Friday, May 15, 2009

Online Small Groups

First, I have to start off with an apology. We have been doing some amazing stuff with online Small Groups, well online ministry, at Saddleback and I have not been sharing that with the blogging world. I glean so much from those who share, yet I was not giving back. I want to do a better job at keeping those who are curious in the loop with the successes and learnings that we are having.

The Start of Online Small Groups at Saddleback:Refuel served as our launching pad for online groups. This campaign lent itself well to online groups for the following reasons:
1. The videos were short (10 minutes), fun, and already online.
2. The content was engaging. We did not have to work to keep conversation flowing. Though a slight retool was needed to get questions short and clear for online discussion.
3. It was already being advertised online, so we did not have to do cross platform promotions. We could grab people while they were already online to participate.

After Refuel we used our weekly “Talk it Over”, which is a study based on the weekend sermons. This required a lot more retooling and creativity to keep it engaging. Now we are using the “Wide Angle: Framing Your Worldview” study aligning with the Purpose Driven connection magazine. That is going really well with these groups.

We launched the Refuel online groups using volunteer hosts, retooled curriculum, landing page, and Mogulus embedded player., like, is a online broadcasting tool. It is like having your own channel on tv, except that it is online. This channel allows you to have live video feeds and chat. We chose Mogulus because it has more broadcasting features including the ability to feed YouTube and upload videos. This way we were able to upload the weekly studies, promo videos, and our own placeholder. The online groups meet for 1 hour, though the host often opens the group a little early and stays later for those wanting to chat.

For the Mogulus groups (which are still our default group type) the host is on webcam and the participants are in chat. The leader gives verbal prompting (most also type their questions in to the chat) for discussion questions. The hosts know that they are facilitating chat, not teaching, so that take a ton of pressure off of them. I’ll attach a sample schedule of what the small group time looks like.

Mogulus Benefits:
• Ease of use. For both the host and the member, mogulus has proven to be an easy program to figure out.
• Built in capabilities. Being able to upload video and use YouTube videos greatly enhances the overall group experience.
• Embeddable player. You can embed the mogulus channel into a page that has other information on it. This is great for giving the groups a home and branded to your church. Our landing page for these groups is

Mogulus Issues:
• Cost. Mogulus has a free version. With the free channel there are commercials and pop-ups. The more bandwidth the channel uses the more commercials. In order to eliminate commercials, you have to go to the Pro version. This is a base cost of $350 a month per channel. There is a charge for additional bandwidth a space usage. This can add up fast, so you’ll need to watch it. If you decide to go with Mogulus, I can give you some tricks to help with the bandwidth though we are still learning as well.
• Latency. There is a delay between what the host says and when people see it. This varies per bandwidth. Some hosts struggle with this more than others. Seems the chat runs closer in time than video, so most host just solve this by using the chat more.
• Group Limitations. You’ll probably only have 1 channel. This means you can only have one group at a time. We have not run into this being an issue yet, but as a group grows over 10 people interaction gets confusing and not everyone is heard (like in a traditional group).

Keep checking my blog for more learnings and stories!!

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