It isn’t hard to find an article or study that proves the benefits found in living in community with others. Healthy friendships have been found to have a positive impact on a person’s physical health, mental clarity, positive decision making, emotional health, self-esteem and even lengthened lifespan! So why do so many of us find it so hard to make and keep healthy connections with others? What makes finding community so difficult?
Our lives are busy, busy, busy. We go from morning to night, often with scheduled activities until our head hits the pillow. The American Way seems very bent on productivity and accomplishment. We even start our children on this path early with play dates and Pee Wee Sports. Unfortunately, although our activity level involves many social interactions it does not often leave the space needed for developing intimate relationships.
The challenge is to move from social interaction to friendship through intentional communication, time spent together and transparency. We have to make time for this and many times actually seek it out. A great way to do this is by plugging into opportunities in our own church. Unfortunately many leaders, especially church leaders, have a difficult time moving beyond their leadership role to intimate friendships. This can be a huge blind spot and stumbling block for many staff and lay leaders.
Living in a digital world leaves us with many opportunities for interactions with other people in real-time but through a screen. We miss the eye contact and facial expressions and physical aspect of communication. While online relationships can certainly be meaningful and enrich our lives, we miss out when we limit ourselves to this. Friendship with people you do life with each day, often takes more intentionality and feels risky, but brings great rewards.
Most churches offer opportunities to make these connections through organized meetings such as small groups, home groups or Sunday School. This is a great way to meet other people that attend your church through an informal gathering. Most small groups have a two-fold purpose of fellowship and spiritual growth. They come in all shapes and sizes so usually you can choose a group that looks like it will be the best fit for you and your interests.
Often these groups will be based on common interests or a season in life, for example single adults or young parents. Many churches base their small groups on a certain Bible study or topical study. Another way to pursue connections through your church is through serving opportunities. Churches are always eager to help you get plugged in through serving. It is amazing the deep relationships that can develop through serving on a ministry team together. The opportunities to serve in church are varied but usually abundant. They can range from preparing meals, greeting guests, helping with computer input, parking cars, caring for children, praying with others, folding bulletins, counting money, cleaning classrooms, financial counseling and many more.
There are certainly also online small groups. These can be found at times through your local church but there are also many ministries that offer online groups that have organized meeting times and daily opportunities for communication. There are also many online book studies, Bible studies, fb groups and forums that can offer relationships formed through these online communities. These can enrich your life and introduce you to new people.
Yet something is missing when we replace a physically present friend with a computer screen. We can certainly do life with our online friend, but wouldn’t it take that friendship to the next level if he or she sat across the table from us and shared a meal? We have the opportunity to invest in that kind of relationship if we choose to take a risk and be intentional.
I’m realizing that I want 2017 to be a year rich in relationship. I want to invest in people I do life with and not trade an opportunity to be physically present with a friend during a difficult time, for a screen date with someone. While both can be “real” friendships, it is too easy to avoid what can feel risky when looking someone in the eye. Something about the physical presence of a friend, can bring great comfort and joy, and take a friendship to a new level of healthy intimacy.
I highly value my online community of friends and have a strong support system across the country through different online groups. However, I want to have a stronger support system right here in my own town. I want to be able to stop by someone’s house when I’m having a bad day or invite a friend over for dinner on their birthday. I want to celebrate big and small victories over pizza and call a friend to go for a walk on a pretty day. Those relationships take time on my part and intentional investment. They don’t always simply happen by accident.
So, 2017 is going to be different for me. I am scheduling a time each week to meet with a good friend that I know will hold me accountable in difficult areas of my life, and also meet monthly with a group of my peers that I respect.
Here are a few other great ways to pursue relationships with others:
1) Asking an older individual you admire and respect to mentor you. Perhaps meeting once or twice a month to talk about life and ask them their perspective on issues you are walking through could be a beautiful learning experience.
2) Joining a book club or start a supper club with people you know but have always wanted to get to know better.
3) Inviting several friends to start exercising together and hold each other accountable as you seek to set and meet healthy lifestyle goals.
So what risk will you take in 2017? What choice will you make this year to intentionally seek community?