How to do Online Groups

In light of COVID-19, besides online streaming which is a given (+1 for Living as One which is the platform we use), what are churches using for groups that still want to meet online? We have been discussing how to handle online groups and what platform(s) to use for online groups (similar to Zoom, GoTo Meeting, etc) that don’t break the bank (or better yet FREE) if you end up with quite a few groups that want to continue to meet in an online setting. Prior to COVID-19 we had already been discussing how to have online groups with our existing online community that is not involved in life groups. How are other churches handling this that have something in place?

I’ll be following.
So far our experiments have landed on Zoom… which has been excellent, but as you allude: not free.

Techsoup offers a couple zoom pricing options: $65 for a 1yr Pro account (normally $15/mo), and Business for $200/host (normally $240/yr/host). Even with the discount, it can be steep for a church. Details here:
https://www.techsoup.org/products/zoom-meetings-business-plan-10-license-bundle--1-year-subscription-–-access-to-discounted-rates--G-50365--

What size groups are you talking about. For smaller groups (fewer than 10) we use the free version of Zoom but it does have a time limit on it. There is a 100 user limit for Video but you will probably run out of bandwidth long before you get anywhere near 100 people online. Like any conferencing setup, it can be problematic especially on the user end. Sometimes we have people trying to connect while in a very poor connection area. The experience can be very unsatisfying. Once all the details are ironed out, it can work well. We do a leaders meeting with with branch church leaders on a weekly basis and it has been servicing us well.

There’s always https://meet.jit.si (and the self-hosted version) or if you have your own apps you can always build it in there with help from someone like Twilio.

I confess that I’ve not tried it with more than a few participants at a time, but in theory MS Teams lets you host up to 250, including outside users. For those of you who are O365 users, it might be an option.

I’d be interested in hearing feedback from anybody who has experimented with hosting larger meetings in Teams. Was it painful, or did it work out okay?

You might want to check out Skype Conference Meeting which is free for up to 50pax and doesn’t require any Skype login for host and participant. Just create the meeting url and join.

I don’t see any time restrictions. You can screenshare and record as well. There is the famous captioning tool if you need real time translation. :slight_smile:

Given Google G-suite offers free business accounts to non-profits and I think many churches use G-suite, I am surprised I’ve not heard much about using Google Meet for small groups. Has anyone tried it? Pros and cons compared to these other platforms?

The terms of service for the free G Suite accounts historically prohibit religious institutions from exercising their legal rights to employment discrimination which has kept people away.

2.1.2 Your organization does not discriminate against any person or group of people in either hiring/employment practices or in the administration of programs and services, including on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
https://support.google.com/nonprofits/answer/9004493?hl=en

Some people believe they are exempted from this because they accepted the terms before that clause was added. I haven’t found any evidence to support that position.

Additionally, using your operational comms platform for small groups means you need to provision accounts for your volunteers which isn’t always kosher or preferred.

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I did some digging 2yrs+ ago on what US churches used.

One big help when using Zoom is for the meeting to automatically mute all participants when the meeting starts. This avoids a significant amount of feedback, and then unmute only someone who is speaking.

Likewise, the chat works well for asking questions. Also important is the internet quality of the meeting host. My WiFi hiccuped when hosting a Zoom meeting for our ABF, and of course the whole meeting was offline until my WiFi came back.

  • Greg

We use Hangout’s Meet. It’s great.