Friends are super important. We don’t discern anything in a vacuum, and the Bible is full of God speaking through the wise counsel of family and friends help arrive at decisions. The single life can be lonely as we wait for our spouses. For those of us who have found our vocations, we need support. Tim Gordon often says, “you’re the average of the five people closest to you.” Make sure those are the kind of people you want to be like- God-centered, helpful, balanced, physically attractive, (just kidding on that last one.)
I’ve moved a lot. A LOT. 7 homes growing up (military brat!) 2 national tours where I slept in a different hotel room each night, and 7 homes since I left college. I’ve been the new kid my whole life, and I’ve finally gotten past the pity party of “I need more friends! I don’t have a real community!” to “I’m just gonna make it happen with God's help.” My goal is to knock down all your excuses with ridiculously simple, fun, meaningful ways to connect with people in your area. I’m sharing my best strategies (and some mistakes I made along the way) that I hope will save you lots of time and effort in finding your posse.
1. Surrender everything to God. Don't skip this step! Be specific in your prayer. In this article I shared how praying the prayer of surrender brought me a whole new Catholic friend group the EXACT SAME day I prayed it. I told God, “You made me. You know what I need. I know you don’t want me to be alone.”
2. Be prepared to build community if you can’t find one. If you don’t feel like you’ve been given natural leadership skills, then start by just being a really good friend. Never flake out on a meet-up unless you have a real excuse. Then talk to people you know who are community leaders and ask them for help getting started. In this episode of Called and Caffeinated I discuss building community with Melanie Smith. Feel free to steal her ideas!
3. Have people over for dinner. Growing up, my family never had people over unless the house was sparkling. What that meant was that the whole day leading up to the dinner party was spent cleaning and we WEREN’T ALLOWED TO WALK ON THE CARPET OR TOUCH ANYTHING AAAHH GET OFF THE CARPET! Unless you really are Martha Stewart, no one’s house is perfect. You may even intimidate people. It’s humbling having people over when my stove top is still a mess or the sink is full, but I just say a prayer if someone knocks on the door before I can get to it all. No one has ever left my house yelling, “there are crumbs on your table! How dare you invite me over!” Nor do you need a gourmet meal. Pizza is fine! Everyone likes pizza and ice cream! The important thing is that you get quality time with friends.
4. Have parties. Since I started having kids, it seems parties for whole families are rare. We started a tradition of hosting an epiphany party in January. No one has much going on, so it's been well-attended historically. We have a small 3-bedroom house with only one bathroom, but we managed to cram 50 people in and had an absolute blast! I baked in advance and froze food, and relied heavily on store-bought chips and dip and easy crowd-pleasers like a snowman-shaped cheese ball. It wasn’t Pinterest-perfect, but old friends met new friends and new friendships began which was a beautiful thing to see. We also made a point of inviting our friends with big families because, coming from a family of 8 myself, I remember the scarcity of people willing to take on our family circus.
5. Know your crowd and make it easy for them. I’ve thrown myself unnecessary pity parties when a group of new friends turned down my idea to drive an hour, spend $50 on a concert ticket and then go out for dinner together. Going from no bible study to a weekly bible study with lots of reading prep probably is too much. Make it easy for your people to come. Take into account when people work, how much money people realistically would like to spend, and how far they’re willing to drive. Usually, simplest is best until you form a strong core group who will be willing to invest more time and money eventually on special events. If you’re seeking other young families, have a lunchtime picnic in a local park followed by a scavenger hunt. It’s low-cost, fun for everyone, and doesn’t require a ton of advance preparation.
6. Form a women's or men's small group. Nervous about leading? Then just host and ask a friend to be the leader (pro tip: the Holy Spirit is your guy for advising you who to ask.) Or, talk to people who have done it and copy their format. There are tons of bible study guides already written. Once again, check out Melanie's episode of C&C for some guidance. Pick a week night, bake or buy something to eat, and provide a space. That’s it, really! You could pray a rosary or the liturgy of the hours together, discuss prayer intentions, and then spend the rest of the time eating and talking. For my women’s group we alternate social time with spiritual discussion. For the social time, we have had fun activities like a Christmas gift exchange ($5 or less,) a wine and painting night (I supplied everything with leftover art supplies and a simple still life at our kitchen table.) Consistency is key- send an email invite every month and a reminder email the week before, so it stays fresh in their minds. Numbers don't matter; two or three counts!
7. Form a sports league. This one is totally not my arena (there’s a reason I was a musical theater major…) but I have seen it done very well in other places. This one works great for guys. Ultimate frisbee or touch football at a park require zero cost, and you can build in an optional bonding activity at the end too- a beer or lunch. You could even make an intramural parish team and use their gym. Get your priest involved if he wants! As a non-sports player, I always appreciate knowing what I’m getting into. I went to an ultimate frisbee group once, a tight-knight male-dominated group who had been playing together for a long time. No one talked. No one passed to me. It was the most intense experience of my life trying to keep up with the game. I felt a little miffed that the organizer didn’t prep me as to what I was about to experience, but I respected that that was their group chemistry and way of bonding (I hear from an inside source (my husband) that’s what the male species does instead of talking.) On the flip side, I imagine sports fanatics would probably feel miffed if they turned up to a game with members who mostly wanted to gab.
8. Do acts of service for people. There’s no app for human kindness. When I had my babies, my women's groups brought me home cooked meals. It was the absolute BEST thing. (You can form a meal train at mealtrain.com in just 15 min.) Making meals for families with new babies is one of my favorite acts of service because I know firsthand how special it is to receive a hot meal at your door at a time when you’re way too tired to think about cooking. I usually just make a double portion of whatever I'm making for my family, and give half away. Maybe if you have a really busy priest at your parish he’d appreciate a meal delivered to his door too. And don’t forget the elderly or people going through illness. I remember every single meal brought to us and the kind smiles on everyone’s faces. One single male friend who doesn’t cook brought us sushi and beer from Wegmans which was an absolute treat!
The ways in which you can build community are endless. These are just ideas to get you started. Comment below: what is your favorite way to build community? What is your greatest challenge (and how has this post helped you think outside the box to overcome it?) Jesus went almost everywhere with his disciples. I seriously doubt he wants you to be alone. Whatever you do, surrender your desires to God and watch amazing things unfold! Don’t wait til conditions are perfect. Just start.
Sending you all my love and prayers for forming a vibrant community.