The biggest lesson we all learned during a global pandemic shut down? There’s nothing quite like being in person.
Events, birthday parties, holidays, weddings, Mass, and family dinners all turned into Zoom links or video chats and for months we felt the emptiness of not being in the same physical room with the people we love.
And when it comes to ministry, we know people evangelize people. The in-person connection is crucial for people to encounter the personal presence of God.
But in the past two decades our culture has exponentially become more reliant on technology. People connect and interact online. So we have to ask, was this Zoom transition inevitable?
“The notion of a tipping point for technology adoption or digital disruption isn’t new, but [data] suggests that the COVID-19 crisis is a tipping point of historic proportions—and that more changes will be required as the economic and human situation evolves.” Mckinsey & Company, 2020 Survey
We know technology is part of our lives—you’re reading this very article on your phone or computer or tablet. We engage, learn, connect, and even grow through digital tools.
But it’s important to know the difference between using technology to replace connection and supporting connection.
Social media, email, and Zoom events can all help foster connection, prompt questions, and nudge people deeper down a journey but with the end goal of an in-person connection.
In fact, it can even create new opportunities for connection. People can connect with others across the world, busy parents are freed up to join even when they can’t find childcare, older generations can join despite any health or travel restrictions.
It becomes a great resource to supplement our in-person connection and even create opportunities for some that wouldn’t have been able to have them before.
So let’s say you’re bought in. You agree to keep the Zoom calls, even if it’s not your favourite. The question we’re all asking ourselves is: How do we make Zoom not suck?
None of us have escaped being the victim of terrible connection mid-conversation, a comment meant for a muted button, the awkward moment when multiple people try to talk at the same time, or the terribly uncomfortable silence when no one is sure how to fill the gaps in conversation as we stare blankly at one another.
How are we supposed to make people feel seen and loved in these moments? How do we make what could be a very cold interaction feel warm?
Here are some ways to make Zoom feel hospitable:
Always show your video
Of course it can’t replace sitting across from someone in person but we can do our best to make it feel like it, especially if you’re meeting someone for the first time. Keeping the video on let’s them know you are focused and present. It helps you see people’s eyes, expressions, and reactions—a large part of how we communicate.
Say hello or wave to everyone who joins the call.
Unlike walking into a room full of people, it’s hard to make people feel welcome. There are no snacks to offer them, a comfortable chair in the back, or a moment to lean in and quietly ask how they are doing. Small things like waving or just slipping in a hello either in the message (or while you’re talking) can let people know someone recognized their presence and are glad they are here.
Encourage people to use the message feature
Talking in front of groups is not for everyone and can be difficult, especially in Zoom where talking means holding the direct attention of everyone in the room. The message feature can be a safe and easy way for people to share their mind or contribute.
Call people out by name to make sure everyone is involved
Because you can’t make eye contact or quietly mention something to the person next to you, we have to make other efforts for people to feel seen. When people raise a hand or look like they are eager to talk, saying their name can just add another layer of connection and validation.
Try breakout rooms for any group bigger than 7-10
Keep groups small which gives space for everyone to share or at least connect with more people.
Have a schedule / questions
Lag time in Zoom just can’t be filled the same way as if you’re mingling in a room of people. Make sure to have a bit of an outline and backup questions to keep the conversation flowing as it might experience real time lag.
Don’t let Zoom be the end of the relationship
Like we said before, people evangelize people. Zoom is not meant to be the end goal. Make sure that there is a connection outside the Zoom meeting. Sometimes that means making recurring events hybrid (some in-person and some zoom options). Sometimes that means just making sure there is specific follow-up.