One of the lessons of the pandemic is how important relationships and social connections are. People don’t do well without them! And more than ever, people are aware of that and are looking for places to connect. “Connection” has gone from a good idea to a primary need.
The church is a natural place for people to look for community. Regardless of how well people understand the gospel, and regardless of whether they are even Christians, people look at the church as a fellowship, a body, a community—a place where people are cared for and relationships can happen.
That creates an incredible opportunity for the church. But how do we take advantage of it? Here are four observations that can help any church minister to this felt need.
Make it Easy
Many churches had different systems, groups, or meetings in place before the pandemic hit. The natural temptation is to simply start those up again and hope that people will plug in. That may work for people who have been involved before, or who already know people, but it may not work for new people.
The truth is that meeting new people, or becoming part of a new community, is not easy. It can be a bit scary—you don’t know who people are, you don’t know what is expected, etc. Effective churches go the extra mile to make it easy for people to get connected.
One aspect of that is to have low-commitment social events. Pot lucks, movie nights, workshops or seminars—events where people just need to show up. They don’t need to prepare and they aren’t making a longer-term commitment. It’s just a safe place to meet other people.
A second aspect is to communicate clearly what is expected. Confusion is the enemy! The less confusion people have the more likely they are to participate. If people just need to show up for a one-time event where the goal is to get to know people, make that clear.
Encourage Shallow Love
One of the values of our church is “loving each other deeply.” We also talk about the fact that before you can love deeply, you need to love shallowly. We define that as just showing up, meeting people, getting to know people. In the process you ask questions and find out what’s going on in their lives. Sometimes that opens up opportunities to pray for or encourage people. Often that is reciprocated and a relationship begins.
Those things aren’t particularly deep or difficult, but they are the first steps toward loving deeply. You can’t love people deeply who you don’t know. That kind of love gets built over time. In order to get there, you have to take the first steps of loving shallowly.
A lot of people have unrealistic expectations regarding how relationships are formed and grow. Somehow, they think that they will have some best friends after visiting a small group once or twice. Or they expect someone to call them every week. And then they get disappointed, even disillusioned, when it doesn’t happen.
Talk about the process of how relationships are formed. Train people in it. It starts with small talk! Sharing what’s going on, finding common ground. Taking the step of asking someone to grab coffee or a meal. Don’t wait to be asked—take some initiative. It’s challenging, and takes time, but it’s worth it.
Use Time Limits
One of the easiest ways to meet people and begin to develop relationships is to serve in some area of ministry together. Whether it’s a prayer ministry, welcoming people, or feeding people, being part of some kind of team bonds people.
Sometimes there is a roadblock that stops people from volunteering. We don’t put an “end” to their commitment. We try to get people to serve and make an open-ended commitment. Most people shy away from that. They don’t want to be locked into something forever. It especially stops people from trying anything new.
Much better to be able to say “This is a 3-month commitment. After that we/you will evaluate how it’s been going. If you want to continue, great—you can sign up for another three months. If you want to stop and do something else, that’s fine too.”
It could be any length of time, as long as it’s specific. It does take more work on the leadership side, but the payoff is worth it. Many more people are willing to serve if they know they won’t be stuck forever. And in the process, they build relationships and become part of the community.
The church is the ideal organism for meeting people’s need for community today. People feel it, they know they need it, but they don’t always know how to get it. Making it easy for people to get involved will minister to that need, build the church, and ultimately serve to advance the Kingdom of God. It’s a win-win-win all the way around.
Dave Frederick is a church planter and pastor, and publisher of Leaders Book Summaries and Conservative Book Summaries. He’s passionate about helping leaders reach their potential and seeing the church have the impact God intends it to have. Dave and his wife live in the Wheaton, IL and are enjoying adjusting to being empty-nesters.