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Ways to connect with your neighbors

Neighbors want to connect

People are hungry for relationships. The Rev. Dirk Elliott says, “Maybe now more than any time in our past, we need to find ways to connect and build relationships with people.” Here’s how. 

DIRK ELLIOTT
Director for Congregational Vibrancy and Leadership Development

One word I have heard a lot recently is relationships. So many people are missing the relationships they had before the pandemic. People are missing people. I heard one person recently say, “It is just so good to be able to see people for real, and not just on the Brady Bunch squares.” Or, as another person put it, “It is tough to commit to a square on a screen.” Others have been more hesitant about in-person activities, especially with the Delta Variant increasing around the state.

Though the past year and a half has tried our patience and challenged our churches, technology has provided us with points of connection and more. Online worship has helped many churches reach beyond the walls of their buildings, sometimes beyond their geographic communities. People who have not attended an in-person worship service for years have started worshiping online. 

Whether online or in-person, maybe now more than any time in our past, we need to find ways to connect and build relationships with people. Building relationships is necessary for connecting with new people, and people are hungry for that now. 

Six ways to increase your effectiveness in connecting with your neighbors:

  1. “The world is my parish.”  John Wesley did not say, “My church is my parish.” When a church takes on the mindset that they are to be in ministry to the entire community, it opens the doors to build relationships with more people. 
  2. Get to know your community. One way to study and find out the kinds of people around you is to use the demographic tool, MissionInsite. The Michigan Conference provides this tool to every church at no cost. Register for MissionInsite and explore the demographic information.
  3. The pastor must lead the way. For a church to begin actively reaching out and connecting with the community, the pastor can teach by example. The pastor can lead by joining or supporting organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club, or 4-H, attending school board meetings, participating in or supporting local sports or other community activities.
  4. Don’t just invite people to church. That sounds counter-intuitive, but building relationships means going beyond invitations. Invite someone to lunch, a walking or running group, a book club, or a craft group. We need to get to know people and be there for them if they need us. As I read on Facebook recently, “We – not our building – are the church.”

Building relationships isn’t limited to in-person activities. For example, invite friends who are uncomfortable in public settings to online games, book clubs, or classes with you.

  1. Hosting “us-them” events. It is good to have some “us” events to build relationships and morale in the church. However, it is also healthy to host “them” events for those outside the church. The church should have a good balance of inward and outward focus.
  2. Host Bridge events. Bridge events are activities that reach out to the unchurched people of our communities. They are not geared for “us” for church people but those not a part of the church. These events are great ways to meet and welcome people. There is no preaching, prayers, or pressure at bridge events – simply a time to get to know our neighbors and build relationships.

For example, one church doing Bridge events to reach families markets them as “Looking for a fun time with your family.” They get permission to host events in a community park. They rent inflatables for the kids and provide free hot dogs to get the parents involved while the kids play. A prize drawing gets names and contact information. It is vital to also connect guests with the next bridge event with information and an invitation. A great resource is, Get Their Name: Grow Your Church by Building New Relationships.

So, what about people not comfortable yet with in-person gatherings? Host online bridge events such as cooking and craft classes, Financial Peace classes, or grief, marriage, or parenting webinars with intentional space for people to meet and connect each week online.

Remember, the object is to create relationships. As you connect with people and build new relationships, they may see that your church is someplace they could belong.