SBC Life Articles

Online Connections, Offline Relationships

Everyone craves connections. This truth has remained constant, even as technology and social media have transformed the way people relate to each other.

Members of Living Stone Community Church have embraced this as they minister to their community in Mesa, Arizona. According to Ali Clayton, wife of church planter Whitney Clayton, Facebook is an important tool in getting to know their neighbors and pointing them to Christ.

“We mainly use social media to get a pulse on our community,” said Clayton. “People will put what they care about, what they’re going through, how they’re hurting, on Facebook. So we’ve used it to connect personally to people.”

Sometimes, Facebook helps enhance existing relationships and opens up new opportunities for ministry.

Clayton’s husband, Whitney, met a man in their area and made it a point to add him as a friend on Facebook. Later, he learned through Facebook that the man was going through a series of traumatic events—a death in the family, a car accident—all at the same time. The Claytons were able to take the family a meal, and as Whitney helped the man process his grief, he was able to share the Gospel on three different occasions.

“I don’t know that he would have known about all that was going on in that guy’s life, had he not been friends with him on Facebook,” Clayton said.

And sometimes, Facebook can help start new relationships. Church members have used neighborhood pages and interest-based clubs on Facebook, such as fitness groups or book clubs, to meet new people in their community.

Clayton joined a local mom’s group through Facebook when her family first moved to the area about three years ago. She built friendships with the women during their weekly gatherings while their children played together. She became especially close to one of the women in the group.

One day, the woman told Clayton that her father had died, and her son was asking questions about heaven that she wasn’t prepared to answer. Knowing that Clayton was a Christian, she asked if she could attend church with her. Now, Clayton shared, the woman is a follower of Christ and remains active in their church. 

Of course, using Facebook is not always a positive experience, as anyone who has used it can affirm. It has the potential to bring out some of the worst aspects of a person’s character, like self-promotion, narcissism, deception, and jealousy.

Rather than using it as a platform for self-promotion or broadcasting your own feelings and opinions, Clayton said, “I think that as believers on mission for God, Facebook can be used best when we have a posture of listening, and hearing from the lost people in our lives.”

Also, don’t just listen and be a “passive observer,” she said—if someone is struggling, reach out and offer Christ’s love to the person in need.

The members of Living Stone have oriented their ministry around that posture of identifying and meeting needs. For example, Clayton said, the church members are always ready to deliver meals; whenever they hear about a family with a new baby, a death in the family, or another life event, they are willing to step in and serve.

The Claytons make it a priority to open their home in order to build community with their neighbors and care for them. She and her husband host a weekly dinner that they regularly invite neighbors to attend. They also host a community Bible study that is open to anyone, which began after a suggestion on their neighborhood’s Facebook group.

Clayton said that maintaining a strong walk with the Lord is essential when ministering through hospitality.

“I have four young kids—the oldest is seven—so even keeping our house picked up and thinking about feeding our own family can be overwhelming at times,” she said.

“To think of inviting other people into that on a regular basis can be draining if I’m not connected to the Lord and really having Him fill me, so I can continue to pour out.”

Usually when a church is looking to establish a Facebook presence, or build up their existing presence, the advice centers around a few best practices: Maintain a page with up-to-date information. Post content frequently that informs, inspires, and encourages members in their walk with Christ. Promote major church events. These are all good strategies, and Living Stone does them too. But Facebook has even more to offer to individuals who are interested in connecting more deeply with the people around them. 

A good way to start making those connections, Clayton said, is to see if your neighborhood has a Facebook group or page already established. If it does, join. If it doesn’t, start one. But don’t let your involvement stop there; keep in contact with the people in your community and if someone is in need, try to meet that need.

“I think we are all craving meaningful, deep relationships,” she said. “Taking [Facebook connections] a step further and meeting those people in person, and becoming friends with your neighbors, is the next step to bringing them into the family of God.”