Social media is a part of everyday life. According to the Pew Research Internet Project, 74% of adults who are online report using social networking sites such as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, or Twitter. More interestingly, the data show that people who use Facebook get more support from their social ties and are half as likely to be socially isolated as the average American. The data also show that social networking sites such as Facebook revive dormant relationships.
In many ways, social networking sites simply copy what Christians have been doing since the beginning: creating networks (communities) where people can connect with one another. The Gospels were first communicated and lived in networks of small Christian communities. It was within that context that people discovered the risen Lord. The Church became the place where you were known, where your struggles were understood and supported, and, if you were not present, where you were missed.
Most people who have left the Church didn’t do so because of grave scandal or differences in ideology. Rather, they gradually drifted away and no one really noticed. There was no social network that kept them connected to the Body of Christ. Small, family-based groups present an opportunity to connect people to the Church, creating a space where Christ is encountered personally, intimately, and consistently.
Catechists can provide an important service by building a “social network” that helps people remain connected to the Church. Here are some tips for building a small, family-based group that will make a difference in people’s lives:
- Hospitality. Catechists can make sure that every individual and family who walks in the door is acknowledged and made to feel not only welcomed, but that their presence truly matters.
- Names. Make sure that everybody knows one another’s names. It may take a little bit of effort, but learning people’s names is a great way to make people feel welcome. There are a host of games and activities that can be a lot of fun to help families learn everyone’s names.
- Prayer. Many families may feel they have no one to share serious issues with. Families need a space where they can share their desires, struggles, and fears. Prayers of intercession are a perfect way for families to help one another. Consider inviting families to take a few moments to share their prayer needs with their small groups, and invite everyone to pray for these needs at least once in the coming week.
- MIAs. Hospitality requires that we reach out to those who are “missing in action.” Check in with families who do not show up and let them know they were missed. Perhaps they are facing a challenge and could use your support and encouragement. Find out what their prayer needs are for the week and tell them that your group will include them in their prayers.
As catechists, our role is not merely to teach, but to facilitate an encounter with Christ. Small family groups provide an excellent opportunity to introduce parents and children to the incarnate Christ who knows our hearts and trials, our joys and challenges and walks with us through it all.
As someone who briefly joined an evangelical church, I must say this issue is important. For all their errors and/or shortcomings, one thing is certain about many evangelical congregations: they notice when you drop in and they notice when you drop out! It’s very hard to be “invisible.”
Eric, this is so on target. I think this is especially true for adult faith formation: our approach needs to be relational!
I’ve had similar, ‘no-way-you’re-anonymous’ experiences in visiting evangelical communities. Definitely an idea we need to pick up on!
Joe, I’m glad you liked the article. Since we’ve begun adopting some of these approaches in our faith formation programs we’ve noticed a marked shift in the ‘atmosphere’ or mood of the groups. There is definitely a deeper sense of belonging and mutual care or concern. The biggest surprise for me was in how eager people were to start sharing their personal prayer needs with each other. I was certain that was going to be a big hurdle but whether it’s with our Bible studies or our family sacramental programs, it seems to be addressing a real need in people’s lives!