For the past several years I’ve led online Lenten studies through Facebook groups; small groups of women, sharing on a pre-determined topic. These groups were mostly engaging and would usually fall off after Easter, as planned.
This year, for Lent, I decided not to do this. I had a lot going on in my life and couldn’t add just one more thing to my church events for children’s and family ministries. Then COVID-19 hit. We’re in Maryland, so the day after the Governor announced that gatherings of 50 or more people were banned, our church halted all in-person activities and worship.
I watched on Facebook over the course of 4 days, while everything around us seemed to spin out of control. Schools shut down, businesses stopped operating. And I realized that the one little touchstone I’d used in years past could be an excellent tool for ministering to the women in my church (and my life) and provide an outlet for sharing fears, joys, and other meaningful moments.
So, on Tuesday morning, March 17, I set up The Gratitude Café. A private Facebook group where we could share what we’re grateful for while everything around us seemed so shaky and uncertain. I quickly had about 40 people join from the invitations I shared. By the end of the week (that Friday) I had over 100 women in my little Facebook group!
How does it work?
Each day I post a Bible verse and I also put up two daily threads: one is our daily gratitude thread (I challenge them to always think of something that they haven’t shared before) and the other is our daily prayer request thread. I have also been adding an “extra” prompt every couple of days, just to give us all something to think about and share that will hopefully encourage others.
Today, March 25, 2020, our membership is at 155 women and the members are inviting friends to join us. We’re growing a little more each day. I had planned to keep the group open to men and women but since we hit 100 women strong in about 4 days; I figured this was a clear message that this needed to be a Women’s Ministry effort.
If you’re interested in setting up a similar group for your own Women’s Ministry, here are some tips I’ve found helpful in setting up and running mine.
- Don’t limit the people you invite. Ministry is meant to be taken OUT of the confines of our church building and communities. There are other people out there that need our messages and our support.
- Have a clear statement on what your group is about and what you will do/allow within the group. I shared that this would be a place to list gratitude, prayers, and words of encouragement and would not allow any political conversations or any business solicitation.
- Keep your format simple and focused. If you want it to be prayer focused, keep it prayer focused. If you want it to be studying the sermons of John Wesley, keep the conversation on this topic. If you feel the need to add in something, strongly consider setting up a separate group for this additional interest and inviting those in the original group to join it. The original members will appreciate not getting spammed by notifications on topics that do not interest them or do not align with the purpose of the group.
- Be open to letting people join that just want to be a silent observer. Not everyone will want to jump in and take part in discussions, and that’s okay. Just offering them a place they can come read and quietly pray in the comfort of their home for the posted prayer requests is perfectly fine. (It’s also important that you state this somewhere in your invitation or welcome post. Let people know it’s okay to be lurkers.)
- Don’t feel you need to control the narrative. Have your pre-determined topics to post about each day and let the conversations grow organically from there. You are providing the avenue for this community to find faith and hope, but in this group format you don’t have to feel you need to manage everything.
As in everything that we do as Christian leaders, set the main group up, invite the people, provide the prompts and encouragement and then sit back and let God do the rest.