CHAT with the Authors ~ "Real Connections"

Chat with the Authors: 5 Questions / 5 Minutes (or less)

“In the eye of the pandemic storm, Joy Skjegstad and Heidi Unruh found themselves asking the questions church members wanted to ask and congregational leaders knew they needed to ask:

"What should the church look like when the crisis has subsided?” and “How do we get there?”

Writing out of their personal and practitioner experiences, Joy and Heidi provide a crash course in rethinking core issues and reshaping structures that will empower congregations to respond to a post-pandemic reality. The focus on “connections” makes this a text for reimagining disciple-making, a tool for reshaping evangelism training, and a tactical guide for loving our communities through Christ.

The table of contents reads like a syllabus for a course on community impact, with each chapter offering practical instructions and strategic case studies.

This book is a strong declaration of hope, and a reminder that while the Church has not closed, it will not be open for business as usual.”

Phil Miglioratti, The #ReimagineFORUM

Chat With the Authors Joy Skjegstad and Heidi Unruh of

"Real Connections: Ministries to Strengthen Church and Community Relations"

with Phil Miglioratti @ The Reimagine.Network @ Pray.Network

#1.  How did the pandemic impact your perspective on the role of the church to develop "real connections "between people, both within the congregation and in the community?

JOY ~  For me, I saw the role of the church as being more significant than ever before. In a time of national crisis, the church is called to be at the forefront—as a place of comfort, connection, helping people meet real needs. It’s hard to do those things if we don’t really know each other. Really being the church during this time requires us to be well-connected to each other as church members but also forming deep connections with our neighbors—so we can see and meet their needs and also partner well.

HEIDI ~. I see an opportunity to reassess what “normal” means and to experiment with new ways of being the church. We can re-focus on defining church as a community of people in relationship with God and one another. We can put connections at the center. Just as we maintain church buildings, we might recognize that congregational connections also need regular tending with skill and care. We can’t just talk about having fellowship within the body of Christ, or loving our neighbors beyond the church, without taking the time and intentionality to ACTUALLY GET TO KNOW ONE ANOTHER. Enforced distance has reinforced the preciousness of sharing the best and worst of life together.


#2 ~ As you talked with congregations that were unable to gather in person, were forced to pause programs and began to ask questions about the core purpose of "church,"  please comment about these affirmations that "stood out" -

  • The church is not closed."
  • "Our mission is not on hold."
  • "Our calling to love our neighbor has not changed."
  • "How we do this is evolving/"

HEIDI ~. I see a broad shift underway, from “going to church” to “gathering as the church.” In places in the world where Christianity is banned and church buildings are burned, God’s people already know this. When we found ourselves cut off from our sanctuaries, our Sunday morning services, our scheduled activities, we could take a closer look at what was left. What is most important? “Love God, love others, go into all the world with the good news” – and let that drive everything else. I believe that out of this difficult season, we will see a blossoming of creative expressions of how we “do church” that focus on connections.  

JOY ~ At the beginning of the pandemic, I drove by a few churches that this had posted on their signs: “Church is closed until further notice.” This made me yell out loud! The church is never closed, we just have to find new ways to minister given our circumstances and context. The reality is, the world is always changing around us, it just happened much more quickly than usual during the pandemic.

#3 ~  Tell us what conversations and experiences with church leaders taught you about these four "key points."

JOY & HEIDI  ~  It’s easy to make assumptions about what your church members need, hard to know for sure unless you ask them. The churches that I saw flourish during this time were always asking church members what they thought and what they needed.

  • "Knowing our neighbor is more important than ever."

JOY & HEIDI  ~ With our communities facing complex problems after a series of national crises, the church will be better able to respond to community issues when we are knit together with our neighbors in real relationships. Effective community responses are born out of deep listening—in this case in the back-and-forth between church members and the neighbors living in the community around the church.

  • 'Having connections in the community is more important than ever."

JOY & HEIDI ~ Being tied together with other institutions in the community, whether these are schools, health care organizations, youth development nonprofits or other groups, makes the church better able to respond to community crises. One of the positive things we saw come out of the pandemic is that some churches built relationships with groups they had not been connected to before, enabling them to do more in the community.  

  • "Being able to have difficult conversations is more important than ever."

JOY & HEIDI ~ Our divisions as a nation, over many issues, became more apparent in the past year. As Christians, we can’t just let our frustrations with others fester and drive us apart. We must find ways to keep the conversation going in the interest of preserving and growing relationships.


#4 ~. Agree/Disagree: "In a post-pandemic society these skills are essential for congregations of all sizes, in every type of community."


  • Knowing your neighbors

Coming out of the pandemic, there are many people who experienced intense social isolation and loss. The church can provide comfort, resources and a loving community for people, but we have to get to know them first!

  • Talking to strangers

Hard to do for many people, but essential if we want to welcome new people into community ministry programs or our congregations.

  • Navigating difficult conversations

As Christians, we are called to do put love for others into practice. Making space to listen to understand someone we strongly disagree with, without judging or trying to change one another, is a powerful way to show that love. Also, we can serve as role models for the broader society in how to have challenging dialogue while remaining relationally connected.

  • Building relationships with action groups across the community

There is great power in working with nonprofits in your community—to combine expertise, resources, constituencies—to achieve greater change. Coming out of the pandemic, there are many, many issues we can work on together—food insecurity, learning loss for students, unemployment, access to health care—the list is long.

  • Establishing partnerships with other congregations

I think working together with other congregations is a part of our witness to the world—that people of faith can rise above their differences, put their resources and expertise together, and make a difference in the world.

  • Leadership that can model new approaches to ministry

The world is always changing, presenting new challenges and new opportunities. The year 2020 was a “sea-change” year—one where many, many changes occurred at once and quickly. The church needs to find new ways to minister to keep pace with these changes.

  • Leadership that is skilled at navigating change

More important than ever in a year with a public health crisis, a racial reckoning, a divisive election, and many other changes.


#5 ~  Please compose a prayer for readers who need courage to shift to a strategy of building redemptive connections within the Church

JOY ~ God, give me new eyes to see my fellow church members, not as obstacles or as those who disagree with me, but as people who are gifted, called by You, to journey with me as we develop real connections with each other and our neighbors.

Guide to a Congregational Listening Process / PDF

#5 ~   Please compose a prayer for readers who need courage to shift to a strategy of building redemptive connections within the community

HEIDI ~. May we heed the example and share the prayer of Paul in 1 Thessalonians:

2:8 – “Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.

3:12 – “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else!”

Guide to a Community Listening Process

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