Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Looking for the Encouragers

I'm looking for inspiration and ideas today. Mostly from the ladies or anyone who has sat in a sea of strangers and felt utterly alone.

I attend a large church in a metropolitan community. You wave at your neighbors. You shake hands with your fellow Christian. That about sums up the fellowship for many of the people who attend my Sunday School class. We've known each other for years. We occasionally attend a Christmas party together. We say hello in the hallways. But when one of us disappears to worship at another church, we rarely notice until weeks and weeks have gone by and then it is too late to reach out.

I used to go to a smaller church in a smaller town. I knew my friends well. Since moving to Florida, I've struggled with finding consistent Christian friends. I ask everyone I know--is it my age? Is it that I no longer have a child at home? Is it the community?

And now I'm asking: What can I do about it? I know there are other women who feel as I do. Our church does have a women's group but the numbers are large and it is mostly about activities. I've not looking to do crafts.I can't afford to go shopping at the malls now. I can't even afford to go to a luncheon. But then if I could, would I really really connect with the other 50 or more ladies who also go?

I'm not sure. So here's where you come in. I want to reach out and create an opportunity for ladies in my church to talk and share and relate. Not as couples. Not through outings. Not with food. (You know how women get when they have to outprepare someone.)

I want these ladies to feel loved, remembered, cared about and then want to do the same for others who come into our midst.

I've got some ideas but I know out there--someone has done this before. Or someone is saying," I need that kind of relationship in my life but . . . " I want to hear the buts too.

I hope I'm not the only one!


Greg C said...

I really don't think it is the community or the lack of small children at home. Today everyone seems so busy with their own lives that they seldom take the time to slow down and make friends. The people with children are so busy taking them from one place to another trying to make up for the things that were lacking in their childhood that they have little time for anything else. Then one day you wake up and the kids are gone and there you are alone with only your spouse who if you are lucky is still your best friend. But we need someone else to talk with.

I am not sure what the answer is. I always thought that I could get a group together as kind of a garden club and that would be healthy. That would be a slow paced group with a common interest. I wish I had more answers for you.

Janna Qualman said...

I think it's a great idea to organize something, and I'd love to hear your ideas.

We have a small congregation (60 or so on a good day), so we're by default a pretty close church family. Occasionally the women get together for hosting baby showers, or to learn a new collective skill or something. Is that the kind of thing you mean to coordinate? Something that will give you all down-time together?

Ang said...

Just in my short 40 years on this Earth I've noticed things have changed drastically when it comes to friends and family. People seem to not have time for others as we did say 10-15 years ago. I am sure it is not the age or no children factor...I believe it is society today and the fact everyone hardly has a moment to take in some "me" time much less add a friend to the list. I share your longing for closeness again, especially in the places of worship. To me the churches around here are all about the numbers and not the true reason for being there on Sundays/Wednesdays. They lack a sense of community and family that churches had when I was growing up. I wished I knew the answer. I continue to seek the answers myself.

Wendy said...

I love the idea of organizing something. It may take work, it may take support and time, but I believe it is worth it if you are helping to connect women and have them feel less alone.

I once created and led a MOMS group in our church and felt it was worth it.

I have numerous fun ideas for groups. I believe people like to get together, they just like something to already be organized and they don't always want to spend money when they do it. I'll be in touch (email).
~ Wendy

Jenna said...

I hear you Terri! I have young kids but don't always connect with other moms. Our church has between 300 to 500 in the service I go to and I teach Sunday School and direct the preschool VBS but I don't feel connected to my church. But there are a few ladies I connect with on a deeper level and it doesn't have anything to do with age or having similar situations--one woman I love is almost 50 with no kids...I'm 35 with 2 kids.

What I find is I connect most with people who are reaching for something more and deeper in life like I am. I've toyed with the idea of creating a "Dream" group--you could call it an "Encouragement" group.

With a "Dream" group you would create a group that meets and talks, encourages and discusses way to achieve whatever dream you have at the time. For some it might just be an organized house. For others it might be going back to school or writing a book ;). The cool thing is you can read and discuss books on following your dreams, or achieving success, or reaching goals. When you meet, each person can discuss their next step and the group can be encourages through prayer and help and just being a friend.

You could start by creating a splinter group from the larger womens group. Try to do it at a time mothers with young children and participate--that's usually my only obstacle :(--like a Saturday morning over coffee or create it as a Sunday School where mom's would have an option to put their kids in their own Sunday School class and join you.

Not sure if this is along the lines of what you're thinking???

Sassy Granny ... said...

The church I attend is roughly 3,000 people deep. I remember when it was but 100!

That said, we have implemented a large, systemic Home Team (aka small group, cells) system that allows us to connect with others in a more intimate way. We gather weekly (according to age, or study material, or location, or topic) all over the West Valley of Phoenix, for the express purpose of fellowship and growing to be like Christ.

Hubby and I have belonged to 6 or 7 different groups now - some for a period as short as three months; others for several years. I can't tell you how deep are the bonds that form!


Lin said...

lots of good ideas- my church has a women's group called Relief Society that meets every sunday while the men meet in Priesthood and the children in Primary. The RS has enrichment groups that meet weekly or monthly organized by any one in the group who wants to do something and then it is advertised at our church. ie meeting to learn to write on 2nd and 4th Mondays from 10 am-noon at Lin's home, etc. We have groups that go to lunch, to the temple, sew, write, hike, etc. The list is without limits.

Being in a smaller group also helps you get to know people better. Then we have couple activities-firesides, parties and singles groups. It's the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or more commonly known as the Mormons. We feel like family and each unit is limited to about 200 people. If the group gets larger we split them into two groups. Our ministry is all volunteers so we can grow easily.

Kristen Painter said...

This is a hard question for me to answer because I don't need a lot of friends. I like being by myself. Which isn't to say I don't have friends, just that I'm not worried about cultivating new ones.

Warren Baldwin said...

Would you believe men have a similar problem? Many are so busy they don't really have friends. I've had a few men, a couple very successful and the envy of all who know them, who confess loneliness and lack of connectedness.

I think short, personal visits work wonders. If you are driving by someone's house and they are in the yard, stop and say "hey." Talk about their nice yard, the kids, the high school championship game - anything to break the ice. Travel to out-of-town high school games together, in time grab lunch. Small steps, but they are real steps that can lead to a genuine connectedness. I think this approach works for men to men and women to women.


Linda said...

Oh my, I know exactly what you mean. Since we moved to Washington two years ago I have longed to find even one close friend. We go to a large church as well. I know people to say hello on Sundays, or even on Wednesdays when we meet for prayer, but there's no one I could call up to have coffee with.

LisaShaw said...

Today's lifestyle SADLY is not allowing for that upclose fellowship like I had in my life for so many years. People are on the go all the time.

Anyway, I used to have a prayer group/fellowship at my home. You don't have to involve food if you don't want to. Just an hour or hour and a half twice per month to come together and you can alternate homes. You can laugh, talk and pray for each other.

Maybe start by talking to a few ladies that you know already at your church and start it from there.

With nice weather you can meet at the part for an hour on a Sat morning this way more ladies can attend.

There are countless things you can do but it starts with you reaching out since it's upon your heart.

Love you.

LisaShaw said...

And hey, we're not that far away from each other (an hour??) maybe we can get together. Would love that. We can meet half way in the middle.

Jody Hedlund said...

Hospitality has become a thing of the past. It's a very real Biblical principle, but is very often overlooked as a something that we should engage in with fellow believers. Whenever we have needed to gain friends, I've always reached out to other families through hospitality, inviting them over even if it's just for dessert.

elaine @ peace for the journey said...

It depends on the age group you're looking for. I'm drawn to my "ancients." When we moved here 5 years ago, I quickly connected to a couple of elderly women (not home bound women, but let's say in the 75+ range). I asked them if they'd like to do lunch one day on a Tuesday. It stuck, and now five years down the road, we do lunch every Tuesday. The group ranges anywhere from 6 of us to 15, depending on the aches and pains that come with any day! This is just one idea.

Another idea is to start a small group Bible study in your home. Identify a few women that seem interested in this type of thing, get a six/seven week study and start meeting together in a covenant type of setting.

Just some thoughts that have worked for me.


Robin @ Be Still and Know said...

Hey there girl! I have to tell you, you have hit on one of my top priorities.

I have been in an accountability group for almost 6 (maybe 7) years now.

It is a very small group, there are three other in the group as well. We meet every Thursday for about 2 hours. I think I have some handouts on how to structure your time and what some of the guideline are if you are interested.

Basically you can structure your time any way you like, but we meet each week and we discuss out lives and out struggles and we make a honest effort to hold each other accountable to maintaining truth in our lives and applying the scriptures and learning from our mistakes.

The level of trust we have built up over the years has given us a real bond of friendship and we have been there for each other through some very difficult times.

My Thursday evenings are a never miss thing for me unless it is simple not possible.

We meet each week and we always close our meetings by joining hands and praying each and every week.

For me it is one of the most important things i do to help me stay centered on what is truly important in my life and that is to stay Christ focused.

My accountability partners help me with that, they are who i call when things get rough during the day and our time each week is our safe zone when we can just lay it on the table and get either positive feed back or constructive criticism.

We rarely bring any kind of food to the meeting and we meet at our church in the parlor so it's free, no muss no fuss, in and out once a week... it works for me and it is my never miss re-charge moment.

I truly think it is one of the most important things I do in my week.

That's my two cents worth.


Jill Kemerer said...

Terrific idea Terri! I've moved so many times, I know exactly what you mean. It's really hard breaking into an established group and the huge groups just leave me floundering.

My solution? I try things I've always wanted to, but maybe never had the time, money or courage to before. I've joined adult jazz classes, writer's groups, library book clubs. I also delivered meals-on-wheels and met a close friend thirty years my senior.

Pray--God will answer!

Angie Ledbetter said...

How about a note in the church bulletin or just inviting by word of mouth, "Empty Nesters Club. Do you want to meet others like yourself to exchange ideas and company? Meet at such and such park on blank date/time. Bring a brown bag and join me!" Maybe something like that? I'll be praying for you to find some "like-mindeds." :)

Jessica said...

I go to a big church too. Hubby and I used to go to the young marrieds group, which is how I met most of my friends. That group no longer exists, but I still am able to connect with other women when I serve in the nursery.
Do you like babies? I'd suggest signing up for the nursery. It's a great way to not only meet new ladies but also to have fun with some kiddos. :-)

T. Anne said...

My church is pretty huge. I'm so busy though with the kids and there activities I don't seem to miss much.

jinksy said...

How about organising a book club, a debating society, a local history group? Notices could go in local paper, perhaps, or postcards in shop windows - even little flyers around yuor neighbourhood? Why limit yourself to only friends from your church, when there is a whole world of other people out there?

Nancy said...

My idea would be to center around your writing interest. We had a small group of writers in my home,though it could be at church. We did critiques and gave encouragement. Another thing you might try is pick a new book from an author you love and do a book discussion group. Out of all those people, thee must be many writers. You can also get a few people tegether for a small prayer group. I have been a part of all these and friendship just flow out of them. Hope you find your answers.

Andrea said...

I ended up with my core group by asking people to pray with me. Only those serious about real commitments and relationships join and stay. Over the years, I have found these to be my true friends and support.

"Those who pray together...stay together." Author unknown.

Jeanette Levellie said...

Terri: We went to a church like that for awhile, and finally left. The programs were great, but connections were scarce.

I have gone through many dry, friendless times in my life, and it's not fun. And, I'm such a friendly person! LOL!

Can you host a prayer group in your home? Just informal, no food or even drinks. Just pray. That brings people closer than anything.
Just a thought...

Carmen Gamble said...

Some really great ideas here!

I feel your heart in your words!I've found that it's hard to meld with any group of people who are already established. I asked God what was wrong with me. Why didn't anyone want to be my friend? But it wasn't that. They were just established and didn't need new friends.

Eventually I led a Secret Prayer Pals group and led or participated in various other groups and volunteer positions. But even that didn't give me the close friendships I craved. All I had was a lot of christian acquaintances for a very long time.

Now I have one really close friend, and maybe a handful of other good friends (and lots of acquaintances.) My focus is mostly on God, my family, and my giftings--and that is where most of my efforts go. I think we all just want to be happy and know that we're living life know? Other than that, I have no other answer for you. I truly hope that's been helpful.

Pat said...

Terri, that's a hard one. I'm kind of like Kristen in that I don't need a group of friends. It might be because my two sisters are my very bestest friends, and we all leave close to each other, and you can't get any closer than that. But I know it's different with you and I feel every girl needs a sister. Maybe a 'Sister Group' isn't a bad idea. "Sisters and Friends" or just "Sistas!" It tells right away what the group is about. If a person is a sister, or needs a sister, or wants to be a sister...then come on down! Idk...whatdya think? : )

BeckyJoie at Leaders in Learning said...

Terri, I just think it is the largeness of the church and the class. We had the same feelings in that class and we love the people in it. We are slightly more connected in the class we attend now.

I do know that a large portion of members in the class you are in is in the choir, band or other ministries so they come to class late and that makes it hard to connect. I was one of them and felt so outside of the class. Now I am not in the choir but on the other end and feel somewhat the same. I don't want to spend loads of money on things I think are frivolous-for me. I've gone to two of the ladies activities just to force myself to find a connection. I did end up having fun at Plaster Cottage even though I thought I would not. I hardly interacted with some of the ladies, though. Imagine, me the big mouth. Not talking much. They were friendly but I didn't fit. Maybe it is because I'm more into intellectual and philosophical things than most women in our area. (NY'er coming out? The Bible studies seemed like a good place too. I loved the content but there was not time to connect. I wonder how we can fix these things. That might mean that more than we have felt that way.

I still haven't figured out everything but I know that I like fellowshiping with you and though we are at different stages of life, we can reach out to each other in those times of feeling outside the circle.
Again, I mean no disrespect toward the people in our church who are loving, dedicated and friendly. It's just I'm used to the small church atmosphere where everyone was like family and kept in touch all the time. Maybe that is the problem for me. I hope you find answers. I'd hate to see you not feeling welcome here. I'd sure miss you if you left.

Eileen Astels Watson said...

I have to agree with most that speak of society ways today. That seems to be it. Time is limited. But why with all the conveniences? The comedian's letter I posted earlier this week has made me really ponder that.

Our church has about 140 members, I believe, and we are working at trying to form relationships too. For a start, a women's retreat was held that I think is really moving us closer together even in the aftermath.

If finances are an issue for an all out retreat, what about a women's slumber night at your church. Those who have a need for cultivating relationships would come, those who don't wouldn't. A speaker on friendhships, relationships, etc. could lead a session followed by a movie night with discussion. If you haven't already seen Fireproof as a Church family, that might be one to spark talk and sharing of cares and concerns to build lasting ties with one another.

I'll pray an idea comes to fulfill this need in your church.