We live in the most connected time in human history.
Statistics back this up. Approximately 2.9 billion people use Facebook, the largest social media site globally, and spend about 145 minutes per day on social media. In the United States, the average user scrolls through social media for about 2 hours and 3 minutes per day.
That is time spent looking at photos, commenting on posts, and, yes, playing Wordle. We see a glimpse of someone’s life simply by scrolling through our news feeds.
Social media only provides a window into a person’s world. It is the preferred window that the individual wants you to experience. We do not typically post about our family arguments, the stresses at our jobs, or even our feelings of discontentment with life. We want people to see our preferred image or, perhaps, what we wish our world looked like to others.
While we live in a very connected time, we might live in one of the most disconnected times as well. The pandemic has taken us away from familiar comforts and locations, but it has also removed us from our conversation partners and connections. We have experienced enough family gatherings on FaceTime or Zoom to feel the pain of not being together.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has enhanced the struggles among many to find their place and connection in the world. These struggles were before the pandemic kept some from being able to experience life as they desired. There are vast groups of people who are often ignored and forgotten about in a society built for the powerful and privileged. Within the context of the religious community, when the church reaches out to those who face various struggles, it is often in the lines of a token conversation or mission project. The outreach does not include any real sense of building a bridge that fosters relationships and connections.
Who might these groups be?
One such group is those with disabilities or various needs. Our world prioritizes those who can come across as physically, developmentally, or emotionally normal. This value towards normal is a consequence of the eugenics movement.
The eugenics movement was dominant in the late 18th and 19th centuries. It argued that genetics could eradicate disabilities and poverty. This philosophy created a sense that some were better than others. It created a perspective that some people were born normal and others were not. Nazi Germany used this horrific philosophy during the Holocaust. This philosophy also undergirds, even today, our treatment of anyone with a disability or mental health challenge.
What is the consequence of this in the church? Instead of making room for people with disabilities or various challenges, we try to keep our distance from them. Instead of seeing the person as a child of God, we see them as someone who has someone wrong with them, and we must keep away from them.
I see this in how society views my son’s autism. His circle of connection, and our own, decreased when we shared his diagnosis. Instead of the church and followers of Christ learning to love him for who he is and supporting us, we have often felt excluded and kept at a distance. It is painful both as a father and a pastor.
Another group often disconnected from society is younger families. Society, especially older generations, does not fully appreciate the challenges and complexities of raising children today. Most families need both parents to work full time to provide food, housing, and transportation. That might not have been the case 40 to 60 years ago, but it is the reality for families today.
When we only see the world through our prism of what we experienced, we dismiss the realities of others and the challenges they face. Only seeing the world through our perspective prevents us from considering others who might not have the same experience. It is most noticeable in our scheduling of worship times. Because it is our experience, we assume that 11 am on Sunday. Simply sticking with someone because it is tradition can keep a community from considering what might be best for the people we seek to connect to our communities. If we want to connect with younger families, we must adapt and make changes.
Other groups are disconnected. Each group has its own story for us to hear on why they feel distant from the community of faith. We need to listen to those stories.
Building connections with the disconnected has to start with understanding that our perspectives and realities are not all the same. The church has to be willing to listen and hear these stories and ask what can we do to build connections?
The church cannot seek to build connections with the disconnected without recognizing it must adapt because of those conversations. If the church expects to only accept people without adapting to make room for all people, it will fail in its mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
The greatest joy of the church is its value of fellowship and connection with other believers. Fellowship cannot just be for those within the church already or for those who might give the church power and influence. It must be shared with and experienced by those disconnected from society who need to feel the love of community and the acceptance of the church as people of God and worth.