The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all of us...and NCS, like other organizations had to very quickly adapt in order to stay connected to our members. So how did we do that? And what has been the outcome?
In interviews with members and leaders of our groups, it’s evident that God shined a light – and led the way. Here’s what we’ve learned.
For all groups, leaders expressed concerns about how they could keep their relational networks going – showing up and connecting – when it could not be done in person and had to be done virtually.
The meal that was shared went away. One person speaking for 30 minutes would no longer keep participants’ attention. What had been cultivated as a great experience connecting in-person was going to become much less personal. This weighed heavily on the mind of Jay Helvey.
“ We realized that having a single speaker talk for an extended period of time wouldn’t work well,” shared Helvey. “So we had to adapt by using video segments, worship music and an interview-format involving multiple speakers, in essence leveraging technology to create variety.”
None of the leaders were sure how a virtual meeting would be received, especially with members who were older and likely less tech-savvy. There was concern that some folks would simply miss out – and leaders didn’t want to see that happen.
The impact of going virtual to turnout
Moving our vibrant, consistently active groups online initially left NCS leaders wondering about how this would impact the turnout at our meetings. Thankfully, our fears were not realized.
Turnout was still strong. We only experienced a modest decline, with some men struggling with the technology. Thankfully, some of the techies in the groups have offered assistance to help those less technology-oriented to get connected to Zoom and eventually join us online.
The Friday NCS group, has consistently had 85-90 men each week. The Davie-NC East group, which has been meeting together, has had 45-50 - a larger turnout than either group was experiencing when meeting in-person.
Groups have even been picking up new members from out of state. With the entirety of NCS going virtual, it’s enabled men with no chapter or a local chapter that meets on a different day to join into any NCS group meeting online.
The silver linings
As with most things, there were silver linings amidst the challenges brought by moving our meetings online.
For starters, the virtual format meant that guys who had moved away have been able to join meetings. It was exciting to see some familiar faces who hadn’t been around for a while and bring them into the weekly conversations.
We were no longer limited to speakers who could attend our meetings in-person. Rather, we could identify and recruit guys from any location to come online and share their personal stories.
“ We tapped into our relational network to expose local groups to people from not only around the country but around the world. Our meetings became a way for the guys to see the relational breadth of the NCS across the US and the world,” said Todd Chase from the Friday group.
And the technology’s ability to break out the online groups into randomized, smaller groups was an added bonus to being virtual.
“We were able to do small group breakouts, which Zoom can put people into randomly. Doing small groups was something we had talked in the past but never implemented. The result was getting to speak to guys I had never talked with. It was a way to create more intimate, personable groups within what can be a very unintimate technology space,” shared Helvey.
This form of intentional intimacy is something he hopes will continue once social distancing is done, with virtual small groups evolving into in-person small groups.
Nationally, new chapters are forming in the midst of the pandemic. Chapters have become more vibrant. Members are visiting other chapters and two chapters sometimes come together for a meeting.
Aspects of virtual meetings that NCS may keep
All leaders saw success from holding virtual meetings and felt that some virtual gatherings would continue to be a part of NCS even after social distancing was behind us.
“ Hybrid meetings on Tuesdays (in-person and Zoom) has actually worked well. I could see that continuing. I could see us supplementing in-person with digital meetings,” said Helvey.
Other leaders mentioned the bonus of now having an online alternative to canceling meetings due to bad weather. As well, they suggested that NCS could do more one one-off events where groups would bring in people from outside their area and also do joint events with other chapters in the virtual space.
“There is an ease to doing this that broadens the potential audience,” shared Kevin Frack of NCS Davie County.
The future is uncertain...but what all of us have learned is that despite this, our meetings will continue – and relational networks are going to flourish no matter what!