While many of us have social interaction online, nothing can replace real-life, in-person friendship. Here’s why (and how) to cultivate real-life community. We are not meant to survive on our own!
My entire life used to revolve around blogging–for a few years, at least. Although I had a small handful of real-life friends, most of my “social” time was spent online.
It was lonely.
While I am incredibly grateful for online friendships–and even consider some of those to be among my dearest friends–there is simply no substitute for in-the-flesh community. Real-life community is not just important; I believe in-person friendships are vital to our wellbeing!
We are not meant to survive on our own. Periscope, Facebook, and Instagram have been wonderful catalysts for finding online community and online relationships. But sometimes we use that as an excuse (at least I did!) to hinder our real-life relationships.
The isolation of having all my relationships online was really getting to me. I’m an extrovert–I thrive with relationships, and I thrive around people! But even if you’re more introverted, I believe it’s important to have close, in-person friendships with people you trust.
Why do you need real-life community?
If you have a thriving online community, why do you need real-life community? There are 3 reasons why I think you need to pray and seek out community.
1. Real-life community can encourage you in ways that online community cannot.
You may think you have all the encouragement you need from your online community. But what if you are in the depths of despair (to borrow a phrase from Anne of Green Gables!) and your online people just can’t be there for you in the way that you need?
When you need a shoulder to cry on or you need a meal, your online friends can’t just say they’ll come right over. Real-life community can have that deeper encouragement that you can’t get with online community.
2. Real-life community can bring you into accountability.
You only see one facet of me online. I need people in my real-life community that, if they see me being prideful or fearful or see me struggling with my husband, can call me out in a loving, non-judgmental way.
Very few online friends can do that. Some can. I have had some online friends for 4 or 5 years, and we text each other almost every day. They can.
But it is much harder to have that accountability in an online friendship than it is with a real-life friendship.
3. Real-life community can mourn with you when you mourn and be joyful with you when you are joyful.
Yes, sometimes online community can do that, too. But just like with encouragement and accountability, it’s almost always deeper and more authentic with the real-life community.
Since getting involved in our current church, it’s like my husband and I have come alive. Soon after we began attending, we joined a small group Bible study–and we still get together with that group every week.
They know our mess and we know theirs. They love us and we love them. If you don’t have that where you are, pray for God to send it to you.
The truth is, sometimes you feel pressured to be upbeat all the time with your online community. But nobody is upbeat all the time, and you need people in your life with whom you can be vulnerable.
So how can you cultivate real-life community when the whole world is online?
1. Find a church (or switch churches).
We were in one church for 5 years, but it wasn’t close to our immediate community. It was a 15 minute drive for us, but it pulled from several communities and many of the attendees lived 45 minutes away.
Even though we were going to church every week, we were not in real-life, every day community with that group of believers.
We began praying for real-life friendships in our own community, and God answered our prayers and brought us to a new church much closer to home.
Our church has regular weekly get-togethers, and it’s been a game-changer. It’s allowed us to better encourage each other, mourn with each other, be joyful with each other, and hold each other accountable.
While I don’t advocate church hopping, if you are not growing where you currently are, then it may be that God is leading you to find another church.
2. Look up The Mommies Network.
The Mommies Network is in many major cities in the U.S. and you can join for free. They have lots of forums and play groups.
You can find forums related to natural living, homeschooling, working moms, stay-at-home moms, etc. This network is intended to help moms find local, like-minded friends online, with a goal of growing real-life community and friendships.
3. Look for a local MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) group.
MOPS is another organization with groups in cities across the U.S. and internationally. MOPS stands for Mothers of Preschoolers, but it includes kids from birth through kindergarten.
If you can’t find a MOPS group, try looking for another moms’ group in your area. When our youngest child was born I was in a MOPS group and I found some friends that way.
4. Seek to make your online relationships into real-life relationships.
There are ways you can make your online friends real-life friends, too!
I have online relationships with local people and with other bloggers. I started a Facebook group for local, crunchy, Christian mommies. We talk online in a Facebook group, but we also have to be intentional about getting together in real life.
If you have online friends that live far away, see if you can visit each other. Your families can get together, or you can visit each other individually. The first time is going to feel a little scary, but it’s worth it! Some of my best friends started out as online acquaintances, but our friendships have blossomed because we’ve been really intentional about visiting each other.
Real life friendships take work, but we will always need them!