Guide to Gathering VirtuallyForum for Theological Exploration FTE Leaders

Guide to gathering virtually

FTE has been gathering people together for over 20 years, creating the necessary space for individuals to discern their purpose and call, catalyze leadership, and transform their communities.

What makes FTE’s gatherings unique is an emphasis on what we call the CARE framework. CARE is an acronym that spells out another way to discern how to live and lead change:

  • C = Create hospitable space
  • A = Ask self-awakening questions
  • R = Reflect theologically together
  • E = Enact the next most faithful step

This framework serves as a guidepost at FTE for leading and engaging in meaningful conversations that help people commit more fully to imagining, discerning, and changing things they care deeply about in themselves, their communities, organizations, and the world.

However, in the midst of a global pandemic, we, along with the rest of the world, had to pivot to gathering our people and communities virtually. And we quickly realized that if we wanted a better future to be possible, we had to design our way forward into it.

We've taken what has worked well for our in-person gatherings to design meaningful and engaging virtual experiences. Our goal is to help other faith leaders and communities use and apply our framework to create meaningful experiences in their own online environments.

As you plan your virtual gatherings using our framework, consider four major elements:

1the who

Start with the who—the people you’re going to gather and engage. Identify who you’re serving in your gatherings and listen well to discover where their needs intersect with your mission and purpose.

2the why

Be mindful of your objectives—the why behind your gathering in any context. Be clear about what you intend for participants to experience and learn, and what, if anything, you hope they will do afterward.

3the how

Virtual gatherings require you to be more mindful and creative in how you approach designing an online experience. It’s important to think through everything from the planning and platforms you’ll use, to event staff and technological needs, to communication plans and content creation. These unique elements impact how you will gather in a virtual space.

4the what

What do you want people to experience during the gathering? What are the meaningful conversations and steps you hope to see happen amongst your participants? What practices or activities will you use to create meaningful connections and conversations? Your answers to questions like these will help inform the content and structure of the event—the what that makes up the gathering.

Care Practices

FTE’s CARE framework can be adapted to create meaningful experiences in a virtual context. Here, we outline how you can consider each of the four disciplines in your virtual gathering:

Create hospitable space

You can create hospitable space for different kinds of conversations—particularly about one’s purpose, passion, or sense of call—by paying attention to the physical, inner, and relational aspects of your gathering. Consider visual aids, general instructions for attendees, and community agreements. Providing a meal through a delivery service or sending a care package prior to the event can create an inviting space for participants.

Ask self-awakening questions

Self-awakening questions rouse us to the possibilities of a life with purpose. They’re designed to help the storyteller reflect on feelings, images, passions, concerns, hopes, values, and purpose as well as themes and patterns. In a virtual experience, you can utilize exercises like journaling, small group discussion, Holy Listening, and more to process self-awakening questions in a virtual setting.

reflect theologically together

Reflecting theologically together is a disciplined way to put our lives and experiences in conversation with our religious heritage. Consider what kind of reflection would help participants make sense of what they have been exploring. Recognize that you want participants to make meaning of their experience so that they can do something as a result of their exploration, deliberation, and discernment. Consider inviting them to use Scripture, a social justice, political, or economic case study, or another kind of reading to reflect theologically. Incorporate ritual, prayer, journaling, or art.

enact the next most faithful step

Invite your participants to consider what their next most faithful step will be after each gathering. This discipline focuses on transforming deep stirrings and insights into embodied action. It is a process to unearth, test, and reflect on our assumptions and actions so that what has been learned in this virtual experience can be applied in a meaningful way in the participants’ real life context.

For a more in-depth look at how we’ve designed our way forward into meaningful online gatherings, check out FTE’s Guide to Gathering Virtually.

For a more in-depth look at how we’ve designed our way forward into meaningful online gatherings, check out FTE’s Guide to Gathering Virtually.

Case Studies

Since 2020, FTE has experimented with different ways of hosting our gatherings online. During that time, we gained insights and considerable experience in facilitating large gatherings in a virtual space.

Download the two case studies here detailing what we have uncovered in our own large virtual gatherings.

virtual tools

Tools for Gathering Information

Tools for Collaborating

Tools for Designing Resources