It’s no secret. People need people. They crave relationships. Sociologists, psychologists and theologians agree that they always have and always will. The need has become acute as hectic schedules, geographic mobility, consumerism and affluence pull us apart from others. Ironically, our increased communication options (email, cell phones, texting, etc.) decrease “face time.” The result: people who are hungry for relationships.
Pastor Mark Schulz of Trinity Lutheran, Lisle, reminded me of this reality at a recent regional workshop on small group ministry. Small groups are an excellent tool for connecting people to each other and to the One relationship that matters eternally.
Serving together can do the same. For those reluctant to give small groups a try, those who see them as too ‘touchy-feely,’ ministry activities can be an effective door into relationships with other people and their Lord. If we’re intentional.
Look at your church
If you’re a pastor, look at a list of ministries in your church. In what percentage of them do people serve alone? In strong teams? Is there a correlation between serving alone or together, and ministries that are thriving/declining?
If you lead a ministry, how much personal interaction is there among people in your ministry? How much caring and sharing? Are new relationships being formed?
If you’re a volunteer in a ministry, do you try to work alone or with others? When someone new joins your ministry group, do you make a point to get to know them, make them feel welcome, and help them?
Tasks-People and People-People
Some people are naturals at building relationships. The rest of us have to learn it.
When I began leading volunteer ministry 15 years ago, I wondered if I could do it. I knew God had given me organizational skills, but was very aware he had not given me natural people skills. I even have trouble remembering faces; I can spend 10 minutes in conversation with someone one day, and then not recognize them when they speak to me 3 weeks later. But, some years ago, I had an “aha” moment. I realized that once I had worked with a person for a while on some task, I “knew” them, was comfortable with them, and found it easier to remember them.
Doing tasks together is how task-oriented people build relationships. And we need relationships just as much as you people-oriented people do.
As your church works to strengthen relationships in the body of Christ, and especially as it reaches out to build relationships with those who don’t yet know of God’s love for them, make serving together an intentional tool in your toolbox.
Relationships with the unchurched
Some ministries are specifically designed to bring the Gospel to those who don’t know Jesus as their Lord. But how many others can also be bridges to the Gospel through relationship building? Does your church have ministries in which your volunteers come into contact with those outside the church walls? If so, volunteers can be encouraged to build relationships with these people, and taught natural ways to bring their faith into conversations in these relationships.
Unchurched people also volunteer. Does your church have ministries that would attract and involve community members as volunteers? Such ministries would meet needs that community members value, and take place off church property, such as adding playground equipment or landscaping to a neighborhood park, providing simple home repairs for seniors in the community, hosting a picnic for disabled people in the area. And you’d need to intentionally publicize the volunteering opportunity to the community. Inviting the community to work alongside your church members invites relationship building among those who otherwise would have no desire to visit your services.
If the vast majority of a church’s ministries serve only the people already a part of the church family, we perpetuate the image of the church as a closed society.
What you can do
The Building Relationships While Serving worksheet helps ministries rate themselves on relationship building. Use it for discussion, education and encouragement, not as a “test.” Encourage leaders to try some things, then check back in 3 to 6 months to see how it’s going. Only an ongoing commitment to improve relationship building will bear fruit.
The worksheet also includes suggestions for increasing relationship-building opportunities in ministry groups.
Whatever your position in your church, you can improve relationship-building. If you’re pastor or staff, discuss the topic frequently with colleagues, and focus on building relationships with those who head the ministries you oversee. If you’re a ministry leader, build relationships with other ministry leaders and with those in your ministry. If you’re a volunteer in a ministry, be a model of relationship building. Share your efforts below so we can encourage each other!
It takes time and effort to build relationships. It might decrease the amount of “work” that gets done. But people trump tasks any time. People are eternal, our tasks are not.
God is hungry for relationship. God exists in a trinitarian relationship. As part of creation, he knew that it was not good for us to live alone. Jesus experienced a variety of human relationships while he walked this earth. And he willing gave up his life to give us the gift of a never-ending relationship with him. In his body the Church, we carry out his will as we serve in relationship to each other.
The Building Relationships While Serving worksheet includes questions for reflection and discussion, especially for those who lead ministries; plus suggestions for increased relationship-building within ministries.