Monday, July 13

How to build community in an isolated society

Take a few moments to read this extremely helpful advice from one of our team – Jamie Baker (instagram: jamiedbaker) :

These last few days and weeks have been somewhat of a rollercoaster. Many of you likely feel how I do: baffled by the measures we’ve had to go to in order to contain the coronavirus pandemic; concerned by how many different people I have contact with every day who could leave me infected; confident that, being young, healthy, and faith-filled, this will not end badly; and slightly overwhelmed by toilet roll-related memes.

Different countries appear to be at varying stages of lock-down, but it seems almost the entire church globally has been forced to branch out online. For some, this is mandated by government restrictions, for others, it’s sheer wisdom. But it can leave us all questioning: how can we maintain our sense of church community during this time? As gathering together as one is not possible, how can we continue to keep the all-inclusive community that is a hallmark of the church? Let me share a few tips with you…

Livestream groups

Currently, we’re unable to come together in gatherings of any size. Here in Amsterdam, we’re encouraging all our midweek connect groups to still gather via digital channels. Midweek groups are the primary way in which we build close relationships and deeper friendships within the larger community context of church. By gathering in this way, we can still ensure our church members are not doing life alone, feeling isolated from society and meaningful relationships, but are still immersed in community.

But how can we bring this into a larger scale? How can we maintain a sense of the larger context of the entire church community? One option we’re utilising is Instagram Live videos, before and after the livestream. Using your church’s social media accounts as the central hub, you can add the connect group hosts into the live video one by one, beaming in to different people across your city to engage with them as they prepare to watch the church service. Think of EuroVision, as the hosts reach out to the representatives from all the different countries as the points come in, and a gathering of screaming fans in the background. It’s just EuroVision, but with faith. Using this IG-Live feature, you can give a snapshot of the church community engaging with each other in a short, 10-minute video.

Share content and encourage interaction

As people are forced into social distancing, isolation, and working from home, one thing is for sure: your people will be on social media more than ever. This is the time to be pumping out relevant content for your church to engage with and to help build their faith during a time where fear runs rampant. There are a number of different avenues you can go down with this: a daily scripture reading plan, to keep the whole church moving in the same direction; sermon quotes, emphasising specific points from your Sunday messages that some may have missed; recapping previous preaching series to really drive that point home; suggested lists of books to read or worship playlists to check out, since they have more time to soak up a variety of content; start a daily podcast, speaking faith directly into the situation as it develops. The options are there, the choice is yours.

Again, feeding content only goes so far—you want them to tell you if it tastes good, too. In your daily reading plans or sermon quotes, ask what it is that speaks to them the most, what they feel God is speaking to them. In your IGTV devotionals, ask people what they’re reading at the moment. If you’re suggesting books or worship music, ask people what they thought of it, or if they have further suggestions. Encourage your ministry leaders and connect group hosts to be first to respond to this and to create an interactive atmosphere. If there’s a conversation to be had online, people often want to join in, but they rarely want to start the conversation themselves. It’s so important to make this engaging and interactive, because the opposite of this is even deeper isolation and a disintegration of community. Let’s keep on engaging. There are various options out there for this point that you could pursue. But whatever you do, don’t neglect to maintain a strong digital presence in people’s everyday lives. They need it more than ever.

Empower people to help those in need

Amongst the pictures of empty toilet paper shelves and the memes of what it’s like to be quarantined, there are a number of stories out there of people who are genuinely struggling. Maybe it’s elderly people who are scared to get involved in the supermarket scrums, maybe it’s your friends or neighbours who have pre-existing health problems and are scared they’ll pick up the virus; maybe it’s local independent businesses whose income has been completely cut off during the lock-down. As the church, we are called to help those in need. In Matthew 25, Jesus tells of the Final Judgment:

“Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. … Truly, I say to you, as you did it too one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”

Matthew 25:35-36, 40.

The volunteers in your teams are now sat twiddling their thumbs with no hands to shake, no flyers to set out on seats, no coffee and biscuits to serve, and no Sunday School to run. But their servant hearts remain. This is the perfect opportunity to be the church in action. Encourage your volunteers to go to their neighbours or friends who might be struggling, to offer help in shopping for groceries or cooking meals, to look after or even teach their children while they have to go to work, to buy giftcards from local independent businesses to use at a later date. And let’s not simply restrict this to the church community, but go to the people we share a housing estate with, people who don’t know God yet. It’s a strange season in which it’s no longer weird or intrusive to offer help out of the blue. This is your opportunity to be Jesus to someone who needs it.

But, once again, it doesn’t stop there. We live in a show-and-tell society, and there’s a sheep in every one of us. On the back of urging your people to support the needy, encourage them to share stories and photos of this support in action. Take this content to your social media page and share it (with their consent, of course), and watch as the rest of the church gets on board with stepping out to help the people around them. We probably won’t get an easier opportunity to preach the gospel through our actions for decades to come, so let’s step out and build community within the church by reaching out to the community around us.

Ask for prayer requests, and respond

People are handling this crisis differently. Some are cool and collected, not worried about contracting the virus or about the effect this has on work and family life, but embracing it and enjoying their mini holiday. On the other end of the spectrum, some are freaking out about all sorts of things: loss of income, job instability, the kids missing school, cancelled holidays, the football leagues being put on hold… oh, and the virus itself. Most of these are justifiable concerns, and a number of your people will need prayer. Again, let’s be the church in action and reach out to those who are scared and whose lives are on thin ice during this crisis. Ask if they need prayer. Ask people you would expect to be worried—freelancers; single, working parents; elderly people will health conditions—and ask on your social media channels and in your email newsletter if people have prayer requests. Reach out to people, let them know they’re cared for.

The most important part, of course, is following up, and making sure people know that you’re praying for them. Send them a voice message of you praying for them, or just shoot them a quick text to let them know you’re thinking about them and praying for them. Our prayers are powerful, and so is the sense of trust that this simple act builds. When we are once again reunited in our church buildings, people will not forget the moments they felt cared for as you prayed for them.

This is by no means a list of must-do’s, and it is by no means exhaustive. Pick and choose from the above depending on what works for your church and what you have the means to execute. And, of course, if you have other ideas of how to continue building community, do just that. Even better, comment below and share with others what your ideas are. This is a strange time for the church globally, but I really believe God is excited for how this is shaking up His church, globally. He’s forcing us to rethink, to re-strategise, to reset priorities, and to return to Him as the foundation of it all. This is going to bring a shift in how we do church and how to reach our communities for Jesus. Let’s share ideas and techniques together, be open-handed in what we’re doing as leaders, and step into this new era of church together.