Com·mu·ni·ty (\kə-ˈmyü-nə-tē\) is defined as a group of people who share a feeling of fellowship with one another as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals. Community seems to be the elusive unicorn many individuals and churches are chasing. The desire for deep, long-lasting friendships is a core value of most people. Yet, loneliness is a part of the American ethos today.
The American culture is not naturally bent toward a community living that goes deeper than brief encounters and planned social activities. We are highly independent and time/schedule oriented (vs. relationship oriented). “Community” often ends up being a scheduled weekly event rather than a group of people who have a sense of fellowship and deep connection while living life with one another on a daily basis.
True community is expensive. It will cost you time, independence, emotion, and effort. Community does not just happen. It is cultivated out of hard work, persistence, tenacity, love and grace. This is actually counter-culture to our American ways. So you may find that you receive odd looks or reactions when you begin demonstrating hospitality and inviting others into community. People may be cautious or skeptical because it is not the norm. You may get the most common responses questioning your motivation, “Why are you doing this?” or “What do you want?” When fostering community, expect to go against the flow of the American culture. Expect odd reactions. Expect messy. (We are people after all.) And expect to be on mission.
Here are some simple tips to foster community along with some resources to dig a little deeper on the topic:
1. Instigate – When people join your group, reach out to them at least once a week. This sounds simple, but surprisingly, initiating contact and social interaction with others is not common. Everyone seems to wait for others to be invited or engaged. It is our job to model hospitality. Teach your leaders and group members to also be the instigators of relationships. Make this a part of the culture and DNA of your group. Ideally, for “community” to be displayed, this would be a natural overflow of relationship building and an expression of care and value rather than just a task. Create a culture that fosters and develops community through intentional ongoing relationship building. Resources on this topic:
- Creating Community shares clear and simple principles to help people connect into meaningful relationships. The kind God desires for each of us. The kind He uses to change our lives.
- Paul’s Idea of Community: The Early House Churches in Their Cultural Setting provides a fresh look at what the early house churches were really like, exploring their focus on community in particular.
- People of God aims to equip and encourage congregations as they build a culture of discipleship in the life of their church.
2. Invite – Invite the newcomers in your community group to join you for dinner, a game, super bowl party, neighborhood BBQ, etc. Do not limit interaction with people to your specified community gathering time. Community is not an event – it is a relationship. Intentionally invest in the lives of others and cultivate relationships. Engage people, not just weekly for your community group, but in the natural rhythms of life as well. Live life with one another, do not just perpetuate a weekly event that never goes beyond a scheduled, pre-planned relationship.
- Oikonomics – As we seek to live as Families on Mission, the way we invest our time, energy, and money directly affects how effective and fruitful we become. It’s a big discipleship issue, and Oikonomics looks at how Jesus did this with his Family on Mission and how we can imitate him in it.
- A Meal with Jesus: Discovering Grace, Community, and Mission around the Table
3. Margin – Leave “margin,” or room, in your life for relationships. When you truly begin building community, people will take up more of your time in unscheduled, unplanned ways. People will have emergencies, needs, and spontaneously stop by. If you do not build margin in your life for this, then your “community” will be calendar/event based rather than relationship based. This is also very counter-culture to our crazy busy American lifestyle. We move from event to event and our calendars are so full that we just do not have time to invite others into our lives. If we do not have “margin” in our lives, then we will not be able to live with a rhythm that cultivates community.
- Crazy Busy – A (Mercifully) Short Book about a (Really) Big Problem
- Margins – Reevaluate your priorities, determine the value of rest and simplicity in your life, and see where your identity really comes from.
- The Missional Margin of the Good Samaritan
- Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition
4. Accept – Take them as they are. All of us have a bit of crazy in our lives. We need to learn to accept and love one another despite our weaknesses and quirkiness. If you begin inviting lost people to join your community, allow them to say “no” to Christian things without cutting them out. If they say yes to dinner and not to bible study or worship, be OK with that. Show Christian love and acceptance even if their journey is longer. Consistency and endurance in long-term relationships with people makes a greater impact than a “hit and run” relational experience. They will know that we are Christians by our love. (John 13:35)
- The Art of Neighboring: Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside Your Door
- Community: Taking Your Small Group off Life Support
- Tony Merida Vimeo: Hospitality & the Kingdom of God
5. Grow – Drive your community towards relational growth. Plan to model and demonstrate how to have healthy relationships. Help others resolve conflict in a healthy way. Model a way of “being” with others that is an alternative to the cultural norm. People are hungry for community and intimacy that goes beyond casual and convenient. Be the group of people who deeply care for and invest in each others lives. Help group members to grow in their relational IQ and learn to develop hospitality, depth, and grace in their relationships. Resources on this topic:
- The Trellis and the Vine focuses on doing the hard work of gospel living. That is, Christians giving of themselves through personal discipleship creating gospel growth.
In the book, The Sacred Marriage, the author presents this challenging question: “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?” I contend the same is true of community. It is to be a refining group of people living on mission with one another in order to be transformed to be more like Christ. Iron sharpening iron. (Prov 27:17) May we be encouragers and equippers of the saints as we live out true godly community within our church family and beyond in order to be salt and light!