotting sensitive disclosures etc. If leading a prayer group online, more training and prep would be needed, both around the platform being used and the mechanics of leading prayer online.
- Online security – understand that personal data is involved and GDPR rules apply. Discuss issues of confidentiality (esp for medical details) and consent with your group – no-one outside the group should hear about personal situations unless the person involved has specifically allowed it. Keeping this rule will build trust in the parish and encourage people to pass on personal concerns.
- Group rules – here the group rules that are most important involve a shared understanding of confidentiality, but also setting out the process of how prayer requests are collected and distributed.
- Inviting members and making them feel welcome – this might be done best by personal invitation at first, but it’s also something that parishioners might like to get involved in. You’ll also have to advertise to get prayer requests.
- Keep on topic – this should be straightforward, although there could also be opportunities for members of the prayer group to chat informally and get to know each other.
- Schedule regular meetings – will this be weekly, monthly etc? Will everyone pray at the same time in their homes, or together online?
- Pray with your group – don’t forget to support the people in your group as well.
- Safeguarding – the content of the group could bring back sad memories for people, or involve them in difficult situations (eg praying for someone with a terminal illness). There could also be disclosures with a safeguarding aspect. Find out where good sources of help are.
A few tips for online prayer: – 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 (d) if you say a prayer together, mute everyone except the person leading it, otherwise it all gets slower and slower
2. Taking your SVP group online – existing group wanting to explore new possibilities
St John Bosco Parish
- Purpose – to keep an existing SVP group going through lockdown
- Platform – Facebook Room, Google Meet or Zoom – does your group have a preference?
- Moderators/hosts – in some situations no members of the group have the technical knowledge to get the group online. It may be necessary to recruit another parishioner to act as host and help get the group online.
- Online security – no particular security issues apart from the basic.
- Group rules – it will be important to explore how the group is going to function and what sort of things they want to do, especially when elderly members may not be able to do the in-person volunteering they were used to. Making plans for remote support of housebound parishioners can be alternated with prayer and social activities, such as quizzes. During lockdown lots of excellent speakers became available as distance is no problem with these platforms, and they tend to have more availability because they are not travelling. There are also some lovely online prayer resources, like the online retreats put together by the Jesuits: https://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/prayer-online/taste-and-see-experiencing-god-with-our-senses-online-retreat/
- Inviting members and making them feel welcome – elderly members may need some help to get online, and some technical support on occasion. Make sure you thank your tech enablers as well!
- Keep on topic – being in lockdown has allowed many groups to explore their purpose, particularly if they’ve been in existence for a while. What are some new things the group would love to do? How do they see themselves going on into the future, after lockdown?
- Schedule regular meetings – online meetings take up different amounts of energy. Groups may find that fortnightly meetings are better than weekly, or vice versa, if the group contains people who are shielding or housebound.
- Pray with your group – this can be a time for groups to explore new kinds of prayer. There are lots of lovely contemplative videos, artwork and music which work well in this context.
- Safeguarding. Confidential disclosures by/about adults-at-risk. Do you know how to respond?
What would this planning process look like for your group? Work through the headings, seeing where any challenges might arise, but also where the opportunities are, especially around new members or activities. Download our planning sheet and get started!
What you must do
For detailed information, see our full policy on online meetings here.
Basic data protection principles – you will be dealing with online images of young individuals, plus their names, which is all personal data. What people may choose to disclose to the group about their personal lives is up to them, but leaders/hosts are responsible for ensuring, as far as possible, that it cannot be overheard/stolen by anyone else. Lists, e-mails or other data including recordings should be kept on a secure device.
Privacy of meeting: registration messages– the messages you send advising participants of meeting entry codes, passwords should be notified by a private and secure method, not the newsletter or website. Otherwise ill-wishers can gain “authorised access” and data-privacy is compromised.
Basic content moderation, duty to ensure that all discussion is respectful and decent, no personal abuse or “bullying “, no illegal or indecent/offensive material is shared or circulated. Meeting hosts should make themselves aware how to quickly shut down troublemakers or intruders via the extensive helps for each platform. This is just as important, if not more so, in small-group “breakout rooms/ mini-meetings “ as in the main all-together meeting.
Awareness of “at-risk individuals” – this means people who may have good reason not to be filmed or have their images online. We must respect their right to be anonymous or not on video. For more information see the main policy document. There may also be people who do not want to appear with their camera on for a variety of reasons so we must be aware of their feelings too.
For more information about basic platform security, privacy settings, parish-name accounts, consents for recording go to the full policy document. Also see the training page for links to the various platforms. They change so regularly, anything we write here will not be up to date.
Copyright issues In all cases parishes should be aware of and fully comply with terms and conditions of the product/ subscription/ service and respect copyright. See our diocesan copyright guidance:
What it’s good to do – best practice
“Rules of engagement” All hosts and moderators should make themselves familiar with the various aspects of their platform to ensure that sessions run smoothly such as use of waiting-rooms, admission protocols, use of muting, screen-sharing, online etiquette.
“Off-line alternatives”, to reduce exclusion of non-online people, zoom allows you to create a dial in telephone number at the time of creating the meeting. This defaults to US numbers but is easy to edit in the meeting set up.
Encourage parents where it is possible to provide a space for their youngster’s participation which confers some degree of privacy. Using a communal room in the house/property is the ideal and where possible, this should be followed/used. However, it is acknowledged that space may be limited and in such cases it would be suitable for a bedroom to be used as long as additional safeguards are in place such as the door remaining open, parents/guardians being in close proximity and ensuring oversight.
Publicity and invitations. Think carefully about your audience and how to engage them. Ask people in your target audience how they get to hear about things. As ever personal invite is best!
Tips and techniques to make your sessions run smoothly and attractively. Do make sure the light is in front of your face, your computer or phone mic is picking you up (or use phone headphones with a mic attached) and don’t have anything behind you that will distract the people in the group (!) There are lots of YouTube videos online about running online sessions, including those provided by the various platforms. You can get more involved with backgrounds, extra tech etc and this something you can grow into as you get more confident, but it’s perfectly possible to run a good group with just the basics as long as you get them right. Here is a fantastic web page developed by a parishioner at St Augustine’s with a lot of tips for using Zoom.
Find a collection of training resources here, including for individual platforms and safeguarding.
Find our full policy document here.
Find examples of online groups in our diocese here and elsewhere on our lockdown parish page.