One of the most significant phenomena in gaming from the last decade or so is online multiplayer. I’ll admit, when it first became a thing I was very skeptical. I’ve always played single-player games, or couch co-op with my brother when we were kids. The idea of jumping online and playing a game with a bunch of strangers seemed both scary and alien to me.
Having said that, I’ve now come to value online multiplayer – and more importantly, the community that comes with it – as a huge part of my life.
Back in January 2020 I took a big step. It was something I’d been psyching myself up to do for a number of weeks, but up to that point hadn’t felt brave enough. I joined the Discord server for fans of the YouTube channel PlayStation Access. As I took my first tentative steps into that world, what I discovered was a place of true welcome and a community of friends who had never met in person but who cared deeply about one another’s lives. I was amazed to find that this was not just about games.
Over the following weeks and months I got to know people in the community, and I began to join in with streams on Twitch, and play online with some of them. I found myself achieving the thing that had been my deepest hope in all of this; I made friends.
As time passed, I was invited to become a moderator on our Discord server, with responsibility for the area where people share the troubles they’re dealing with in real life and are supported by the community. It was a wonderful opportunity and I jumped at it! It’s been a joy to stand alongside people and support them as they’ve journeyed through lockdown struggles, health diagnoses, family crises, identity issues, mental health and much more. It’s a privilege to be able to love people even from a distance as they grapple with the tough stuff of life, and to know that you’ve made that grappling even a tiny bit easier for them.
Fast forward to now, and I have recently taken over the leadership of that Discord server, which has grown to over 560 members. I spend time there every day, chatting with people and enjoying being part of a community. Every night when I turn on my PlayStation I connect with people who have become my close friends. We play games together and we talk about what’s going on in our lives.
Within the church world, people have sometimes scoffed at the idea of a gaming community, or at gaming in itself. How can you have a community purely online, where nobody has ever met anyone in person? I think that lockdown has shown us that this is not only possible, it is deeply valuable.
How can you have a community purely online, where nobody has ever met anyone in person? I think that lockdown has shown us that this is not only possible, it is deeply valuable.
One time a fellow church leader asked me to give three reasons why ‘gaming community’ is a thing. I said that we speak to one another every day, we have fun together and we support one another with what’s going on in our lives. Isn’t that what we’d love to see in our church communities as well?
Certainly when I look at the early church in Acts, this is the kind of community I see.
“All the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity – all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people.” (Acts 2:44-47)
We’re in a place now as Christians where we’re having to rediscover what it means for church to be a family. Over many years our experience of Christian community has been distilled down to a 90-minute meeting on a Sunday morning (where a small group of people are active and the majority watch and receive) and a mid-week Bible study in someone’s home if you’re particularly keen. We use the word “fellowship” to describe the half an hour we spend having tea and coffee after our services.
One of the things lockdown has shown us is that we need each other more than we’d realised. Separation from one another has revealed a deep desire within us to be connected. Perhaps we are now moving into a time where we’ll begin to rediscover something of what the early church experienced. I sincerely hope so!
The Church should be the most tightly knit, loving community on earth. We are the people who are following the Way of Jesus – Jesus who called us to love one another and told us that the way we love one another would be how the world would know we belong to Him (John 13:35). We shouldn’t be content with a Sunday morning gathering once a week and partial involvement in a midweek house group! We should be using every context available to us to remain connected with one another so that we really are a community – a family – that reflects the love of God to the world around us.
How? Allow me to make a few suggestions.
Don’t just attend church, involve yourself in it
I may have sounded scathing about Sunday gatherings and house groups earlier, but I do believe they are essential. However, we need to change our approach. We can’t just show up to services and groups and “be fed”, we need to be actively involved in them. Serve on a team. Get up and speak to someone you don’t know well. Offer to make the tea. Ask God for a prophetic word and share it when He gives you one.
Keep in touch
After more than a year of lockdown you may be sick of digital communication. That’s ok, but don’t throw it away as soon as you’re allowed to have someone round for a cup of tea. Life is busy, so we need to use every means available to us to build and maintain community. By all means, invite people round for a cup of tea once that’s allowed again, but you’re probably not going to be able to do that every day. For those times when you can’t meet in person, why not start a WhatsApp group or a Facebook Messenger group? Use whatever digital platforms you’re on to stay connected with people. A simple, “Good morning, how are you today?” to your group is often enough to start a conversation, and daily interactions even on that level contribute towards building friendships. Before long, that surface level contact will make way for the deeper things in life because you have built trust through the small things.
I’m often struck by how much of the early church was built around food. There are some cultural reasons for that, but it is also a simple fact that one of the best ways to get to know someone is to share a meal together. Invite people round for meals; go out for lunch; have bring and share lunches (or bring your own and we’ll eat together lunches to be Covid safe) after church gatherings or in house groups; even jump on a Zoom call with another family while you’re all eating dinner to have a virtual meal together!
What about you? What would you add? Does this kind of community sound like something you want to be a part of?