Social Media Boosts Community Engagement

By Judy Ringstaff -  May 1, 2024


Social Media Boosts Community Engagement

The breaking of bread and fellowship is a powerful way for us to connect, build relationships, and grow as the body of Christ. 


Nicole Braxton has always been interested in food. From a young age, Braxton found herself baking and watching cooking programs, trying her hand at recreating the dishes. Food—good food—has been an interest of hers for as long as she can remember. “Since I was maybe four or five,” she says, “I’ve always been interested and involved in cooking and baking.”

Naturally, when Braxton became Adventist in 2015 and began to draw closer to God, she saw the health message linked arm-in-arm with the gospel. “When I first started attending an Adventist church, I realized that a lot of people were vegetarian,” she said. “The closer I got to God my desire started to change…Once I began to study about Blue Zones my interest was really piqued.”

Blue Zones are areas of the world where the population lives significantly longer than average. One Blue Zone is located in Loma Linda, California, where a large number of Adventists reside. “Seeing how Adventists lived ten years longer than the average American—that really piqued my interest, not only in terms of longevity, but also because their quality of life is better.” Braxton explains that the examples she saw in the Blue Zones were enough to inspire her to want to be healthy, too. “I started to look up [vegetarian] recipes to see how I could make them.”

From there, Braxton was led on a journey to create her own health ministry and founded Be Well Be Whole in 2017.

The ministry started with pop-up restaurants and grew into cooking schools and catering. Be Well Be Whole partnered with Detroit Northwest church to host a Diabetes Undone program with Pastor Steve and Tammy Conway. It was at this event that Braxton saw the full potential of a social media platform called MeetUp.

Daniel Rodriguez, who pastors the Plymouth church where Braxton is a member, explains that MeetUp is “an event only app… a place to find interest groups, where people can find each other and meet up. There are groups for runners, pickleball players, quilters—almost any interest.”

Braxton was familiar with the platform, but the thought had never crossed her mind to use it as a ministry tool. Tammy Conway used MeetUp to invite the community to the Diabetes Undone program. “I remember being really impressed by how many people came to the event,” Braxton says. “Tammy was the one who showed me the impact of using MeetUp for ministry.”

In early 2020, Braxton felt impressed to start a MeetUp group of her own, which she named Foodie MeetUp group. “I was impressed by the Lord, so I created it,” she says. “I took a leap of faith and set up an account, and within the first week, 30 people had registered. By the second week, there was about 100 people that registered.”

The Foodie MeetUp group’s first meeting was at a Middle Eastern restaurant. “There were two people that came in person,” Braxton says. Shortly after, in March, the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

In 2021, the Foodie MeetUp group began to hold health events at the Plymouth church, where Braxton is Health Ministries director. “We had a series of cooking classes,” she says. Some of the classes were led by Braxton and others were led by guest presenters, such as former Camp Au Sable chef Miguel Larcher.

Following these events, Braxton shares that she was “impressed by the Lord again—that still small voice—that it was time to create something that is easy for the church to replicate with low-impact to its normal system and flow.” Her idea was to change the focus of the Foodie MeetUp to lunch programs. In other words, based less on “created events” with more of a focus on “church potlucks, centered around vegetarian meals. All Foodies would be invited.”

For those interested in food, it would be a free meal for them to enjoy and a time to “break bread with fellow Foodie friends,” and for those that were more interested in spiritual things “it opened the door to begin attending spiritual events.”
Rodriguez explains that on days the church knows the Foodie group will be attending potlucks, Sabbath School leaders take extra time to pray for those who are going to come. There is a new seriousness when “we will have people walking through our doors,” Rodriguez explains.

The MeetUp Foodie group has 1069 members. The number of attendees to church potlucks varies from week to week, depending on individuals’ schedules and availability. Eight of those Foodies, however, have been regularly attending Plymouth church potlucks, Rodriguez reports. Of those eight, one has started Bible studies; one, who Rodriguez describes as a “seeker,” attends as many church functions as they are able; and another woman has begun attending church and is studying with the elders. 

“Our MeetUp group is meant for the community,” Braxton says. “When I joined the church, I saw a huge area of outreach to be nurtured. That is a huge passion I have—reaching outside of the church and connecting, because I didn’t come from the church. Building relationships and community is a true passion that God has given me. The MeetUp group is a tool that God has given me to do that,” she says.

Braxton says that it “enabled and empowered the church to break barriers and build relationships over a common interest—ultimately, for the kingdom. It helped the church get out of its ‘business as usual’ mindset.”

Church potluck was a natural way for Be Well Be Whole and the Plymouth church to partner together and minister to the Foodie group. “I think the breaking of bread and fellowship is a powerful way for us to connect, build relationships, and grow as the body of Christ,” Braxton says. “Fellowship opens the doors to help edify each other…it’s beautiful to have a community to support one another as we are journeying through life as believers and with people from all walks of life.”