A study done by The Roots of Loneliness Project reports that, as of 2023, 52% of Americans report chronic feelings of loneliness and 47% confess that the relationships they do have often feel meaningless.
You probably didn’t need those statistics to know that despite our modern-day options for global connectivity, people are lonely. You’ve probably witnessed the loneliness of those around you. You may even be experiencing feelings of loneliness yourself.
Even before the isolation caused by the pandemic, people struggled to form strong, meaningful relationships with others – and this trend has certainly impacted your congregation.
Your Sunday morning experiences might be powerful, but great teaching and dynamic worship are rarely what keeps people showing up.
More often than not, it is a true sense of community that will consistently bring people through the doors. A sense of belonging. People want to experience God, yes. But that is enhanced by experiencing it alongside trusted friends.
We see the importance of community modeled over and over again in the Bible.
Moses has Aaron, Joshua, Miriam, Jethro, and many others.
David had his mighty men.
Jesus surrounded himself with his disciples and friends such as Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.
And the book of Acts describes the early church regularly meeting together to break bread and fellowship. They weren’t just showing up, listening to a sermon, and then going their separate ways. It might be a cliché term, but they were actually “doing life together.”
Here are three ways to encourage a community that lasts in your church:
1. Model it
A huge part of being a shepherd is guiding your flock in the right direction. When it comes to community, encourage yourself, your staff, and your volunteers to take the first step. Make it a priority for you and your team to demonstrate what it looks like to be in a community within the church.
With permission, reference your small group from the stage (first off, are you in one?). Share how a conversation with a close friend led to a revelation from the Lord. Invite people on stage to share about the reality and the nuances of building meaningful relationships in the church from the ground up.
Address the struggles. Celebrate the beautiful parts.
Talk about your friendships and the ways they edify, support, and challenge you. Encourage your staff to do the same and then make space for them to do so, whether it’s on stage, in a video, or in an All Staff or small group training.
2. Make it easy
Relationships can be built on a lot of things—shared interests and hobbies, similar lifestyles or points of view, or everyday struggles. You may already be doing this, but try offering small groups based on more than just a Bible study topic. Offer groups based on age or stage of life. Then expand further into groups based on hobbies or interests. There could be a group that meets to play disc golf, one that meets to go see movies or one that simply loves to connect over a really good brunch. Connection groups are a fantastic way for your church to find their people.
A shared hobby can be a bridge to deeper conversations, the ones that build those meaningful relationships that so many people are missing.
If someone has an interest that isn’t represented yet, offer to train them and help them start their own group. Which leads us to the next way…
3. Train it
Speaking of training, you might already train your small group leaders. But how much of that training revolves around fostering connection?
Building relationships doesn’t come naturally to everyone (even to some of your staff!)
It is a skill set and one that many people need to practice. But there are people who are naturally gifted at connection. You could probably think of someone right now! Ask those people to be a part of your small group training, offering guidance in connection and in navigating things like how to include someone who is naturally reserved and quiet. Have a team in place ready to offer guidance and support when relationship issues inevitably arise in and out of small groups.
Emily Towns, Staff Writer, Paper Giants