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3 Ways to Communicate a Caring Presence When Leading Online Groups


Communicate a caring presence by acquiring a people-first mentality

Online educators have uncovered various best practices that elevate the experience of digital learners and are effective regardless of a student’s learning venue. Whether you’re teaching an online Bible study, leading a digital discipleship course, or offering your church members a theology class, these tips and tools will help you to communicate powerfully in an online format. 


Paul expresses his sorrowful separation from the Thessalonian Christians in one of his early letters with the phrase “in face but not in heart” (1 Thess 2:17), which we translate as “out of sight but not out of mind.” Despite the fact that he is physically away from believers, he is present with them as his “joy and wreath of boasting” and “his glory and joy” (2:19). Paul feels joy and a healthy sense of pride and glory as he visualizes their faces and receptive responses to his ministry while he was physically among them as the Thessalonian believers parade before his mind’s eye.

With this in mind – the joy of a leader as he pictures the face of his group – we can go forth in our online teaching pursuits with a people-first attitude. 

Elevate the experience of your learners by modelling pastoral care, practicing relational cues, and adopting a people-first attitude. Click To Tweet


In addition to paying attention to the content at hand, online leaders, teachers, and facilitators should also devote attention to techniques that enhance emotional presence. In other words, personal connections won’t happen by accident. Leaders need to create an online environment that clearly balances a people-first mentality while respecting the objectives of the gathering. 

Learned from online professors and educators, here are practical ways to communicate a caring presence when leading online groups.

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3 Ways to Communicate a Caring Presence When Leading Online Groups

1. Adopt a people-first attitude

In an article published in the early months of the pandemic, two educators observe that “learning what is and isn’t working for students in the move to remote learning is invaluable, but it is especially important right now as online courses are being developed rapidly, iteratively, and under pressure.” As many experts suggest, “compassion, empathy, and respect” are vibrant ways of understanding and communicating with adult learners, and “the success of the course hinges on the student-instructor relationship.” 

In short, relationships matter. And yet, that’s not to say the content matters less. But, if the relationship component hasn’t been addressed, learning or sharing will be difficult and less effective. In an online format, engaged attitudes and conversations set the tone and create an environment that is primed to achieve the group’s objectives. 

There is an abundance of opportunities for showing pastoral care in digital learning settings. Credibility and trust are built when conversations with your learners go beyond the scope of your course. Click To Tweet

2. Model pastoral care

In groups of all sorts, opportunities abound to show pastoral care for learners in an online setting. 

For example, a Bible study leader or church seminary class teacher can make personal calls to each student before the start of particular classes. This takes time and effort, but learners express such gratitude for this demonstration of care. Participants are pleasantly surprised by a leader’s personal interest in them as human beings. This can apply to texting, too. 

Credibility and trust are built when conversations go beyond the course’s scope or objectives and sincerely touch on life issues: families, church involvement, personal crises, academic programs, and goals for future ministry.

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3. Practice relational cues

Relational cues demonstrate to learners that a leader is interested in them as a person. In larger groups, this can be achieved by making a point to share personal contact information. Furthermore, using the participants’ approved contact information to check in on them when you sense they need a check-in is also valuable. 

As leaders and educators, we are enthusiastic about our content and goals and might be tempted to overlook the relationship component to the group dynamic. These practical tools can help you focus on becoming a caring presence in a group setting – helping your participants to come to the gathering with an open mind and heart. 

Learn more about online groups and discipleship with 4 Reasons Every Church Needs An Effective Digital Discipleship Strategy.



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