So I met Andrea in a Facebook Group when she said she had documented examples showing the success of Online Groups. Andrea is the Online Community Director over at The Ridge Community Church, and after talking with Andrea, I've asked her to share some information about the spiritual growth of an individual Online Small Group. Add The Ridge Community to the growing list of churches that are having success with Online Small Groups. Friends, welcome Andrea to the blog.
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At The Ridge Community Church we believe that together is better – meaning we follow Jesus best in community. Your church probably has a similar belief.
At many churches this usually takes the form of home- or community-based small groups where 10-12 people meet at a physical location on a weekly basis to do life together. The Ridge has many groups of this type.
For us, however, the question became: How do we help enable spiritual growth for those who are unable to meet in a face-to-face environment? Providing an opportunity to meet digitally is our answer, which we do through online small groups. We are following Jesus’ lead to meet people where they are… many of whom are online.
Discipleship through technology is not an easy decision to make. Once you wrestle through the logistical considerations, which often end up being choices made based on resources and bandwidth, you still have the “people” side of the equation to figure out. Those challenging, philosophical questions are much harder to discern. Most importantly, how to intentionally use technology to help group members:
Develop a relationship with God
Connect in authentic community
Invest in people who don’t know Jesus
When we started our online group 15 months ago each member was asked to complete an assessment to help us understand where they currently were in their faith journey. We recently retook the assessment. Here’s what we found:
Developing a relationship with God
The results moved in a positive direction. Group members feel their daily actions are progressively aligning with what God is teaching them. In 2018, we had an aggregate of nine responses in the disagreed column (across all four questions) for this section. This year we had four.
Authentic connection in community
This section is where we saw the greatest improvement overall. There were no disagreed or strongly disagreed responses across the four questions this year. The highest mover was the question related to how well they were growing in their relationship to the other members of the group.
Investing in people who don’t know Jesus
The two biggest shifts in this section were: (a) members being more intentional about how they invest in their relationships with people who don’t know Jesus and (b) acknowledging that the group regularly expresses encouragement and concern about each other’s personal relationships with people who don’t know Jesus.
To help put this into perspective, here are the questions with the most significant changes:
For over a year we’ve made progress in recreating the power and intimacy of community through our online small group:
Living Like Christ >> A member of our online small group learned that someone he regularly served with on Sundays had become unable to drive. Without hesitation, he offered to drive him to and from work each day. Both men are now members of this group.
Family Ties >> We have two sisters in our group who live in different states. They watch service together each Sunday via our online campus and also attend our small group later that evening. Distance isn’t stopping them from worshiping Jesus and growing in their faith with each other, which is important to them.
Gathering IRL >> We’ve been able to take our online experience and mimic it offline by gathering together in service to our community as a small group three times in the last year.
Convenience >> There have been a number of people who’ve said that they would not be able to connect in community without the online small group. The convenience of being able to meet from home is what enables them to continue growing spiritually.
This video was made by the members of the online Ridge Group that I lead. It was not scripted, and we didn’t do multiple takes. Instead, each of us simply shared the impact this group has had on us which have included: personal discovery, close friendships, excitement for each gathering, and deeper connection to our church.
While we’ve seen tremendous results, we aren’t done yet. We are still figuring this area of ministry out, including looking at new opportunities to further blend our online and offline experiences together even more.
Through the use of technology we have another method to bring people together in relationship with God, with each other and with those who don’t know Jesus yet. It is an extension of Sunday service that can happen anytime, anywhere and with any device.
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” – Hebrews 10:24-25 (NIV).
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I love everything about this! There is lots of talk right now about the effectiveness of Online Small Groups compared to what happens in Physical Small Groups. I love that The Ridge is joining a list of churches who are creating effective Biblical Community in the virtual Space. Andrea, thanks for sharing. If you've got questions specifically for Andrea and the Online Groups over at The Ridge Community, feel free to contact her directly.