Our church was feeling distanced. Our community and our neighbors were experiencing a sense of isolation. In April we realized that the circumstances surrounding this virus were not going away.

Mother’s Day was usually a fun day of celebration for us at the Mission Vineyard, but we were now asking, “what would it look like to honor our mothers in a meaningful way while social distancing?”

Two of the women on our leadership team had the idea to deliver gift bags to all the moms. This would accomplish two things: connection with our church family and pastoral care in the form of a small gift.

At the same time, we realized that during the Easter season, our church had missed out on connecting with all those newcomers who might have attended our Easter services. How could we create connection with them, too?

Instead of simply dropping off one bag for the moms in our community, we decided to drop off three – one bag for them and two bags for their neighbors!

In a time when social distancing still created awkwardness, we took the opportunity to equip the moms to connect with their neighbors with a small gift that opened the door for communication and relationship.

After this successful outreach, we thought, “what about Father’s Day?” and created small gifts for dads and their neighbors, as well.

Then summer arrived suddenly. It was July, and July is supposed to be fun! So our team thought, “what if we delivered a gift bag to every individual or family in the church, and supplied a few extra for their neighbors?” So we set to work making bags with movie candy, microwave popcorn, and a small note that encouraged folks to have fun making their own home movie night. It wasn’t an overtly spiritual gesture; it was just goodwill and a way to brighten their day.

Suddenly we realized something was happening…

People in our church were using the bags as a reason to interact with their neighbors on a deeper level.

These small gifts became an icebreaker for our congregation and an introduction to the kind of church that they belonged to – one that cared about them in small, fun, and practical ways.

August would have typically been a time for us to share vision for our church, encouraging folks to invite their friends and celebrating going back-to-school. But with every school district making different decisions, we realized that back-to-school could no longer be our central focus.

At the same time God was doing something in our small groups and new leaders started popping up with vision for their own groups! So we led some online trainings and created a new small group brochure. Then we stuck it in a bag with a mug, some instant coffee and tea, and sent them off to each family in the church, encouraging folks to invite their neighbors to their own small groups.

In every situation this year, we realized the thing was not the thing.

We saw a few new families join small groups, but more than that, we saw our congregation use these simple gifts as a reason to reach out to their neighbors with an invitation into their own discipleship.

We saw folks in our congregation connecting with people they may never have otherwise. We have testimonies of prayer encounters in each neighborhood that began new spiritual conversations with neighbors that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

Beyond the touchpoints with new people, we were able to have a reason to visit each person in the congregation with a gift, offer to pray for them, and if possible, check-in with a physical visit when physical contact was hard to come by.

This has become a huge lifeline in our community, for our church family but also through our church family, in simple ways, equipping the church to share the good news of Jesus with those around them.


John Aureli is the Senior Pastor of the Mission Vineyard in San Antonio, TX.

To learn more about this church, visit www.missionvineyard.org.