Real Connections invites churches to move authentic relationships to the center of congregational life and ministry with the community. The book equips church members and leaders to invest in deeper, more diverse relationships in a variety of contexts: within the congregation; with other churches; with community partners and residents; with people who are isolated or struggling; and across differences.
From long experience as ministry coaches and trainers, Joy and Heidi offer practical strategies for building meaningful, caring connections that address the loneliness and divisions in our society, and even within churches. Listening well, focusing on assets, and valuing people’s stories can be transformative.
As churches adapt to a post-pandemic world, Real Connections inspires hope that everyone might find a true friend at church, that our differences do not need to separate us, and that no one has to go through life’s most challenging moments alone.
“In Real Connections, Heidi Unruh and Joy Skjegstad nail the crux of the American malady: relationality and the value of persons have been summarily marginalized by the dehumanizing collusion of capitalism and hyper-individualism. Their work, however, does not focus on the malady but, rather, on the solution—and it is a veritable field manual for reconnecting a torn-asunder humanity through the Church. Many books have been written on restoring relationships, but none that so unequivocally centers the means to restoration within the local congregation, starting with the relationships within and spilling out into the community around it. This book is a profound and practical resource for the Church's renewal in these exceptionally tumultuous times.” — Craig Wong, Executive Director, EKKLESIAE
“Real Connections is a very helpful resource for our churches, particularly in this challenging time. Putting relationships and community back at the center, Joy Skjegstad and Heidi Unruh unlock the great ministry potential that often goes overlooked. For churches that are rethinking how church looks, and how their members will connect, the authors provide the insights and tools to help them go deeper.” — Nikki Toyama-Szeto, Executive Director, Christians for Social Action
“If authentic relationships are at the core of your theory of change, this book is for you. Authors Joy Skjegstad and Heidi Unruh understand not only the power of those kinds of relationships, but also how to strategically walk their readers through the intricacies of building transparent, trusting, and enduring connections that transform. Genuine relationships work. Many of us know this intuitively and experientially. Real Connections explores how to live this truth for the sake of our churches, communities, and divided world.”—Dr. Kit Danley, President/Founder, Neighborhood Ministries, Phoenix AZ
“Against the backdrop of a worldwide pandemic that has challenged all of our practices, including how we “do” church, deeply and broadly experienced authors Joy Skjegstad and Heidi Unruh challenge congregational staffs, lay leaders, and congregants to create authentic, heart-to-heart connections built on real listening that results in a collective sense of belonging. Through sharing their personal reflections and experiences, the authors offer numerous suggestions and examples of ministry-centered activities congregational leaders can incorporate into their caring practices. All congregational leaders and congregants who are focused on strengthening congregations and community relationships need to read this book!”— Gaynor Yancey, Professor & Baylor Master Teacher, Director, The Center for Church and Community Impact—C3I, Center for Church and Community Impact
“According to social scientists, making healthy connections with others and recognizing them as valued human beings are critical to a resilient society, thriving community, and vital personal life. Engaging with others in meaningful ways is what it means to be part of the Body of Christ, and just being a good neighbor. Easier said than done, especially in this time of social upheaval. However, Skjegstad and Unruh generously offer practical tools, ideas, and exercises to help us begin or sustain connections that matter. Whether you are an introvert or social butterfly, a pastor or congregant, young or elderly, new to the community or a long-time resident, Real Connections is indispensable to ensuring a life full of new possibilities, stories, and friends.”— Michael Mata, Director of Network Engagement and Leadership Development
“In 1936, researchers at Harvard University began following the lives of 724 men. Known as the Grant Study, it is the longest longitudinal study of men—following their lives from age 18 to well into their 90s. The clearest message that we get from this 80-year study is: “Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.” But how do we form “good relationships?” Real Connections is a great starting place. Packed with practical examples for building caring relationships with those in our faith community or neighborhood, Heidi Unruh and Joy Skjegstad’s book not only tells us what to do but how to do it—from conversation starters to tools for creating lifelong friendships. Grab your highlighter and get ready to enjoy this very helpful book.”—Eric Swanson, Senior Fellow, Leadership Network, Co-Author of The Externally Focused Church, To Transform a City and others
“For doing Christ-centered ministry in the world, relationships matter profoundly. In an age where pastors and ministry heads like to call themselves “CEOs,” staff are treated like units of labor, and the people we serve are referred to as “customers,” Joy Skjegstad and Heidi Unruh’s Real Connections reminds us of the centrality of making, well, real connections. Emphasis on real, as we must learn once again the meaning of loving God, one another, and our neighbor as the basis of authentic ministry. This book not only reminds us of that fundamental truth; it also shows us how to practice it in our lives. Ministry and community leaders: PLEASE read this book.”—Al Tizon, Executive Minister of Serve Globally, Evangelical Covenant Church
“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
Heidi Unruh has researched and written extensively about church-based community ministry, including co-authoring the books Churches That Make a Difference; Hope for Children in Poverty; Saving Souls, Serving Society; and Equipping Christians for Kingdom Purpose in Their Work. As a ministry consultant, trainer and coach, she specializes in helping the people of God care well for neighbors and work toward the flourishing of their community, particularly by coming alongside vulnerable children and families. She is an alumni of Palmer Seminary. Heidi and her husband Jim are raising their family in Hutchinson, KS.
Joy Skjegstad works with nonprofits and churches throughout the U.S. to help them achieve strategic focus, develop effective community ministry, and present themselves in clear and visionary language. In addition to Real Connections, she is the author of Seven Creative Models for Community Ministry (Judson Press, 2013), Winning Grants to Strengthen Your Ministry (Alban Institute 2007), and Starting A Nonprofit At Your Church (Alban Institute 2002). She has more than 30 years of experience starting and growing nonprofit organizations and church-based community ministry programs, including serving as the Executive Director of the Park Avenue Foundation at Park Avenue United Methodist Church and as the founder of the Institute for Ministry Leaders, a university-based training program that builds the management capacity of churches and other ministry organizations. She is wife to Brad, mom to Ethan and Julia, and lives in South Minneapolis, a diverse and resilient place full of strong women.