Hosting Zoom Gatherings with Lots of People

Tips from quick learning, lots of listening, and trial and error.

Written for the United Church of Christ (and friends!)

 by Chris Davies[a], Faith Education, Innovation & Formation Team Leader

(this is okay to share with anyone.  Hold Grace for each other.)

Digital video meetings don’t always work like in-person meetings; especially with lots[b][c] of people online.  Again and again, I experience folks trying to make the digital space function like incarnate space, and I am writing this to help us all adapt and grow into some possibilities we didn’t have access to, before.  For example, the chat function lets more people contribute to the conversation! The visual cues! The break out rooms!  The real time polling! And more that I know I don’t know yet, but will add in as I go.

If you know a better way, please comment.  (That function is currently on for this doc!)

I am requesting special help with the Closed Captioning stuff.  If you know that and have used it, please add in below where it is mentioned!

I don’t know all the features, and I keep trying new things.  And, as I learn, I’ll update here for all of you.  I will also say that there are so many others gathering info like this, and I am learning from them, and adapting for congregational contexts, with the primary audience on the zoom calls likely being older folks or folks inexperienced with Zoom in general.  

This is written for you, the host.

If you’ve got the tech confidently, skip ahead to INVITING YOUR PEOPLE.   I think the most important part there is about setting expectations beforehand.  

Be clear about the purpose of gathering.  (And, no purpose but hanging out, IS a purpose! 😊 )

Sometimes it is really simply, content-sharing.

And sometimes it’s generative, and conversations and input are expected.


1-  Download Zoom

 and get yourself a pro account.  Yes, this is an appropriate church expense.  Yes, it will be worth it.  Download Center

2-  Sign in on the web browser

    to schedule a call.  Here’s a few things to consider:

  • Make a profile.  Whatever picture you put here is what will show up for you when your video is off.
  • The personal meeting ID (purple arrow) is like-- your personal anytime room.  You can say “meet me here!” and share that id, and when people sign in from the app, they can enter in that 9 digit number and land in your room.  The link below it does the same thing if you want to share it.
  • Plusses-- anytime room!
  • Minuses-- once distributed, anyone can hop in at any time!  So if I had a set of private 1::1s scheduled, you could be in a meeting with one person, and another person accidentally clicks in, early, then you’ve got an accidental three-way.
  • I added my pronouns because this is a really easy way to make sure people know what pronouns I use, and invite others to do the same.

3- Schedule a meeting.  

Click “Schedule a New Meeting”  

It can be a once- off-- which is a particular time, with a start and end time,  (e.g. Monday the 30th at 3pm EST) *if you are having worldwide meetings, ADD TIME ZONES to your invitations.

A Recurring meeting, with a particular time, (eg. Mondays at 3 EST for the foreseeable future)

Or with no time (e.g. THIS LINK:  all the time, open whenever you’re on.)  This one functions like a unique meeting ID for a particular purpose, but the same one every time. So if one committee moves around a lot, this might work for them, as long as there is NOT overlap.

NOTE: You can have one meeting at a time.  So if you have a recurring, anytime, meeting, and people are on that-- and then you move to the particular time-- someone gets kicked off.  Plan carefully.

Name your meeting.  If you have multiple meetings/ committees using it, then be sure and be specific for your own sorting things out.  (E.g. Flower Arranging Committee)

The settings where it says, VIDEO & AUDIO are for what it looks like when everyone logs on.  If you have people unfamiliar with zoom, you may want to have both Video and Audio off.  You can communicate to them exactly what to expect when you invite them to the meeting, but we’re still in set-up phase.  (While password is clicked above, I generally don’t use it. )

Audio- I click both.  It’s helpful.  However, again, expectations will come into play here. It’s especially helpful to have both if you are having issues with internet, and people can first connect their best with the internet, and then switch to audio with phone, video with the ‘net.  This way, no one misses anything. (more about this later, in INVITING YOUR PEOPLE.)

This next part is important in set up:

As you can see, I clicked “enable join before host.”  If you are the host, and setting up a meeting where  you don’t need to be there, (e.g. the Flower Arranging Committee), then this makes sure it can go smoothly without your presence.

I also clicked “record automatically.” … in the cloud.  If you need to have awareness with what is happening, then this saves it in the account, which is accessible via the web platform.  There is an option to have TRANSCRIPTS recorded as well, in the settings, which I will run down what I  know shortly* 

(soon- I can’t find it easily right now, and my account looks different than the Zoom tutorials. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯  )  

This makes it easy to skim over as the leader and then delete if it’s not needed.

You DO want to delete what is not needed. There is a limit to what’s available in the cloud.  You can record onto the local computer as much as you want--- but…. These files are big.  :)

Then click save.  Boom! Meeting scheduled.

4- Notes on recordings

When zoom is recording, there is a red dot in the top left hand corner for everyone.  Hosts have recording power.

See, you got the power!  You can pause recordings as well, and then pick it up again.

If you set it up to record automatically, you’ll get lots of  people figuring it out at the beginning and the tops of many folks’ heads.

I recommend:

  • Do not have it set up automatically (because of the above), but,
  • DO have it on the agenda that you create for the meeting to “click record.”
  • We forgot until about 20 mins in, often. 😂
  • This also gives space for you to verbally say “I’m recording now.”

Here’s where you can find recordings:

And when you click on the meeting, in this case, some general silliness as I was trying out platforms in a digital Irish dance mode….

And when you copy a sharable link, the user end looks like this:

You can see the recording from the speaker view here.  And, note that the chat is all there, with timestamps!  *note,  My nibbling Andrew is just fine.*

I believe that if you are logged in, your PRIVATE chats show up as well.  I believe there is a way for admins to see ALL private chats, but i’m not sure about the details at this point.

People can download recordings.  (see top right corner of screenshot.)

5-Important Settings

This is all part of the set up still!  But this part you only have to do once.  I think.  Go to the settings. There are so many to choose from, in there.  Here’s where that button lives, and I’ll note a few that I have found helpful so far, and add things in as I learn more.

Starting with MEETING, I like:

No passwords.  Nobody wants to crash my meetings, generally. **EDIT** that’s not true anymore.

Zoom has changed their settings so there is automatically a password on all meetings.  SO, make a password that only your people will know, and communicate it carefully.

I have heard that people are signing up for church newsletters with the intent of gaining zoom meetings to zoombomb, and that this is targeting LGBT and/or women pastors more.

I like this one, because often people unfamiliar get in the meeting and take some time to get oriented.  I’ll have helpful suggestions in invitation for this in a bit.

In meeting- what’s standard is generally okay here. Here’s a bunch of fun bits:

This is all still set up, you’re doing great.

NOTE ON SCREEN SHARING:  If you do not anticipate any screen sharing from other people (already planned) then TURN OFF SCREEN SHARING.  

Because people are people, and some folks lean into chaos as the highest form of communication during crisis, there is a thing that the New York Times calls “Zoom Bombing” wherein people enter zoom rooms, and take them over with shared screens of inappropriate material.   To protect your people and your meeting, have anyone that you anticipate sharing a screen as a co-host if possible, turn of screen sharing for the masses, and makes sure that you are quick with your “mute/ un-mute” buttons.

(edit 3/24/2020.  What a world.)

I REALLY like the Break Out Rooms feature-- so I have that on all the time!  

I am still learning closed captioning, so that’s TBD.  If you have experience, please comment here!

We have set up closed captioning-- it means that you assign someone to type in what folks are saying.  (We haven’t yet figured out how to integrate the services you can pay to do it.)  When someone is typing, it means that there will be typos and they are doing their best.  I recommend saying upfront, that there will be typos and sometimes summaries if you have someone who is not accustomed to doing this.


The virtual background is interesting-- it has the possibility to delight, and also distract.  Note this.  Some of us have already ordered our green screens to make it easy.  They are pretty easy to find online, and for me-- a worthy investment (at ~$10ish) for the foreseeable future.

This is good-- if you have something beginning at a certain time and you want to let people in in a certain order.

Okay, this is important:

 You can live stream multiple people to facebook.  So if you are having a church service, you can have it with your people in the meeting and share it out to the world!

So that’s the settings I have commentary on at this moment.  I’ll add more as I learn more…. Which Lord knows I will.  #zoomalldayeveryday.


This is where it is less tech and more fun.  

Here is a guide to send ahead for participants, by

*if you are having worldwide meetings, ADD TIME ZONES to your invitations.

I recommend setting clear expectations about how to have the best meeting possible.  Here is an example of an email I sent (with some edits) to a group of about 30 people before an important gathering:


Dear XXX,


We will be meeting as the Working Group at 3pm EST (2pm Central, 1pm Mtn, 12noon Pacific, 9am Hawaii) on Monday via Zoom.  I will open the window and be “hanging out” before the meeting at 2:45pm EST to have any pre-meeting chats and questions, and testing out Zoom together that may be needed… or if you’re excited and want to see each other!


If you have never used Zoom before, please explore the site, and download the app on your computer (preferred) or smartphone/ ipad (also works) here:

(Computers are preferred, because it is easier to use the chat function.  I anticipate using the chat function often as part of group facilitation on zoom with 30 people!)

If you think you might need extra Zoom support on Monday before the meeting, after testing it out via the link above, please join us at 2:45pm EST as mentioned above.


The zoom link we will use (for all three sessions*) is here: Join URL:  (this is where I put the link!)


Before we arrive, you’d be directed to a waiting room. 😊



  • Be in a place with strong internet, and few distractions, as you are able.  Coffee shops are not a good place to meet, as there is often lots of background noise. (LATER ADDITION: Whelp.  Coffee shops.  *sigh*  God, hear our prayers.)
  • If your internet is shaky, then you can call in on a phone in addition to the video.  How this works is in the zoom window, there is a tiny up arrow ^ next to the MUTE/UNMUTE mic icon at the bottom left corner.  You can switch your audio from the computer, to your phone, by clicking here and dialing in as the pop up window instructs.
  • The norm in Zoom rooms is often to be muted unless you are speaking, as especially with this many people, the background noise adds up!  We will be doing some of the muting and unmuting on our end.
  • Be in a place where you are able to use video on your device.  Especially as we are meeting for the first time, a lot of feedback is gained in being able to be “face to face”
  • Be present with us throughout.  It’s often tempting to multi-task when doing a Zoom meeting, and we are respectfully requesting that you be as present as you can be, especially given this unexpected shift.
  • The Faith INFO team covenants to be entirely present with you.

We will be utilizing Break Out rooms within the Zoom platform- and you can learn more about what that will be like, here:


We will also be utilizing the chat function.


So, see what I did up there?  Clear expectations about what was going to happen, and how it will work.  I also lifted expectations that videos would be on, we’d use the chat, and no multitasking.

For working meetings (not social meetings) this is going to be really helpful.

Be as clear as possible in your invitation about the purpose of the meeting. When people know what to expect, then they show up!  If it’s content delivery, you’d want the people coming in to be automatically muted.  If it’s collaborative, then there are some tips below.  If it’s just hanging out, well-- go with the flow, y’all creative beings. 🥰

So far, I have found Chat and Breakout rooms to be invaluable.  

Here’s some tips for IN THE MEETING:

7- Tips for the meeting itself, in no particular order:

  • Have a meeting agenda, or an order of worship, or what to expect when you’re digitally in community.  Share it out beforehand to help reduce anxiety.  The more people know, the more at ease they can be.
  • Have space for the pre meeting, and the post meeting.  I started it 15 mins early and let people know this was the virtual “grab a cup of coffee and talk about your day and the weather.”  
  • Check in.  We used what we’re calling Chat Bursts to do a lot, over a little amount of time.  Have some questions prepared on the front end that you want to get answers to, then tell people, “I will ask a question, you’ll have a 30 seconds to respond in the chat, then I will count down 3…. 2…. 1…. ENTER! And we’ll all hit enter together.  After several questions, we can process.”
  • This is an idea from Liberating Structures, and here’s how they used it to move people from anxiety to action, re: COVID-19.
  • For example:
  • Use icebreakers this way! And if you want to get a lot of information quickly over a little amount of time here’s how to do it.
  • One thing I learned is…
  • One thing I wish I knew more about is…
  • I am feeling…
  • Et cetera.  Anything you want, you brilliant leader.  You’ve got this.
  • Think about different learning styles.
  • We used chat as above, and all throughout, so people could participate in multiple levels.
  • Break out rooms are awesome! Speaking of…
  • Break out rooms!
  • You can set them up at the beginning of the meeting and assign people into them.  You can do either randomly, or with intention.
  • We used it with intention, with the same small groups meeting each time to talk it out.  People then got to meet each other deeper, process information together, and develop rapport in groups of 4, instead of 40.
  • Recordings are possible in break out rooms, but I don’t know enough about how to do that yet.  I’m sure it’s on the zoom support rooms.
  • We asked for a scribe in each break out room to report back.
  • We also used the time for extensive introductions, as well as an invitation to get a 1-sentence intro to the whole group when we return.
  • Before sending them out, be clear with exactly how much time people have in break out rooms, and what the “task” is.
  • While they are in there, you can broadcast a message to the groups, and it will stay on screen for a few seconds.  It disappears and is not written anywhere.  (this is why a google doc, as below, is recommended).  
  • Chat in break out rooms funnels down to just the people in the immediate rooms.
  • When the time is up, participants get a message that says, “60 seconds, return to the main room” and they can hit “return” or use the time to wrap up their thought and then automatically get put back in there.
  • Use the video functions for feedback!  I asked for:
  • Thumbs up if you understand, down for no, and middle more clarity!
  • ASL applause! (if everyone is muted, you can have collective applause visually)
  • There is a poll function in there, as well.  More details coming.
  • Have an order of people, or invite the group to self-moderate.
  • I distributed a list of the participants, and we went in about the same order every time.
  • This was both for small groups, (each small group reported out in the same order,) and for everyone (the whole list went in the same order.)
  • In addition, or alternatively, instruct that each person will invite the next person.  
  • For example, “Hi, everyone, I’m Chris, and I am creative! I invite Elizabeth to go next.”  Then Elizabeth says, “Hi everyone, I’m Elizabeth and I’m energetic! I invite Greg to go next.”  Then Greg knows it’s times to goes.
  • This will get a meeting flow that doesn’t rely entirely on a facilitator to make things happen.  People take responsibility for their own participation and for the participation of the group.
  • Singing.  Lagtime is an issue, and we are all sad.
  • I notice a lot of questions re: group singing.  I have heard what works best is if there is a song leader who is leading, and everyone else is muted and sings along.
  • Hand raising during the meetings is super helpful.  As the meeting leader, I found it helpful to both have hands raised via zoom, and also when participants would literally raise their hands on screen.
  • Check out!  Ask for feedback.  Because we had three days of zoom meetings, after each session, I invited people to email me feedback and learn in real time, both about facilitation, and about tech stuff I had control over.  (Pasting the questions into the google doc referenced below was an adaptation.)

8- Tips for the background

  • Have one person leading the meeting, and another person doing tech.  Shout out to Jennifer and other folks making it happen!
  • Have clarity about who is doing what, if there are multiple hosts.
  • E.g. you do the muting and unmuting, and I will monitor the chat.  
  • You can ask the group to self monitor the chat as well.
  • We had a running google doc that was editable by the meeting hosts.
  • I asked the participants to have the doc up in the background if they wanted it.  This way, verbal and visual learners could hear and read what was going on.
  • For example, the agenda was on the google doc, and the questions asked were copied from the verbal ask, and pasted into the doc at the same time.
  • This would also work well as an order of worship, or, a pdf to go out beforehand.
  • I also had text threads with key leaders (e.g. the people presenting on a certain topic) so that I could say “it’s okay if you run over time, the next part is flexible,” or “shift to another way!”  and they could respond.
  • As people added links in the chat, or in copy/ pasting the Chat Bursts above, we could get collective input about things, and then I could paste it into the background google doc, and sort it out later.

Thanks, all.  Be blessed in this work.  I am praying for you, every day.  You were called for such a time as this, and you can do it.  You are not alone. May the divine, however you experience her, surround you with care and love and encouragement.


[a]Chris Davies, you are amazing!  Thank you so much for creating this. The BEST intro to Zoom I have seen, with so much helpful information.  You are very generous to share. peace,

_Assigned to lohrenz.faithpcindy@gmail.com_

[b]Hey Chris, greetings from Brazil!

I found your tutorial really helpful. Would you allow me to translate and adjust it into Portuguese, linking back to your original doc?

[c]of course.  blanket permission to use, adapt and share.  we are in this together.