Some critics claim genuine relationships and authentic fellowship are impossible to obtain in the world of social media. After being housebound for over four years, as I undergo and recover from multiple surgical procedures, I’ve learned those critics are wrong. Many of my most authentic, supportive, and loving relationships are with people I met through Facebook and in the comment sections of a few of my favorite blogs. I have yet to meet most of these genuine friends in person, though we pray for one another and encourage each other daily.
Denise J. Hughes, author of Word Writers Philippians, Ephesians, and James, is the founder of Deeper Waters Ministries and serves as Editorial Coordinator for the incourage.me blog. Through these two well-established blogs and her personal blog, Embracing Grace and Truth, Denise cultivates online communities while equipping and encouraging women to dive deeper into the Bible and draw closer to God and others.
Please help me welcome Denise as she celebrates the launch of her third Word Writers Bible study and shares the rewards and challenges of nurturing community in the blogosphere.
For years my favorite author has been C.S. Lewis, and I love that he didn’t work in isolation. He started a group of writers. They called themselves the Inklings. J.R.R. Tolkein and many other well-known writers were part of this group. Their group is a testimony to the fact that we can accomplish more when we’re working together, supporting each other’s ministry and calling.
Deeper Waters Ministry was birthed out of my desire to bring women together. To dive deeper into the Word. To learn from each other. To share our stories. The easiest way to describe Deeper Waters Ministry is that it’s women’s ministry for the global church.
The internet has provided the means for connecting with other members of the global body of Christ. The online home for Deeper Waters is the place we gather and study God’s Word together. We follow the same Bible reading plan and then come together online to discuss what we studied. Then we have an annual retreat, where we can meet, face to face, with our sisters in Christ.
What are the most important things that you do to nurture a genuine sense of community through Deeper Waters?
The most important thing is to be clear about our purpose for gathering. At Deeper Waters, our desire is to dive deeper into God’s Word, to encourage one another, and build one another up (1Thessalonians 5:11). Genuine friendships are birthed and fostered from there. Another key factor is to make sure that it’s not about me. It’s not about my voice, it’s about sharing many voices, from all different seasons of life. Because God speaks through His Word. And it’s always encouraging to hear how the Lord is working in a friend’s life.
Reader participation happens through connection. That can happen when a writer responds individually to a comment—with something more than just a “Thanks for sharing!” kind of comment. But I’ve found that reader participation heightens when a group of friends commit to read through a book of the Bible together. That creates accountability, and accountability creates participation.
What obstacles have you faced when building these online communities?
The main obstacle with building an online community is that resources are finite, which is a natural part of life. There’s only so much time in a day, only so many dollars in an account. We do what we can with what we have, and trust God with it all.
What has encouraged you toward persevering faith as you trust God through the process of community building, which requires much commitment and patience?
The most encouraging factors for me have been the women who have come alongside me. These women have made sacrifices to get on airplanes and fly across the country to be together once a year. That’s an incredibly humbling reality. The blessing of these genuine relationships can’t be matched. They’ve helped shape my own walk with the Lord, and I’m so grateful for them.
In what ways has God showed you that He’s using the blog communities to minister to your readers?
It’s the emails. Every time I receive another email from a reader, sharing how a devotion has touched her in some way, I am reminded why we do what we do. It’s to reach the hearts of women with the Good News of Jesus Christ.
How does having multiple writers contributing to your blogs expand your readership and deepen the richness of relationships?
I love inviting more writers to share their voices. It’s so encouraging to hear how God is moving in people’s lives all over the world. We’re accepting submissions after February 14, 2017 for a spring series on the Gospel of John. You can find the submission guidelines on the Deeper Waters website. (Please note this link will not be live until February 14, 2017.)
Genuine relationships happen the same way everywhere—both online and offline. It requires showing up. Regularly. It requires being open and honest about the things we’ve gone through in the past, or may be going through right now. It’s wise to use discretion, especially when sharing things online, but we can still cultivate a community of authenticity by being who we really are. Relationships are never built on a polished image; they’re built on truth.
Thanks for inspiring us to use technology to develop deeper relationships, Denise. What final word of encouragement would you like to share with writers as they invest in cultivating authentic community relationships in the blogosphere?
This might sound paradoxical, but the best advice I can give—for cultivating authentic relationships online—is not to feel pressured to follow all of the advice we find online. There’s this online pressure to have a presence in every sphere of social media, to be everywhere all the time. But only God is omnipresent. Authentic community happens best when we choose the one or two or three places we most enjoy interacting online, and invest ourselves there.
You can connect with Denise on Twitter, visit her Facebook Author Page, or join in the discussions that are leading to real relationship building moments through Deeper Waters, incourage.me, and Embracing Grace and Truth.
Denise will be dropping in throughout the day, so please encourage her and post your questions in the comment section below this post.
Xochitl (soh-cheel) E. Dixon encourages women and teens to embrace God’s grace and grow deeper in their personal relationships with Christ and others. Her devotions will be featured in Our Daily Bread, starting in 2017. Married to her best friend since 1994, she enjoys being a wife and mom, traveling, photography, and sharing God’s Word through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and her blog.