How to Turn a Webinar into an Online Retreat

Woman at computerWebinars are an increasingly popular tool for spreading the word about a company or product. But are they the right tool for spreading the Word of God? They certainly can be. The key is to turn a webinar into an online retreat by creating a spiritual atmosphere that reminds people that where two or three are gathered together in Christ’s name, he is there in the midst of them.

What’s a Webinar?

webinar is a seminar or workshop offered via the computer. People can attend live, in real-time, or they can watch the recorded session later at their convenience. Presenters need web-conferencing software and a webcam, but participants don’t need any specialist equipment — only a computer and a high-speed Internet connection.

In the simplest type of webinars, participants watch PowerPoint slides on the computer screen and listen to an audio-only version of the speaker’s talk. (Watch an example here.)  But webinar technology also offers exciting features to enhance the interactive experience, like live video of the speaker throughout the presentation, and interactive polls and chatboxes for question and answer sessions. (Watch how I used these interactive features here.)

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Webinars, like any teaching tool, have benefits and drawbacks. The main benefits of hosting a webinar rather than a live, in-person event are:

  • people can attend from the comfort of their homes or offices
  • there are no geographical limitations — people from other time zones or even countries can attend
  • you don’t have to reserve or rent a physical space
  • you don’t need to worry about how many people a room can hold — a webinar can easily accommodate anywhere from five to one hundred people
  • no need to provide refreshments!
Drawbacks of webinars include:
  • not everyone is familiar with webinar technology
  • people expect anything offered on the Internet to be free, and may be less likely to pay an admission fee or goodwill donation
  • people feel more free not to attend at the last minute, since they can watch the recorded session later
  • some people prefer the camaraderie of an in-person event
  • in-person presentations in a chapel or a church take place in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, so they have a much more spiritual atmosphere

How to Create a Spiritual Atmosphere

In using a webinar for religious education, we need to keep the focus on Jesus. Otherwise, it can be a distant, clinical, and downright boring experience. So, without further ado, my top three tips for turning a webinar into an online retreat.
  1. Start and end with a prayer.

Remind people to invite Jesus into their hearts and stay close to him and his inspirations during this time. Even when we are physically apart from Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, we can express our longing for him in a prayer of spiritual communion like the one I used to start my online marriage enrichment retreat:

2.  Illustrate with religious artwork 

Great artists throughout the centuries have turned to the Bible for inspiration. Practically all of Scripture is depicted in painting and sculpture with timeless elegance and nearly universal appeal. Best of all, you can use religious artwork that is more than 100 years old with very little fear of infringing someone’s copyright.
For one of the illustrations in my online marriage enrichment retreat, I selected this dramatic portrayal of the Return of the Prodigal Son, available from Wikimedia Commons. A notice from Wikimedia explained: “This is a faithful photographic reproduction of a two-dimensional, public domain work of art. … Its copyright has expired.”

3.   Incorporate time for meditation with sacred music

An in-person retreat usually offers time for meditation and personal prayer to consider deeply the topic of the retreat and to ask what action God might be calling us to take. An online retreat can offer the same. After each PowerPoint presentation in my online retreat, participants were invited to take ten or fifteen minutes to think and pray about the questions for discussion and type their answers into chatboxes online. During the meditation period, we piped in Gregorian chant from youtube. You can find many great clips of sacred music on Youtube. Some clips last for an hour or more, so you don’t have to worry about splicing more than one clip together.

Go Forth and Evangelize!

So, go ahead and consider incorporating webinars into your ministry, if you haven’t already. This amazing technology is a great tool to advance the New Evangelization and spread the Gospel to the four corners of the earth.

Karee Santos is the founder of the Can We Cana? blog and also has written for Catholic Match Institute, Catholic Digest, National Catholic Register, and CatholicMom.com. Together with her husband Manuel Santos, M.D., she co-authored The Four Keys to Everlasting Love: How Your Catholic Marriage Can Bring You Joy for a Lifetime (Ave Maria Press, 2016). The Santos’s designed and taught a pre-Cana marriage preparation course, and they write a monthly marriage advice column on CatholicMom.com called “Marriage Rx.” They also contribute to FAITH magazine's “Your Marriage Matters” advice column. The couple live in Long Island, New York, with their six children.
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