Dear 100 Hour Board,
There has been a lot of focus recently in the church on ministering to others. I feel like I can do a good job ministering to my family and close friends, but I'm having a hard time reaching out to people in my ward. It's just hard for me to connect with them, or really to even think about them and be conscious of their needs. How can I reach out and serve people that I don't feel a connection with? How can I connect with and care about people in my ward?
-Brother So & So
If you're talking about how to minister to the people you're assigned to minster to, I was having the same problem as you. Yeah, sure, I'm assigned to minister to some people in my ward, but how what's the best way to actually so that? Is it okay to just text them? Is it weird if I plan a visit to their house once a month, or would they prefer that? Should I just drop off some baked goods every once in a while and say hi to them in church? It's exciting that ministering has so many personalizable options, but it's also a little overwhelming, and I wasn't sure how to do it well. But then last week I was hit with an epiphany--I can just ask the people I'm assigned to minister to what they want me to do! It felt a little weird texting them and saying, "Hey, how do you want to be ministered to?" but honestly their answers gave me a lot more direction in how to best connect with them. People feel loved when you make an effort to do stuff that's meaningful to them, rather than just doing whatever is easiest for you. Also, their ideas for stuff to do during "ministering" sound a lot more fun than just visiting them once a month--one of them wants to do a movie night, and the other one wants to go to the pool and get shaved ice afterward--and it will honestly probably be a lot easier to connect with them while doing fun activities than during a 30 minute visit on the last day of the month. I've also found it to be really helpful to pray by name for the people I'm assigned to minister to, that I can have charity and love for them, that they can feel that I love them, and that they can be helped with anything else going on in their lives. Generic prayers to "bless people in need," are fine, but I believe there's a lot of power in praying for people by name.
Alternatively, if you're talking about how to connect with ward members in general, not just the people you're assigned to minster to, I also have problems with that! Despite having been in my ward for a year, I still don't really feel like I've made any friends, or even have people to sit with in Relief Society. It doesn't help that I live in a basement apartment, while a lot of the other couples in my ward all live in the same handful of apartment complexes, and that my ward has tons of turnover and a huge Relief Society, but I still feel like it shouldn't be THAT difficult to make meaningful connections. Luckily for both you and me, we actually had a lesson on this in Relief Society a few weeks ago, because turns out a lot of people felt that way. One of the suggestions I liked best was to do things where you naturally interact with people in the ward--join the choir, attend the activities, clean the church building when it's your ward's turn, throw yourself wholeheartedly into your calling, take people up on the things they post on the ward Facebook page ("Can someone babysit my kids?" "Who wants to go on a hike this weekend? "Does anyone want to start a book club?" "We're getting Denny's at 10 tonight!" etc etc.). It's easier to do things where you naturally have to come in contact with people, and work on building a relationship from there, than it is to invite someone over for dinner and games out of the blue.
Sometimes in your efforts to reach out to ward members you probably won't feel totally comfortable. Meeting people and building relationships is hard! Be gentle with yourself, and don't expect yourself to suddenly be best friends with everyone, but also don't make excuses to stay in your comfort zone all the time, because otherwise you'll never grow. If it's really hard for you, though, you can totally pray to feel more comfortable in certain situations!
Good luck in your efforts to be more connected in your ward! It's awesome that you care so much about loving and serving others, and I sincerely wish you all the best.
Alta has some fantastic suggestions. I just want to add how incredible and powerful prayer is, especially when we're praying for others. If there's people you want to minister unto but don't necessarily know or love, pray for them. I've found that, as I pray for people, my love for them increases and I am so much more willing and able to serve them. I'm not sure if God gives me more opportunities to connect, or since I'm thinking about them each day I look for those opportunities, but it's always worked. It takes very little work, but praying for others has led to more love and service in my life than almost anything else.
-guppy of doom