Thinking Out Loud

May 25, 2020

My Problem with Zoom Bible Studies and Church Services

As more people become familiar with the pattern of house-to-house worship in the early Church, there has been increasing push-back against the idea of sitting in rows, basically fellowshipping with the backs of other peoples’ heads.

True, there are the times before and after the service that we socialize, and perhaps your church shares a friendship moment or a passing of the peace which is an interactive reminder that we gather with one another as a family.

But for the most part, the critics are right. Sitting in this linear form is not natural, other than in an academic setting; a major point made by Frank Viola and George Barna in their book Pagan Christianity.

It’s also a point often repeated by Andy Stanley when, promoting small groups, notes that “It’s easier to fall out of a row than to fall out of a circle.”

Which brings me to Zoom.

I’ve done several meetings in the last few months on Zoom and a similar service, Go To Meeting. It’s been quite helpful, though I miss the coffee and snacks when we’re together in person!

But I’ve also done two Bible studies.

Unlike the meetings, some people are using their phones, others are less familiar with the press-to-talk concept more embellished by those of us who were part of the CB radio craze a few decades past. It’s a bit of a cacophony.

But that’s not the thing.

When both of the Bible studies ended, I realized that in the Q&A format by which it was conducted, I only spoke to the moderator. I said absolutely nothing to the other people in the group, beyond very short quips added to my answer to the question on the table.

Furthermore, those were all public interactions. There wasn’t the smaller gathering subset which would normally take place in person where two or three people might be in a corner and interact without the involvement of the whole group.

I wanted to speak with those people individually (which I’ve done via email) and talk to them, not just the person moderating the Bible study. It reminded me of parliamentary procedure where everyone addresses, ‘Mr. Speaker.’

There wasn’t any opportunity to make tangential remarks, or just engage in some banter. I felt that we’d gained a Bible study, but lost the heart of what makes them special.

Maybe that’s an issue with our group, but if you’re leading one of these things, don’t be too formal. Don’t lose the chance the loosen the format and allow for greater interactivity.



  1. It’s not a great format – but we have to live with it for now. Banter is possible using the chat feature to send text messages. Just make sure your message goes to a slect person and not the entire group.

    Comment by Lorne Anderson — May 25, 2020 @ 10:52 am

  2. We’re part of two different studies. One is more ‘moderator’ managed than the other. But the less moderator involved group contains a whole bunch of folks that are very free and easy with each other, as we were in the at-home study. Maybe it really depends on your sense of connection to the other people in the group – how long you’ve known them, what makes them laugh or take interest … that sort of thing. It’s better than nothing, but yes, the over-talking makes me want to instituted a hand-raising protocol sometimes, like in grade-school. “Ooh-Ooh Mr. Kotter!” :-)

    Comment by Live To Tell — May 25, 2020 @ 7:46 pm

  3. I’ve been “zooming” with a ministry group (is that what the kids say? Probably not). They have time for questions and interactions, but you’re right, it’s usually a person talking to the leader, who usually responds. I think there’s room for conversation to occur but it rarely does, if ever.
    Something they’ve done to help with that is they built in about 15 minutes of small group discussions by breaking the Zoom meeting into a lot of 1-on-1 rooms. (Some couples are on the same device, so it’s like a small group in some cases.)

    Comment by sonworshiper — May 26, 2020 @ 1:12 am

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