My hand hovered over the send button on my phone. What if she laughs? What if she says no? I read through the text once again before shoving my thumb down. I had finally done it. I'd been thinking about how to connect more within our local church past generic small talk. I finally got up the nerve to ask a woman my age if she’d be interested in praying with me over the phone. It’s been almost three years since I nervously sent that text, and God has used her friendship and our bi-monthly prayer calls as a source of immense encouragement in my life.
Most of us long for deeper connections to the people in our local congregation, but we struggle to make it happen. Social media makes it easy to maintain old friendships and peer into the lives of new acquaintances, but we’re often left unsure how to forge closer ties with the people right next to us in the pew.
As most of our culture turns to screens for entertainment and relationship, physical connections with the local body of Christ are increasingly vital. But we often get held up on the logistics. We don’t know what fellowship should look like in the church outside of worshipping together on Sunday mornings.
What Does Fellowship Look Like?
Many of us falsely believe that God’s idea of fellowship consists only of weekly meetings over a five-dollar cup of coffee and the next chapter of a Bible study. This image of discipleship has been so burned into our brains that it often makes it hard to stray into any other possibilities. While this specific structure can bear good fruit, it remains a very narrow view of the many available ways to fellowship in the body of Christ.
Scripture continuously speaks about the importance of the fellowship of the saints, yet its examples are far more varied than a two-hour study each week. Acts recounts how the early church devoted themselves to fellowship (Acts 2:42). Paul details how we should admonish and teach each other in psalms and spiritual songs with thankfulness in our hearts (Col. 3:16). James reminds us to confess our sins to each other, while the author of Hebrews calls us to encourage and stir each other on towards the good work God has given (James 5:16; Heb. 10:24–25). Verses continue throughout the New Testament, reminding believers of our need to encourage one another. Yet each of these calls remains silent on the specific how and when.
This is great news, as every one of us lives within a different set of limitations. Instead of narrow guidelines, God gives us overarching principles that leave room for us to accomplish them within our own unique circumstances:
- The single mom who can’t find childcare may not be able to join the weekly Bible study, but she might find intense encouragement through the texts she exchanges with an older woman in her church each week.
- The physician who works long hours may not be able to commit to a consistent schedule, but he still can be refreshed in the body of Christ by staying a little later after service in order to make time for some further connections.
- The homeschooling mom, like me, who lives farther from church may find a phone call with prayer every other week much more doable than weeknight meetups.
None of these examples are deficient because they didn’t check a particular box. Participating in the gathered worship of the body of Christ every Lord’s day is essential. Beyond that, we can benefit from the many options for connections that lay available. A church-led Bible study or small group may be a wonderful way to connect, but those unable to make those commitments need not feel left without options. The Lord can use each of our small actions—be it a text, email, or a conversation after church—to faithfully build his body and stir us all on to godliness.
Just Reach Out
Once we see that discipleship and fellowship need not look a certain way, we can start to peel back the fear that keeps us from reaching out. Though it still may feel scary, I can testify that the fruit from these small steps will overshadow the small moment on our nerves.
How can you find creative ways to connect in your own church? Perhaps you can get up the gumption to ask an older saint if they’d like to text prayer requests from time to time. Maybe you could ask a friend if she wants to memorize the same passage together and recite it on Sunday mornings. The next time you grab a new book, you could text a fellow church member and see if they want to read along; no book clubs or weekly requirements, but rather just two siblings, learning together at the same time.
Opportunities to encourage the saints in your church abound. Don’t let a false set of guidelines keep you from pursuing fellowship with your brothers and sisters. The Lord has given us a host of ways to admonish, teach, and encourage each other, no matter what our circumstances may be. Let’s get creative, take that first step, and watch the Lord bear the sweet fruit in our life.