Leading Your Ministry Effectively In An Online World

February 24, 2021

During Circuit Breaker, many of us had to move our ministry meetings and trainings online. In my consultation with church leaders, I began to sense tension and misunderstandings through this online process: church leaders missing the ‘heart’ of other leaders in an online meetings; tension arising from different preferences for how an online meeting should be held, participants reluctant to share honestly on video in the “presence” of other faces staring back at you.

Covid-19 is likely to stay for the long haul. Straits Times published an article citing the EU disease control agency: “Virus expected to last long-term despite global vaccine roll-out”(14022021). We have seen our neighbours Perth and Melbourne recently go into temporary lockdowns. For leaders, managing a remote team and using a hybrid of online and in-person meetings may well be the new normal.

This season of crisis and uncertainty demands our ministries and churches—online, onsite & hybrid—to be strong and vibrant more than ever. Building strong online/onsite teams is a vital part of the process.

I have led a remote ministry teamfor 5 years in ChurchLife Resources and can testify to its challenges. It is not easy to develop organisational culture and identity, bonding and work productivity with a team that rarely meet in person.

In this article, I share 5 ‘keys’ that I have learned from managing a remote team, and from transiting trainings that I do from onsite to online. I hope that sharing these keys will be a blessing to church and ministry leaders.

1. Key to good working collaboration online: Use effective online tools

i. Have online “face to face” discussions (Online Tools: Zoom, WhatsApp Video, Skype, Facetime)

‘Face-to-face’ meetings allow team members to read expressions and non-verbal cues that help to reduce miscommunication.

ii. Real-time notetaking, minutes, sketches for visual presentations (OneNote, Evernote, Zoom Whiteboards)

Real-time notetaking helps everyone to be on the same page and is especially helpful for those who are visual processors.

iii. Sharing files, documents, videos without excessive duplications (Box, Dropbox, Google Drive)

iv.Multi-party projects collaboration & handovers (Asana, Basecamp)

In CLR, we use Asana to create projects and tasks; that allow for collaboration and delegation of sub-tasks. This platform helps the team to stay on top and to be more responsive to fulfilling their tasks.

v. Sharing, posting videos (Vimeo, YouTube)

In CLR, we use Vimeo to post our videos so that a wider audience can access our teachings.

Not intended to be comprehensive, I have listed some tools I am familiar with (the underlined tool in each list are the ones I presently use). To work effectively with your team online, I recommend you to consider some or all these tools.

2. Key to keep group energy high in ministry trainings: Reduce online “dead space”

In the past, we would hold a training of 2-3 hours with teaching, discussions, and breakouts. When I transited to an online platform (Zoom), I found that the group energy level and my ability to read physical cues are reduced. What I once took granted became “dead space” i.e. long pauses during the meeting where there is little or no energy. Some examples of this are when I ask open-ended questions and no one responds; the teaching segment goes past 30min or when I hold a discussion but only some are actively engaged and others remain silent.

To maintain the energy level, some things I have found helpful in reducing potential “online dead-space” in Zoom meetings are:

  • Asking participants to send questions ahead of time, eg. WhatsApp or email that can be addressed during the training (reduces ‘dead space’, if participants don’t ask questions at the Zoom training)
  • Hiving off long one-way speaking/teaching into a video to be viewed before the meeting (reduces extended teaching time during the Zoom training)
  • Using meeting times for interactions, breakouts, collaborative activities that have more energy.
  • Coming up with ‘online house-rules’ to guide norms of behaviour,g. request participants to keep video-face “on”, encourage participants to respond by using the chat or reaction button.
  • Using breakouts for deeper processing and thereafter to share outcomes briefly in a large group, possibly using the chat for summaries.
  • Holding a “meeting before the meeting” where there is need to address deeper issues that may involve only a needed few and not all participants. These “meetings before the meetings” could be just 15-30min immediately before or after the meeting.

3. Key to working with diverse teams: Be aware of personality needs

I once consulted for a church where I helped them to implement a yearly planning rhythm. In the first run of this planning, I experienced more resistance than I expected in the leadership team. Looking at the leadership team more carefully, I realized that some of the members were very senior and had strong personalities. In the second run, I added a “meeting before the meeting” to address questions and concerns that these leaders had. Subsequently, the second run of planning went much smoother than the first!

Knowing your team members’ personalities and their concerns helps you to address them, so that there is more buy-in and support for the work in the ministry.

Some personalities need interaction (I). Others need solidarity & harmony (S). Others need a sense of control in the situation (D), while others need specifics and information (C)2. All these needs cannot be addressed in a single online meeting. Hence, another meeting, like a “meeting before the meeting” may be held for members who have more questions and concerns.

Knowing who are stronger personalities and/or who are experts among the meeting participants, helps to inform on the style of leading the meeting that is most suitable, e.g. a more directive vs. facilitative approach. Which style should you adopt to have a more fruitful meeting? CLR has a video series on “Leading Strong Personalities” with tips on this you may find helpful.

Misunderstanding or tension arising from strong and varied personalities can become accentuated in an online world where verbal and visual cues are limited. While I would not advocate a pandering to all the “wants” of members, it is a valid leadership principle to care enough for the needs of various personalities by having some variety of communication, in order to bring the best out of them for serving Christ!

This leads me to the next key that enhances communication and relationships.

4. Key to building relationship with individual members: Relational / Pastoral catch-ups

Online meeting seldom allows for deeper personal sharing. In order to understand how your team members are feeling and coping in their personal lives, a one-on-one catch up is needed. Though it need not be frequent, it should be regular. Such conversations allow you to find how they are coping with family, pandemic stresses, job-challenges and how they are fitting into your church / organization in utilizing new platforms. This could be done online or onsite over coffee as the situation permits.

5. Key to Team Building: Team bonding activities online

Due to the pandemic, you may or may not be able to have onsite team retreats. However, it is essential that your team engages each other “live” to get to know and understand one another better. Use creative online means to help your team to get to know one another better.

Some ideas we have tried, eg. Dinner online together, making craft that have special significance together.

Making Of A Plant During CLR Retreat

Jesus said, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (John 13:35, NLTSe)

The greatest mover of our ministry is our team at work together! This includes staff, lay-leaders and core-teams. In a time of crisis and uncertainty, the calling of your ministry and church needs to rise-up more than ever before.

Despite the challenges, let us continuously learn to build good working relationships and lead our teams effectively in an online world for our Lord Jesus Christ!

Rev. Dr. Philip Huan is the Principal Consultant at ChurchLife Resources, and is passionate about helping churches and leaders become strong and healthy!

ChurchLife Resources provides consultation and coaching pertaining to ministry issues pertaining to health and growth of the church. Write to admin@churchlife-resources.org for a complimentary consultation.

Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

1 Remote Team is a team that works largely via online means, meeting onsite only when necessary. Thisallows more time to be released to work, less for travel and less need for synchronizing timeslots amongst members. This allows for mobile, international team members, and is conducive for Pandemic situations. CLR has 11 part-time staff who work from home, meeting online or onsite only when necessary
2 DISC personality model, attributed to William Moulton Marston. In 1928, he published the book “Emotions of Normal People,” developing what we know and use today as the DISC Personality System, which was validated during his studies at Harvard University.  Https://discinsights.com › disc-history (23022021)

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