Churches in this crisis are understandably focused on how to keep services going. But an additional priority, for me as an adult Sunday school teacher, has been holding online class meetings since we can’t gather in person. It has actually gone quite well. This is how we’ve handled it.
My class is focused on parents of teenagers, broadly construed. We typically do studies of books of the Bible, with above-average attention to parenting issues, as opposed to doing specialized studies of parenting itself. This semester we have been going through Isaiah 40-66. Ordinarily I would have been doing about a 45-minute lesson, with a good bit of discussion interspersed with my teaching.
Shelter-in-place hit in the midst of our spring break, and we didn’t meet for one week. Then one of my most tech-savvy class members offered to host a class meeting on Zoom, and we have been meeting ever since. If you have someone in class who can handle the tech side of the meeting, that will free you as the teacher/leader to focus on the lesson, discussion, prayer, and so on. As far as I know, we do not have anyone in the class who is unable to participate in an online meeting—obviously, if your class includes folks without an internet connection at home, that presents additional challenges.
We tend to start right on time now (10 a.m.), instead of having the usual 10 to 15 minutes of people chatting, arriving after dropping off kids, and so on. I have typically asked one of our doctors to give an update on how things are going, from their perspective. Then I pray and open our study of Isaiah. I am still probably teaching for about 45 minutes, but I am coming to class with a little more structured sense of what discussion questions I want to put before the class. (I mostly use the ESV Study Bible and Alec Motyer’s commentary to prepare.)
I am always mindful that when you as a teacher (in church, college, or whatever) ask a discussion question, you have to be comfortable with letting people think in silence for seconds that can feel like hours. This issue is more acute in an online meeting. Silence online can feel extremely awkward. But I still have found that if I just wait, take another sip of coffee, and so on, someone generally will chime in. Or, I sometimes call on people/couples to answer a question (especially one I know they will have something to say about).
After the lesson, I have the Zoom host break us into two to three small groups/breakout rooms to share prayer requests and pray (we have generally had about 15 to 20 people on the call). I do this when we meet in person, as well, as I find that it gives more people a chance to share prayer requests, and generally produces more personal requests. Small-group prayer has gone exceptionally well, but I frankly would not know how to do the breakouts without my “tech guy” running the meeting.
Finally, there has been a wonderful development that would not have happened without us meeting online. We have a missionary couple based in Russia who was in our class while stateside last year. They went back to Russia before the crisis hit. We were sad to see them go, and implicitly assumed that they would not be in our class for some time (though it would have occurred to me that we could have had them “visit” online to give us an update on their work). Instead, meeting online has meant that they have continued to be part of the class, just from the other side of the world! What an unexpected blessing! Look for God to do new, unexpected things like that as we get used to this “new normal.”
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