F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, “The loneliest moment in someone’s life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart, and all they can do is stare blankly.” For many people in the United States and across the world, the coronavirus pandemic has prompted such feelings.
With unprecedented imposed precautions, businesses are shut or have limited services, schools are closed and church sanctuaries are empty. Christians, along with the rest of the population, are being quarantined in their homes. Social distancing and isolation practices are beginning to take a toll.
How can church leaders help combat loneliness among their flocks, families and even themselves?
Communication among leaders and congregants is more important than ever. Thankfully, today’s technology allows us to communicate across the distance. Unlike previous generations who had to wait a long time for written messages, most of us are able to instantly connect with our loved ones by phone and online. Whether you’re tech-savvy or not, there are many ways to combat loneliness.
Use available web-based tools
You may already use social media to market your church. You probably have a website and are familiar with email services. Now, more than ever, these channels of communication are important. In fact, it’s time to up your game.
Congregations all over the world have discovered that worship doesn’t stop just because members can’t be in the same room. Whether you choose to preach from the pulpit in an empty building or from the couch in your living room, everyone can worship wherever they are. Of course, you can use Facebook Live for more than just legally streaming your Sunday message. Social media offers lots of ways to connect beyond Sunday. Encourage your pastors, youth leaders and Sunday school teachers to post songs (again, legally), prayers and messages.
Not all messages need to be videotaped, and not all need to be serious. Spark online conversation by asking questions, “What funny thing happened today?” “How have you found encouragement this week?” Create or share funny memes, songs and skits. Post photos or inspirational verses on Instagram. Tweet scriptures. Check out a new podcast, recommend it to your congregation or even consider starting your own.
With virtual teams and virtual meeting platforms, such as Google Hangouts, Zoom and many others, small groups can continue to gather for staff meetings, Bible studies and fellowship.
Remember that not everyone uses social media. You may want to send out occasional emails as well as a church e-newsletter.
Privacy is critically important, especially as you share personal news. Consider establishing private Facebook groups for Sunday school classes and small groups to discuss prayer concerns and needs.
If you aren’t familiar with a certain technology, now’s the time to learn. Options abound, and the need is great. Be open to experimenting with new platforms.
Don’t forget old school
Despite popular opinion, not everyone is into technology. Some members may not have home computers. According to Pew Research in 2019, 10% of Americans don’t access the internet. Thankfully, there are still ways to connect with the unplugged.
With so many newly homebound, it’s a great time to reach people through their mailbox. Consider sending a printed church newsletter. Ask other staff members, small group leaders and Sunday school teachers to help you send personal postcards or letters to each of your congregants. Make sure that every member is addressed at least once. Send care packages with books, toiletries and treats to those who are especially isolated. Crossword puzzles, coloring books and even craft supplies might be a great encouragement to someone who is feeling especially alone. (Consider purchasing from local companies if possible to show your continued support of the community.)
Use the phone
Unfortunately, the most vulnerable are also the ones who are most at risk from this virus. In many places, hospital visits, bedside vigils, funeral visitations and visits to the elderly living in nursing homes aren’t recommended or allowed. This can be especially difficult for Christians who are used to celebrating births and mourning deaths with one another.
While you may not be able to visit in person, still set aside a day or time for phone visits. Most Americans (96%) own and use cellphones. Texts are good. Calls are much better. Facetime and Skype are great. For those who live alone or who are in a nursing home, care facility or hospital, seeing a friend is uplifting. If you don’t have a private number for a resident, call the facility directly. An attendant may be able to give you a room number to call. Staff may even be willing to help you Facetime using their own cellphones or tablets if the patient doesn’t have one.
The rules and regulations that surround this pandemic vary depending on where you live. Use little creativity to discover many ways to connect with others.
- Visit shut-ins by standing on the other side of a closed window while talking on the phone.
- Host a drive-by celebration for birthdays, showers, anniversaries and other special occasions. Set aside a specific date and time. Ask the one being celebrated to stand on their porch/lawn. Have friends, family and loved ones drive by, shouting, singing and waving out their windows and honking their horns.
- Stand on your lawn or front porch and have a conversation with your next-door neighbor, even if you have to yell.
- Pick a pen pal. Commit to writing letters to one another on a regular basis.
- Text pictures of everyday life to people you normally see more often. “This is what I’m doing. What are you up to now?”
- Play Secret Santa even though it’s not December. Pick up a few extra items on your grocery run or choose a special treasure from home. Wrap it and drop it on a friend’s porch or send it to them by mail.
- Connect with parents, and visit with the children in your life via Facetime or Skype. Use Facebook Live to read them a story.
- Order takeout for a friend. Pay for it over the phone, and give their delivery address.
Make the best of the time you have at home
- These current cultural restrictions have definitely changed the schedules of most people’s lives. You probably have more time on your hands these days. Life may be moving at a slightly slower speed. Don’t let boredom become an agent of despair in you as a leader or in your members.
- Be intentional about connecting with the people who love you as well as people who need you.
- Spend quality time in communion with Christ, the lover of your soul. Invest every day in prayer and Bible study.
- Reconnect with yourself, pursuing hobbies and interests that you normally wouldn’t.
- Sit on your porch or in your lawn chair and enjoy a sunrise or sunset.
- Enjoy the slower-paced days and nights with those under your own roof. Play board games. Work puzzles. Read to one another. Watch a TV show or movie together.
- Learn something new. Take or create an online class.
Remember, personal connections are not only important for others. They are also vital for a healthy you. While a virus may limit where you can go and what you can do, it cannot limit your affection for others or their affections for you. Social distancing may physically isolate you, but technology and creativity can bridge the gap. The best cure for loneliness is genuine companionship. Find a way to reach out safely today.
Tricia K. Brown is a writer, editor, keynote speaker and Bible teacher. In addition to being a wife and mother of four sons, she is the sole proprietor of The Girls Get Together, where she and her team provide women's event programs for churches and other organizations.