Covid19: Prioritizing small groups, moving small group ministry online with ZOOM

Subscribe here to listen via my Podcast.

Congregational leaders, this is another digital strategy session to support you as we work to slow the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. For many of you, that means moving your ministry online.

In this session, we’re talking small group ministry.

Specifically, why I want you to prioritize moving your small group ministry program online — I recommend using ZOOM video for group meetings.

If you don’t have an existing small group ministry program, that’s okay! You can simply focus on launching a digital small group ministry now.

Doing so will help with present social distancing and will likely lead to an interest in participation when you’re promoting group-based ministry at a later time.

I know how much work and energy it takes to embrace and learn new models. Many of you are accelerating your learning and experimenting at lightning speed. You can do it!

Peter Bowden

What if we have to cancel church because of the Covid19 Coronavirus?

On covid19, social distancing, limiting large gatherings, and your digital ministry strategy.

This is a strategy session to get your congregation thinking about the Covid19 coronavirus and your digital strategy should you face community spread and required “social distancing” such as limiting large gatherings and quarantines.

Specifically, how can we use social media, live video, and other tools to accomplish the work and ministry of your congregation without gathering face-to-face? This is something we need to be preparing for and I have strategy ideas to get you thinking.

Listen via my Podcast – subscribe here.



Text the word PETER to 1 (833) 306-0201 

This will connect us via my text platform.  Once we’re connected, whenever you have questions related to podcast episodes, videos, or other content, you can send me a message directly.  This is NOT a group chat. It is a way for you to share questions with me one-on-one. I also send out low volume updates about live recording sessions and other opportunities to connect.


I work with nonprofit and congregational leaders across the United States on community building, digital leadership, and other connecting strategies. For private executive and team strategy sessions, please email me. Once I verify we’re a match to work together, I’ll send you a scheduling link.

Social Video Strategy for Clergy and Congregations

The New Year is a great time to try new strategies! This year I’d love for you to work on harnessing the power of video. In this session I share an overview of how we can use social media video to…

• Engage with your community
• Facilitate conversation and spiritual exploration online
• Advance your justice work
• Increase attendance
• and grow your membership as a result

We’ve Entered a “Video First” World 

In 2016 Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said, “Ten years ago, most of what we shared and consumed online was text. Now it’s photos, and soon most of it will be video. We see a world that is video first with video at the heart of all our apps and services.”  Facebook / Fast Company

“The vast majority of Americans – 95% – now own a cellphone of some kind. The share of Americans that own smartphones is now 77%…” Pew Research Center

“By 2022, online videos will make up more than 82% of all consumer internet traffic — 15 times higher than it was in 2017. — (Cisco)” 55 Video Marketing Statistics For 2020 by Biteable

According to Forbes “90% of customers say video helps them make buying decisions and 64% of customers say that seeing a video makes them more likely to buy.” Adding a video to marketing emails has been shown to double to triple click-through rates. Website landing pages with videos see significant increases in their conversion rates.

Video is now expected. Use it to accompany and lead people from their first interaction with your congregation through their ongoing participation as members.

Using Video to Connect, Engage, Inspire

Through video your leaders are able to show up and be present online. Why is that important? Imagine not having any of your leaders present at the primary gatherings where people are trying to learn about your congregation? That’s what your online presence has become – the go to place to learn and connect with your congregation.

You are working to build relationships with your online community, to share your story, to inform, educate, and inspire them to take action. That action includes newcomers visiting for the first time, as well as inspiring existing members and friends to fully participate in congregational life.

Don’t let the simplicity fool you. We’re talking about using the tools of our time to be fully present and engaged with your community. The video format may be simple, but at the heart of this strategy is relationship, leadership, and trust.

Face to Face Videos

Start using the camera from your smartphone, laptop, or desktop to film messages (you or other leaders) speaking directly to your online audience. Messages may be focused on newcomers, existing members and friends, or other audience as needed.

The best way to make great videos is to film many, many mediocre videos. Don’t aim for perfection, aim for continued improvement.

As my child’s 1st grade teacher always said, “Practice makes progress.”

Show Up Consistently

Worship leaders: Share a weekly message telling people about the upcoming service(s) but not just logistics, not just an invitation. Share what you are exploring, why you are exploring, why this matters, and invite discussion and sharing on the topic.

The Goal As a leader you are communicating why the topic matters, and why your congregation is taking time to explore it. With your members and friends surrounded by thousand of options for new learning, entertainment, and distraction on-demand, you are inspiring them to participate. 

As a congregation, as religious leaders, use video to be online where people are spending their time, engage with your community, and inspire them to participate in congregational life — weekly!

Sounds like sales, but I call it leadership. You are leading them in the exploration of the theme by sharing the why, sharing stories, highlighting how it connects to what is happening in the larger world, inviting people to share thoughts via social media (online participation), encouraging people to invite interested friends (outreach), and inviting people to attend the actual service. It is digital leadership.

The Win People following your congregation via social media not only know what’s going on, but they feel the importance, the value, the connection, and choose to participate over all other options!

Overwhelmed? Consider starting by sharing a message once per month featuring a service that is of particular interest to you. You can build up to weekly.

 Video Message Production Tips

The following are tips to help improve your video messages. I encourage you to join me in being an ALL STAR IMPERFECTIONIST!™ Don’t try to be perfect. You’ll improve over time.

1. Identify a Standard Location
It takes energy and thought to share a video message. Not knowing where you are going to film is inhibiting. Whether it is an office, a living room, a space in your congregation, or out in nature, determine your default location, figure out how to film there (position, lighting, etc..) and stick with that location unless otherwise inspired.

2. Place Camera at Eye Level (Don’t Film Up the Nose)
If you are using a laptop, place it on books to raise the camera to eye level. If using a smartphone, use a tripod to raise it to eye level. Invest in a smartphone mount and tripod. For Under $50 you can have a tripod and mount you can quickly attach your smartphone to. It is worth it if you are making video messages!

3. Increase Lighting for Increased Clarity
Film with lots of light. This can be natural light, lights in the room you are using, and extra lights you have purchased for filming. I have four LED light panels on stands in my office. I use them fill the room with light when filming, including Zoom meetings. More light = greater clarity. If you have extra office lights around, directing the lights at the ceiling or surrounding walls can add extra diffuse light while maintaining a natural look.

4. Keep Brightest Light In Front of You and BEHIND the Camera
If bright lights are behind you (included light on a wall) most cameras will auto-adjust to that brightness and you’ll look like you are an anonymous witness being interviewed by the FBI. The camera adjusting to the bright light will make you darker. Having the brightest light in front of you and behind the camera will help you look fabulous.

5. Press Smartphone Screen to Auto Focus and Auto Adjust Lighting
On most smartphones, if you press and hold your face on the screen it will auto-focus and auto adjust the lighting. Holding for several seconds usually auto-focus locks on the subject.

6. Know Your Camera Orientation Before You Start
Different social media platforms orient video horizontally, vertically, and square. The norms are shifting with Instagram and Facebook pushing vertical video. Look at videos on the platform where you’re planning to post. Notice what looks best, especially when viewed via mobile (majority of views). However the camera is oriented, keep it that way.

7. Check Background for Distractions
Before you start filming, check to make sure there is nothing distracting in the background. Make sure your environment represents you and your congregation appropriately.

8. Frame Your Shot – the Rule of Thirds
Where you are in the camera frame is important. Whether you are filming horizontally, vertically or with a square orientation, have your eyes floating just over the line between the middle and upper third of the screen.  No matter how far away you are from the camera, still aim for that same line. See next page for framing examples.

In Western photography and film “an image should be imagined as divided into nine equal parts by two equally spaced horizontal lines and two equally spaced vertical lines, and that important compositional elements should be placed along these lines or their intersections. Proponents of the technique claim that aligning a subject with these points creates more tension, energy and interest in the composition than simply centering the subject would.” Source: Wikipedia / Rule of Thirds.

9. Authenticity over other parameters
How long should videos be? Is vertical better than square or horizontal. Do whatever works for you to show up, be authenitic – be yourself, make videos consistently, and share your enthusiasm.

If you can share a great video that feels good and covers everything you want in 60 seconds, great! If you need 3-5 minutes, do that.

10. You Can Do It!
Have fun. Know it is important for your congregation. Don’t give up. You’ll be amazed at how quickly your videos improve, especially if you keep at it and reference this list of tips.

When you make and post video messages, I’d love to see them. You can tag me via social media @PeterBowdenLive on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to notify me of your posts, or email me links to videos you want to show off. Thanks!    

Simple, But Challenging

Having been experimenting with this for a long time, I know this is challenging.

If you want help, I work with staff one-on-one as well as with teams and professional chapter groups. Whether individually or in groups, we can map out your video message strategy for a given span of time, figure out your video recording set up, and get you comfortable on camera.

I’m working on a related course right now. Will be taking new video coaching clients starting February 1st. If you’d like to be first in line, contact me and I’ll send you the registration link before I make it public.

In cooperation,

2020 and the Digital Path to Membership

With the New Year people are looking to connect with organizations, from visiting a local congregation to joining a fitness club or getting involved in the climate movement.

Social media and digital culture are changing how people research and connect with these organizations.

In this episode, I share ways leaders and their organizations can support the digital side of this process to help more people successfully connect.

Listen to this via my podcast! Subscribe here.

The Future of Facebook, Congregations, and Meaningful Community


Does your congregation use Facebook?  If so, you’ll want to watch this Facebook Live discussion on the Future of Facebook, congregations, and meaningful community below.

  Make sure to subscribe to email updates so you can join the live conversation! Not on Facebook or just want recordings?  Subscribe to my Youtube Channel.

What did Zuck say to promp this conversation?   At the F8 conference, Mark Zuckerberg shared a vision for the future of Facebook including an intensified focus privacy, encryption, ephemeral content, and connecting people with “meaningful community” via Facebook groups. The group focus is already rolling out. You’ve seen the changes if you updated your app.

As Facebook works to drive people into groups, we need to make sure your congregation has a Facebook strategy that takes advantage of this group focus and helps people successfully connect with your congregation offline, face-to-face.

Tracking these changes and discussing related strategies is something I’ll continue to discuss via social media and in my Leading Congregations Monthly trainings.  If you’re interested in this topic, make sure you subscribe to my email newsletter so you get notifcations for live chats, video releases (like the one above), and training topics.

This session was recorded May 10, 2019 in my Facebook group for Unitarian Universalist Leaders.

Here’s Zuckerberg’s full F8 talk:

Social Media for Spiritual Practice with the Rev. Naomi King

Friends, on Friday, March 1st at 1:00pm EST I’m going live with the Rev. Naomi King to discuss using social media for spiritual practice, setting intentions for how we digital tools, and more!  If you are interested in the intersection of social media and spirituality, I think you’ll love this conversation. Join us!  Use the attached Youtube player to watch, chat, and share your questions.

The Rev. Naomi King is a Unitarian Universalist minister who teaches spiritual practices in person and online. Connect with her and her teaching via the following links.