Is your social media feed full of introvert memes like mine is?
Jokes and memes aside, for Christians, be they introverts or not (and I put myself firmly into the introvert category), the latest COVID-19 mitigation strategies have meant that our regular modes of fellowship aren’t currently available to us. Bible studies can’t meet, Churches are closed, and for many, even 1-to-1 meetings aren’t possible due to exposure risks – no matter how strictly we may adhere to social-distancing rules.
In God’s kindness, we do have access to alternative modes of meeting. Zoom conferences are prevalent, live-streamed or pre-recorded Church services are already up and running, and I’ve never sent so many texts or made so many social media posts in one week before (and that’s saying something, considering my prolific Facebook use!).
Online fellowship is our new normal for the foreseeable future. In this article, I want to share with you two seasons in my life when I have personally benefited from my “Church Mum’s Facebook Group” and the lessons I have learned in both seasons. I also want to share some reflections on how God is using online fellowship to build his Church in this current season.
Season 1: Baby Boom
There must have been something in the water about 40 weeks before February 2015, because I know of a group of six friends who all gave birth within a one month period – and I was one of them.
One blessing that came from this was the idea of an online network where mums from our church could share what they needed prayer for. I can still remember where I was when the idea came to me, sitting in a rocking chair, cuddling a restless newborn in one arm and scrolling mindlessly through my Facebook feed with another (did I mention my prolific Facebook use?)
And so the “Church mum’s Facebook Group” was formed.
It was so simple to set up, just make a Facebook group, make sure you enable the “secret” setting so the contents are sealed off from those who aren’t members, write a simple mission statement (we took ours from 1Thess 5:11: “Encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing”) and bob’s your uncle: instant online fellowship – or so I thought.
I assumed that mums would naturally use the group as a place to share prayer points, encouraging verses, and helpful blog articles from around the web. In its early stages, however, the most frequent posts to the group were “buy, swap and sell” items. Now, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with reusing, repairing and recycling, but there are countless other groups that fullfil this purpose – our group was the only one on the whole of Facebook specifically created for the mums who attended our church.
And so I took the lead to shape the content of the group. The way I have done that has changed over the years. For a while I had different themes for days of the week: Monday was for personal prayer points, Wednesday was prayers for our world and our link-missionaries, Friday was prayers for our church.
In December last year I tried something new. I posted some verse art from the Gospel of Luke (one chapter from December 1 to December 24). This January, I decided we’d work through the Psalms and Proverbs every day this year, sharing a verse from Psalm 1 on January 1, Psalm 2 on January 2 and so on (enough for two runs through if we time it right).
Some days only one or two women like or comment. Other days there’s up to 10 or a dozen of the group’s 100+ strong membership actively engaging, although many more see the posts as they scroll through their feeds. But, fueled by my grandfather’s Scottish blood, I stubbornly post in season and out of season, trusting how God is at work, even if I have no idea who is reading it and if they find it helpful or not. Quite often, people tell me they do which is enough to spur me on to keep going.
My regularity in posting (which I sometimes wonder if people find annoying) also means that others feel more comfortable to post their own encouragements and questions. The group still has its occasional “buy/swap/sell” posts (which is fine!), but those posts are in the minority.
Lesson learned: Online fellowship groups need a few key members to keep them on track, and to take the scary (and sometimes discouraging) step of posting regular Kingdom-focused content, and to doggedly continue doing so even if some days it feels like no one notices, cares, or is benefiting from it.
Season 2: Living Overseas
From September 2015 – January 2017, my family and I lived overseas. I was going to be teaching English at a University and so I expected that everyone in our city would have the same grasp of the English language that my students did. Boy was I in for a shock! When we moved into our apartment in the “Foreign Guest House”, the friendly staff at the front desk didn’t speak a word of English – and I could only say hello in their language (I soon had to learn how to say goodbye to them as I passed them every day on my way to work – after a few days of my silent nodding it was starting to get awkward!).
In God’s kindness we did find a place to worship, and some other English speakers to fellowship with. But my heart remained back home with my Church family in Australia, and I missed them all so much.
At the same time while we were away, our Church back home was hurting. It was a season of trial for all of them, and for some dear close friends in particular. I wanted to support my friends, to show my love for them and it’s really hard to do that when you can’t see them face to face (sound familiar?).
While I was overseas, that same “Church Mums’ Facebook Group” was my lifeline, my connection to my church. It was also the place where I could keep up with what was happening in my friends’ lives and learn the best way I could pray for them.
Lesson learned: Online fellowship groups will self-select participants who are needing the support the most in that season. If people need connection, they will seek it out, as long as they know where they can go to in the first place.
Season 3: COVID-19 and Social Isolation
Now to this present moment. This week, the “Church Mums’ Facebook Group” underwent its biggest change since we started it 5 years ago – it is now officially the “Church Women’s Facebook Group”. I woke up on Tuesday morning and I could no longer, in good conscience, seal-off the fellowship, friendship and support of our group from other women in my Church just because they hadn’t had children. And so now, the group is open to all women in our Church from ages 18-88 and beyond (although I think our current oldest members are in their 60s).
Who knows how God will use the group in this season? Nevertheless, I’m so thankful that where our physical congregations have been taken away, online congregations can continue.
Lesson learned: Cast as wide a net as you practicably can for membership in online fellowship groups in this season so that you can support as many people as possible. But make sure you utilise the “rules” feature to keep civility and godliness in content posted. Also, make sure your admins are being careful to delete content that isn’t God-honouring, neighbor-loving, and spiritually nourishing.
I hope this little journey through the above three seasons of online fellowship can help you as you face the challenges of how to encourage one another at this difficult time.