This post was written by Mercedes Hayes, a member of the INCM Blog team.
It feels like it was years ago, but it wasn’t. I walked into a room that was filled with my church leaders. We sat eight feet apart. We didn’t hug and didn’t shake hands as we began discussing the changes necessary for how we do ministry. Even in a room full of people, I could feel the loneliness sink deep into my heart. The loss of hugs, fist bumps, and general congeniality was just the beginning of what was to come.
The initial conversation began with the need to live stream sermons, how we could use Facebook Live, and generally how to exchange face-to-face ministry with some online version. Video this and video that. My heart grew heavy and sad. I knew instantly the Lord had provided a particular hardship in my past specifically to prepare me for this moment, so that I would know the true enemy of what lay ahead.
I suddenly felt I had to interrupt all the conversation about live-streaming and video-sharing and technical mumbo-jumbo and re-orient our focus. “We need to make our main focus connection, and helping our people battle loneliness,” I found myself saying out loud. “While live streaming and social media presence may be necessary, the most urgent thing for us to combat is the depth of loneliness people are about to experience. I know from experience that it will happen a lot quicker than you can fathom.”
My Past Experience
You see, I have lived through loneliness. I was once quarantined by the Center for Disease Control. Another time, I spent 3 months on bedrest, living in my bedroom, dependent on others to text me pictures of my kids trick-or-treating. I missed holidays and social events, while the world still turned outside my bedroom window. My dear, dear friends did my laundry, watched my children, brought casseroles, and took my kids to church. My physical needs were met by these amazing, lovely friends. At the same time, God gave me the extra special gift of Marge. Marge would stop by my house after each of her chemo treatments–just to sit with me. She said that was all she could do (being sick), but the gift of her time and presence was so special and precious. It was the gift my soul truly needed the most. I cried every time I was with her. What my lonely heart longed for was a friend to just be with me. Someone to talk to, someone who knew that my needs weren’t merely physical.
God knew from the beginning of time that companionship was essential to how He made us. “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him’ (Genesis 2:18).” There it is. Smack dab in the second chapter of the Bible, God makes a profound statement about our need for companionship. And remember–this is before sin entered the picture. Even in the midst of perfect fellowship, with God and man, we still need one another. It isn’t good for us to be alone. Not during bed rest. Not during a quarantine. Not ever.
God knew Adam needed Eve from the beginning–in fact, it was part of His perfect creative design! He knew how essential connection would be for those He had wonderfully created. Time and time again throughout the Bible, we see examples of deep, life-giving friendship: David and Johnathan, Ruth and Naomi, Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego. Even our Savior himself had an “inner circle” of close friends who He deeply loved and relied on.
Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of a friend springs from their heartfelt advice.” Proverbs 27:9
We were created and formed by God to yearn for, and deeply need companionship. Yet, during this time of quarantine, in order to love one another, we must be physically apart. So how do we find ways for that connection we so desperately need?
Ideas for Connection
The beauty of being connection-minded during this global pandemic is that you do not need a large budget, you do not need a special tech-savvy crew to edit your videos and make them fancy; all you need is Jesus and people. Below are a few simple ideas of ways you can foster connection.
Create a connection ministry: Find volunteers, then divvy up the names of your church family. These volunteers will call, text, or message each family/individual once a week. Rotate the list through the volunteers as often as suits your church.
Create a snail mail chain for your ministry: Find a team of volunteers who will divide up the kids in your ministry, and who will be responsible to mail letters to each family. You could also choose to write separate letters in one envelope to save on postage. You can even ask your congregation to donate stamps or cards.
Text-a-Volunteer Day and Text-a-Parent Day: Assign specific days in your week to go through your list of staff/volunteers and parents. Ask how they are doing, if they have any needs, and how you can pray for them during the week.
Zoom Sunday School Class Chats: We are hosting Zoom Bible classes (by age) on Wednesday nights. We also host one weekly “lunch bunch” for each age group. The kids get to interact with their classmates and volunteers/teachers and eat and chat about their week. My own children eagerly look forward to this time to chat and socialize with their friends. Additionally, every Friday afternoon, we have a volunteer who will spend 30 minutes on Zoom “playing” with the kids. Play is an excellent way for children to process difficulty. You can build legos together, read books, make a blanket fort, do hopscotch, play Candy Land–the sky’s the limit!
Parent Zoom Times: I have a volunteer teaching our parents how to give ourselves grace, how to trust in God, and about our need for friendship during this time. Having a separate time for our parents to interact on Zoom has been such a breath of fresh air. Our minister has also set up adult game times; they just finished The Newlywed Game. Everyone had an absolute blast! I have also participated in online book club meetings, birthday party chats, and simple naptime chats.
Don’t Forget Your Volunteers! Just because you’re not working from the church building doesn’t mean you’re doing your ministry alone now! People have an innate need to be involved in serving. Allowing someone to serve is a gift to that person, and essential to their mental and spiritual health. It also honors and stewards their spiritual gifts. I made a goal of giving each of my volunteers a task during this social distancing time, so as to not make them feel isolated from their Christian family. Opportunities to serve during social distancing range from editing future curriculum to making yoga or toddler videos, writing notes, joining a ministry of encouraging others, coordinating Easter basket distributions, teaching a Zoom class, making masks, sending “happy mail” to nursing homes, making family mailing labels, and much more.
Empower Your Volunteers: Allow your volunteers (with guidance) to run with an area of ministry. Let them know you value their input and their call to serve. You see their gifts of the Holy Spirit and how it can advance God’s Kingdom. This is an excellent opportunity for those who tend to hover and micro-manage, to learn how to empower and equip your volunteers to step into their gifts.
Private Facebook Group for Parents: We created a separate private group for parents–they can share jokes about crisis schooling, prayer requests, and suggestions on how to work through this trauma. It’s a fun and helpful area to be raw and real about the joys and difficulties of parenting through a pandemic.
Marco Polo Groups: Everyone dreads long group text chats. Marco Polo (or similar apps like GroupMe) allow people of all ages to make short video messages with each other and watch and respond at their own leisure. Everyone’s schedules are so unique that this has been a fun change. We do a weekly Marco Polo challenge with the kids. Then we have random group chats as adults. Many of my own friends check on me through Marco Polo, and it’s been a super-easy way for me to stay connected.
Weekly Greeting Videos: Our minister and his wife email out a minute-long YouTube video every Monday. They also have multiple families give a 15-second greeting, and express how much they miss being with their church family in person. It has been so fun seeing everyone’s faces and having the chance to make a video with my own family.
Though I’ve just given you a long list of creative and fun ways to connect during this time, I still find myself writing with a sad, heavy heart. I am deeply lonely, and I miss being with my friends.
At the same time, I am joyful, excited, and hopeful. I still have times to anticipate connecting with those outside my home, time to worship our Heavenly Father together, and moments of comforting prayer. When we get to hug neck-to-neck, what a grand celebration that will be!
Paul wrote many of his letters from prison and expressed this same mingled sadness and joy. It is comforting knowing this feeling is not unique. It reminds me that God has purpose, even in our suffering.
“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing (1 Thessalonians 5:11).”
Mercedes Hayes is a fun, adventurous, and determined force in the children’s ministry world.
Mercedes as a well-seasoned children’s minister loves opportunities to help other leaders grow
into their strengths to improve their ministry and ability to share The Good News. Equipping
others to use their gifts is one of her absolute favorite things! Of course, along with coffee, dill
pickle chips, planning vacations, her five kids, and her ever so patient husband who is always
willing to follow her on random adventures.