What does the Post-Covid church look like? Some changes are here to stay, such as having an online presence and a greater awareness of practices to keep one another healthy and safe. But after so much time not doing church in the “regular” way, what many of us say we missed the most is the relationships—a sense of community with the other people in the congregation. For the Post-Covid church to recover and grow, we need to have a greater focus on the relational aspect of church. We can re-energize the church by creating more space for people to develop deeper connections with each other.
Now is the time to take stock of how you are connecting as a congregation. Perhaps your church is a place where people are friendly, but don’t really know one another. Perhaps the congregation has exclusive groups that are hard to break into. Perhaps everyone is so busy there is no room for spending time with one another outside of Sunday services. Not all churches have these issues, but from our work over the years, we have heard from many people that church is a lonely place for them.
Creating Space for Deeper Connection
We are passionate about church being a warm and welcoming place for everyone and we believe that everyone should have a friend at church. Here are six ideas for how churches can help people make deeper connections.
Have fun events in safe venues that encourage people to connect.
Anything can be an occasion for a party! Ideally, plan get-togethers outside or in a large space. Simple events are best for keeping the focus on building relationships — a game night, Minecraft club, bean bag toss tournament, or ice cream social. At my (Joy’s) own congregation, I’ve helped organize an outdoor multi-cultural Christmas celebration and a Blessing of the Animals. This has been a stressful season and we all need more fun in our lives.
Create structured time for deeper conversations.
This can take place over a light meal after a worship service, before committee meetings, or as part of midweek programming. At any congregational meeting or group gathering, set aside 15-20 minutes dedicated to conversation, and provide a list of questions to help build connection. Examples of questions include:
– What was a highlight of your past week?
– Who is a teacher or mentor who has had an impact on you?
– What do you like best about the neighborhood where you live?
– What is your favorite song to sing in church, and why?
Encourage people to sit with someone they don’t know well; this person could be someone new or someone they have gone to church with for years but want to get to know in a deeper way.
Consider re-tooling your small group ministry.
Create groups that get people in the mix with people they don’t already know well, especially across generations. Groups can form around a specific short-term goal—read a book together, create a mural, or build benches for the church’s lawn. Groups can also meet to share in a favorite activity like running, cooking, crafting or woodworking. Times for sharing and praying for one another can become part of the group’s routine.
Create opportunities for people to connect around shared interests in service and justice efforts.
If several people in the congregation have a similar concern, like food insecurity or housing, encourage them to form a group to learn about the issue and engage in projects together. Bring families with children together for age-appropriate community service activities—going to the food bank together to help pack grocery boxes, for example, or interviewing residents of a senior housing facility to learn their life stories. Working together on a community garden can be a way for people of all ages to connect.
Be intentional about not only welcoming newcomers but helping them get connected.
This is a big topic, but here are a couple of ideas. Train a few church members to be on the lookout for newcomers– to engage with them, help them navigate things, and personally introduce them to others in the congregation. Be intentional about inviting new people to join small groups or ministry opportunities, and make it easy for them to plug in. Also, have regular times when newer and more established parishioners can have the chance to get to know one another.
Keep up a practice of checking in with one another.
During the pandemic, when people couldn’t see one another in person, many churches set up contact lists in order to stay in touch. But why wait for another crisis? Your church might invite people to be part of a “buddy” program, in which two to four households keep in touch and plan monthly informal get-togethers (online or in-person). This can also be a way of staying connected with people who infrequently attend church in person.
Our hope and prayer is that our churches would be known as places where everyone feels welcome and can connect in a meaningful way with others. May God bless you and your congregation in this time of ongoing challenges.
Joy Skjegstad (email@example.com) and Heidi Unruh (UnruhHeidi@gmail.com) are consultants and trainers, and the authors of Real Connections: Ministries to Strengthen Church and Community Relationships (Judson Press, 2021). For more info about how they team up to assist churches, see www.connectchurchandcommunity.com.