Tips for (in)couragement
{Photo by Crystal Stine}

“Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.” John 13:34, MSG

For some of us, finding ways to encourage our sisters is as easy and natural as pouring that first cup of coffee in the morning. We wake up, hear God whisper someone’s name on our hearts, and out comes the collection of “thinking of you” cards we’ve stored in a box for a time such as this. But sometimes, finding the right words can be hard, especially when we are the ones walking through a challenging season and needing to be supported by the community God has given us.

Maybe you don’t have a strong real life community, and your most faithful prayer warriors are the sweet friends who respond to your Tweets and Facebook messages at 2 a.m. It can be easy to think that the only way to be a good encourager is to do it in real life – to show up on someone’s step with a casserole, a cup of coffee, and a gallon of ice cream. I want you to know that I have seen friendships built online walk off the pages of blog comments and Facebook groups and into real life, real relationship, real encouragement. And never once did those sisters meet face-to-face. Here are some of the tips we’ve seen work through the last few sessions of the (in)courager community groups – we’ll share Part Two with even more tips next month!

1. Invest

This one isn’t about spending a lot of money, but about investing in building authentic, transparent, safe community. Whether it’s in real life or online, invest your time and your passions into your community. Invest in the lives of the sisters who join you on that bench. Take time to learn what breaks their heart, what brings them joy, and what makes them laugh. Then, when they need someone to love them? You’ll know exactly how to do it.

2. Inspire

We all have favorite Scripture that helps us through difficult times, quotes and songs that lift our spirits when we’re down. If you don’t have the exact words to encourage your friend as she walks a certain path, share with her what inspires you. Focus on what she is feeling, not what she is going through – we can never walk the exact same road in life, but we can encourage and empathize with how she’s feeling.

3. Think outside the box

Maybe you have an online friend who lives across the country and your way of loving on your real-life community is through food. Think about sending her a gift card to her favorite restaurant for a treat, or tell her not to make dinner and order delivery online to show up at her house. Think about the ways that you would encourage your neighbor or your friend from church, and see if there is a way to do the same for your online community.

4. Commit

When your sisters know that you are committed to them, to their lives and to the season they’re going through, your experience with them will be so much richer. So many times the world expects us to join groups because of “what’s in it for me,” but Jesus calls us to community so that we can also pour out into others. Consider the groups you’re in and choose to be present, to serve, and to be open to where God calls you to encourage.

5. Be brave

Online community can be scary. It can seem impersonal at best, and like you’re trying to jump into a conversation with the “cool kids” at worst. Be brave. Jump in anyway. Join the Twitter party you wish you could be part of, introduce yourself and let them know you’re new. Spot someone else who is new and reach out to them so you can learn together. Ask questions in your new Facebook group, respond to posts, and ignore the lie the enemy tries to whisper that you aren’t good enough, that you’ll just be ignored. Being in community, encouraging others? It takes courage. 

We’ll have more tips for you next month, but for now, come chat with us! How do you like to encourage your real-life community? What could you do to “think outside the box” and bless your online community in a similar way?

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  1. 1

    Crystal,
    I am so thankful for my real life community and for the online community that I have been developing since January. It’s amazing how you can strike a chord with someone you’ve never met face to face when you dare to be vulnerable. I’ve developed several such relationships and so wish I could sit down with these sisters and chat the day away over a cup of coffee/tea. You give some very good, concrete ways that we can encourage one another. You have given me some food for thought and action as I continue to build these relationships. I still always come back to the basic of praying for one another. I love to lift others up in prayer and am so honored and humbled when others say they are praying for me! Looking forward to Part 2!!
    Blessings,
    Bev

    • 2

      You know, I’ve had some very fun “coffee dates” with online friends through Google Hangout ;) It’s not the same as hugging their necks, but a pretty fabulous way to chat “face to face!”

      • 3

        Thanks for the idea for the coffee dates, Crystal. I had never thought of that! Love your points about encouraging. Yes, it takes reaching out and being a friend to make a friend. I especially like your “thinking outside the box” ideas!

  2. 4

    I have enjoyed reading incourage for some time and have for many reasons above never wrote a comment or wanted to commit. This morning is a new day. Your article gave many benefits of being part of an on line community and confirmed in my spirit to take off the shelf and brush off that desire/dream to share what God has given me with other women, women on line. This is my first step of confronting this fear and seeing what God will do as new relationships are built.
    Thank you,
    Esther

    • 5

      Esther, it is such a joy to meet you here today! Praising God for your bravery and praying for God to bless the words you share online :)

  3. 6

    So true! To encourage my online community, I give away 2 copies of whatever I’m reading. I do that so that we’re all reading the same things and being transformed in the same sorts of ways so that our hearts are knit just a little more tightly. I didn’t plan for these book giveaways to act in this manner, but they have! I’m loving seeing my community move in the same direction.
    Great post Crystal!

    • 7

      I love that idea! I do a “Google Hangout” book study with some of my friends and might just have to use this tip for our next book ;)

  4. 8

    This is awesome, Crystal. I actually have a post scheduled for Wednesday talking about this very subject, about how God has pushed me to be bold in connecting with women online, and how I have found amazing friendship through blogging. This is a subject that it has been on my heart lately as I see how you women bless me daily! Love you, friend!

    • 9

      Oh, and I forgot to answer your question — darn it, I’m still half asleep… I encourage my online community through tweeting. Twitter has been the one tool that has made connecting with other women so easy! We chat, pray, laugh, and share through tweets – whether at 7pm on a Thursday night or 5am over bible study… and all the hours in between. I try to share and promote others’ writing, to share the love and help them connect with other readers. I extend a hug or a hand when I see someone having a rough day, even if I have never “talked” to them personally before. Sometimes we just want to know that someone out there is listening and cares… I love how God is teaching me to be Bold.

      • 10

        And you, sweet Vanessa, are a rock star at encouraging me on Twitter! You have a gift :)

      • 11

        You do have a gift for this – you really do. I have been blessed by your tweets of encouragement, and I never imagined that I’d be much of a Twitter person at all. You are part of the online community that I am growing to love. It is all a gift from His hand.

  5. 12

    I remember the first time I wrote a FMF post and I was terrified that someone would figure out what I already knew: that I wasn’t good enough for that crowd. Or the first time I joined in the FMF Twitter party and was scared to death. I *did* feel like I was trying to break into the cool kids’ conversation but you know what? I was welcomed. It takes time and it takes perseverance to build an online community. Sometimes I think I’ve made so many online friends that I can’t keep track of them all, but that’s a good problem to have.

    (Oh, and these are some great suggestions!)

    • 13

      It is a good problem to have, isn’t it? I love seeing how God can use technology to change the world, grow community & spread the Good News (even in 140 characters, or just 5 minutes of writing!)

  6. 14

    Thank you Crystal for this post. Great tips. Community has been a part of my life for many years-mostly face-to-face. It was the nature of my professional life, as well as spiritual. As a pastor’s wife, there were/are so many times I felt like running and hiding-and sad to say I did/do. As a newspaper editor, publisher and writer from-the-heart, any real life experiences were a choice. I am NOT always brave. Even online, I shy away. I struggle with “the words” to say. However, as you point out, when we invest into others lives – learn about them, etc. – we will know what to say/do.

    I pray for women who come to the table and share their heart. I often have the words, but choose to refrain. Cheating both of us.

    As another said here: “today” is a new day.” I will begin anew. Forge new relationships beyond superficial. COMMIT to the women my life. To encourage. Share of myself when needing a safe place to speak my heart. Create a dialogue of empathy, love and encouragement with others.

    Thanks for the shot in the arm. Just what I needed. Blessings ~Debra

  7. 15

    Crystal,
    This is great! I have been trying for over a year now to start group. I have built a wall over the years and it’s a lot harder to tear it down than it was to build it! Thank you for your suggestions!

  8. 16

    Amen to that! Thanks for sharing:)

  9. 17

    Crystal,
    Thank you for your wise words today about community. It’s so true that we are called to encourage, love and pour into others. It’s also true that we need to learn to accept the love and support from others when we need it during a particular “season” (sometimes soooo much harder–why, oh, why is that?!)

    I love what you say about being brave. That seems to be the word that keeps popping back at me, over and over again. Probably for all of us, really. Christians are called to be courageous. I see daily opportunities to stretch my courage muscles–God-given, scary, painful, exciting, glorious.

    Thankful for groups such as this (and writers such as you) where we can find wonderful sisters with which to grow and laugh!

  10. 18

    It’s not my first time to visit this web page, i am browsing this web site dailly and get pleasant facts from here everyday.

  11. 19
    Suzanne says:

    Thanks Crystal, these are some great ideas!
    I am part of group of ladies doing a Biblically based Step Study together, we meet every Sunday afternoon for 2 hours. We started out 2 months ago with 12 members, but due to life’s circumstances we are now down to 5!
    One of our friends that we lost from the group had been struggling with alcohol problems and she is now at an in-patient recovery facility.
    I have been writing to her faithfully, but would like to do more. I have one good idea from Lysa Terkeurst, Scripture verses with my friend’s named typed in. I plan to send her a decorated mason jar with some M & M’s (her favorite candy), when she is finished with the candy she can place the scripture verses in the jar, they are on strips of paper that I’ve cut out & folded for her.
    I’d love to have more (in)couraging ideas! … thanks
    Suzanne

    • 20

      Oh the Scripture idea is wonderful! What a blessing that will be for her to read Truth and encouragement…while eating a sweet treat.

  12. 21

    I just love this post so much – I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately (and trying to craft a post that articulates these thoughts well) – and especially so much since last Thursday. While writing with the Five Minute Friday crew with Lisa Jo Baker, I experienced an overwhelming outpouring of grace, love, and support from my online community after sharing something that was really difficult to talk about. At best, I anticipated an awkward silence (because people are too polite to tell you when you’re awful), but instead, received tremendous affirmation and support. This is a group that you can be REAL with.

    I’m learning to translate my real life encouragement into the online world through tweets, and emails – sending words of encouragement and verses electronically instead of through the mail. I’ve found other resources or links that friends may like and pass those along and make sure to visit friends’ sites to read their words and encourage them in their writing. Can’t wait to read more and get new neat ideas to try!

    • 22

      The Five Minute Friday community is pretty awesome, aren’t they? They make me feel like I’m a ninja at this stuff, when really, I’m just lucky to find 5 minutes to write ;) I love how easy it is to share a great recipe from Pinterest with a friend, or link to a blog post with JUST the right message at the right time for someone who needs it!

  13. 23
    Sarah Schulz says:

    It’s great to see online friendships lauded for the blessings they can be. I’ve had many online friends whom I blessed–who encouraged me–who were God to me in small, much-needed ways.

    Question: I am fairly new to (in)courage, and it’s giving me food for thought. Are there in the archives, or might there be in the future, posts about how to ask for and receive true encouragement in community? I went away from community for a while after “encouragement” proved to just hurt my soul more, and after 20 years of encouraging others but not feeling free to be vulnerable myself, to need, to ask, to receive. I’m just beginning to get back into that, to allow myself to crave it. I’d love to hear more stories from people who have walked this path. Who need to receive more than they need to learn to give.

    • 24

      Sweet Sarah, my heart hurts that you’ve walked this. I’m not sure about other blog posts, but one place I’d love to invite you to start is with the (in)courager community groups. Small groups that meet (based on stage of life – so new moms, artists, missionaries, etc.) in closed Facebook groups for a season of encouragement. The next session will kick off in September, and we’d LOVE to have you join us so our leaders can pour into your life :)

      • 25
        Sarah Schulz says:

        Oh, wow, that sounds lovely. I’m getting into some Real Life community as well, but I’m actually more used to good community being online–this could be really awesome. I will try to join you! :)

  14. 27

    I connected with one of my now-dearest friends, Christi McGuire, through social media. I can’t exactly remember where, but through Facebook or blogging, we began to correspond and she was brave enough to fly across the country last March to attend a writer’s conference with me at Mount Hermon. We had a wonderful time together, and I feel so blessed that God brought us together, thousands of miles apart, over the interenet!

    • 28

      Isn’t it the best, when you can meet online friends in real life and realize how authentic the relationship has become? It’s beautiful :) And way less creepy than it sounds when you try to explain it to someone else!

  15. 29

    You nailed it Crystal! SUCH good information, truthful words, honest encouragement! Walking through a season myself, and with those that don’t have many (in) RL community connections – but SO loving our (in)courager connections, sisters in Christ who walk through the dirty, discouraging and downright dumpy stuff….and also celebrate with us and bring smiles to my face!! YAY for authenticity!!
    LOVE this group, and blessed to get to be a part of it!!

    Marina
    (in)courage global care

  16. 31

    Girl… we are going to have to add #ninjabenchbuilder to your resume. This was beautiful. It is really hard to believe that last year at this time I didn’t even know what a Twitter party was. And if you had told me that I would be blessed with rich, deep and lasting relationships – online- I may have looked askance at you. I have been blessed beyond my wildest imagination – immeasurably more – with beautiful friendships that go beyond the pixels on my screen. I love encouraging other’s on line and when needed offering a prayer (actually typing the prayer out) through FB or Twitter Direct messaging. And when I can – finding ways to send snail mail or even an electronic gift card to those who need a pick me up. I love your heart sweet friend… and I can. not. wait. to meet you and hug your neck.

  17. 33

    Great post, Crystal! I am finding that there is more to online community than meets the eye. I, for one, am so thankful for that!! For me, it began with doing Beth Moore’s online study years ago, Believing God. It was then a new concept. I met three women through that study that YEARS later are still in my life. I love in Boston. My husband & I drove to Buffalo to meet one woman & her husband. And we flew to Louisiana to meet the other. The third I have yet to meet face to face. We have been through marriages, sicknesses, deaths & struggles with our kids together. We pray for each other & love each other deeply.
    As blogging & link ups have become popular, I am finding more friendships that are meaningful. Sharing Scriptures & books have enriched my life & my relationship with God & others. Thank you so much for encouraging women to encourage one another!
    Blessings, my friend,
    Joanne

  18. 35

    Amen! Thanks for sharing Crystal!! :)

  19. 36

    Thank you for this challenge! Right now I find myself, once again, in a new town. It’s hard being the newbie and having to build up a friendship base, once again. I truly does take me stepping out of my comfort zone and being a friend to those around me. Making the first phone call, initiating the playdate, perhaps even making a meal for someone else when I see that they may need a helping hand. My tendency is to feel sorry for my self in my lonely state, but loving would honestly take care of that.

    • 37

      I remember listening to Sally Clarkson speak at Allume last year about these amazing groups of women she’s been part of over the years. The key? She was the one who initiated everything. I know it seems like an easy concept, but it was life changing for me! As an introvert it’s hard for me to make that first move, but it’s really made such a difference.

  20. 38

    What a beautiful way to share how important it is to just take that step and reach out even when every thing inside of you feels like walking into the lunch room in junior high. Where do I sit? Will anyone sit with me? A lovely post to equip and encourage!

  21. 39

    Crystal, thank you for this fabulous message today. I wish this came easier for me but you have given me some wonderful ideas on how to bless those who have been such an encouragement to me in this online world. Bless you for your heart
    Beth

  22. 40

    I loved this post. Great tips and (in)couragement to keep doing what God has called me to do. I can identify with those familiar lies of Satan you shared but you’ve encouraged me to be brave and push past them so I can pour into others that need a community to lean on. Thank you for sharing you sweet wisdom.

  23. 41

    Well, you already know what a rockstar I think you are at encouragement or (in)couragement. I just love your heart to serve and to bless and to continually pour out for these women, myself included. You are a light. Love to you, friend.

  24. 42
    Beth Williams says:

    Crystal,

    such wonderful ideas. Some others I have is send an E-card to a friend letting them know you’re thinking of them. A lot of times I just pray for people and then send a nice e-mail letting them know about it.

    Thanks for the ideas!

  25. 43

    I just found this blog and am so excited! I need (in)couragement and need to learn to (in)courage others. I look forward to being able to join a group, or more then one if possible. Your post was a great reminder to me as to why my real life circle, well, there isn’t one. It’s mostly my fault. I decided last night that I’ve gotta start somewhere. I can’t get through this alone. I need God and I need support from women. I look forward to reading more posts, digging into some good bible study’s and book reading.
    Thank You so much for putting this blog together!!!

  26. 44

    Thanks for the tips. I joined an incourager group last year and it was so much fun! I love these ideas. The one on sending food from afar, I just did that with someone in my church. I was having a crazy busy week (typical) and I couldn’t get away to bring her some food. So I ordered it online and had it delivered. It’s not the most personal way to do it, but she appreciated the meal. So now I have to investigate Google Hangout.

    Thanks everyone for sharing your tips.

  27. 45

    Holy cow. I’m brand spanking new to your blog {came through Kim Hall} but wow. This just struck home with me today. I have had these kind of relationships happen with both fellow bloggers and readers of my blog. It is so special. So surprising. Such a gift.

    Love your words! Subscribing and following you!

  28. 46

    Dear Ladies, I think it might be your group that contacted me via email many months ago to say you were praying for me. Thank you for that encouragement. My battle with severe depression continues.

  29. 47

    Wow, not sure how to really get involved in any of this especially twitter but its certainly makes you stop and think , I do read this everyday but that’s about it , but I do love to try and encourage people and I’m certainly encouraged when I read all these !!! Thank you so much for your courage and honesty about so many topics !!!! God is so Good

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