Recently a friend and I sat chatting for over an hour in my minivan. One of the subjects we covered was community.
Now that’s a buzzword.
We pondered how it is that we can be so connected via our smart phones, personal devices, and social media, yet often feel so very alone.
Even as we interact in the local church.
We see the same people week after week, year after year. But, often we’ve never delved any deeper into a relationship beyond the casual, “hi, how are you?” With the answering, “oh, fine.”
We are in fellowship, but we aren’t really fellowshipping. We are technically in a community, but we feel disconnected. We have not dug in deep. We are not vulnerable. We don’t really know each other.
But, the reality is, we all crave community. We want deep relationships characterized by commonality, vulnerability, and authenticity.
So, what’s holding us back? And how can we build these relationships?
Breaking it down
As believers, we often prefer the term fellowship to community, but the dictionary definitions of both words are almost indistinguishable and quite interchangeable.
Fellowship: community of interest, activity, feeling, or experience; a company of equals or friends; a friendly relationship among people who share interests or feelings
Community: a unified body of individuals: such as a group of people who have the same interests, religion, race, etc.; a body of persons or nations having a common history or common social, economic, and political interests; an interacting population of various kinds of individuals in a common location
We have the same interests…Christ, and making him known. The glory of God and the glorification of saints. We meet in a common location-the local church building.
Community carries with it the nuance of location. Fellowship transcends locality. As believers, we can fellowship with all believers, whether we are geographically close or not. But, also, as local church bodies, we desire to build tangible community in our common location.
The assemblies I am observing to be happy and healthy, whether numerically large or small, have cultivated vibrant community. The believers are coming together in a common location to spend time together. And they genuinely enjoy being together. They create opportunities to be with each other. They are not dashing out the door as soon as the closing amen is uttered.
These thriving church communities…
Talk together…beyond the casual “how are you?” They know what is really going on in each other’s lives. They know the triumphs and the struggles, the concerns and the joys.
Pray together…as they know what is going on in each other’s lives, they are praying with and for each other. They are attending prayer groups and collectively approaching the throne of grace on each other’s behalf. They realize the vulnerability and power of prayer-really pouring out your heart to God.
Work together…gospel work. Sunday school. Conferences. Chores around the church building. Raking leaves in the neighborhood. Making meals for ones who need it. They roll up their sleeves and put in the elbow grease-together.
Worship together…singing, praying, reading the Word. They are together, worshipping our Creator, Savior and Lord.
Learn together…in Bible studies. In the meetings. In homes. Doctrine and Biblical knowledge, but also practical skills. Things like child safety, or making bread, or what exactly is in the book of Genesis, or what does the Bible teach about baptism? Joint growth in any area is very binding. In a good way.
Eat together…whether called potlucks or fellowship suppers or break time. Whether in homes on a smaller scale, or in the building with every person welcome-there is something about being around a table together, with food. Eating together shows a level of intimacy, and we are less likely to be infighting if we are gathering and cultivating relationships around the table.
Play together…this is the last on the list, because it is not the most important. Though not preeminent, it should not be neglected. People by nature are drawn to fun activities. There are many reason for believers to have fun together. Have the Sunday school picnics, play games, laugh. It is good for community. It is not the foundation, but it is a good building block.
People live very busy lives, and it can seem quite the impossible task to coordinate schedules. The key is to incorporate these togethers into the framework of meetings we’ve already set up. Instead of making a bunch of new activities, start by adding these on to what you’re already doing.
Attend the scheduled meetings, and hang around afterwords. I know I’ve been guilty of giving myself an escape plan if things get uncomfortable. “Well, I’ve got to take off.” Don’t do that. Hang around. Connect with people that you haven’t talked to in a while. Approach ones you’ve never made a point of getting to know.
Our Wednesday night prayer group (a “satellite campus” of our local assembly) gathers early about once a month, for a soup dinner. Some bring a big pot of soup, and others bring crackers and bread, and we eat together. Weekly, after each prayer meeting, we spend an hour or more talking and snacking, while the kids play. We have grown closer, we know what is going on in each other’s lives. We pray together, study the Bible together, talk and laugh. It is one of the biggest blessings in my family’s life. This is an easy thing to try at your assembly before the mid-week meeting. Make it easy, make it sustainable, allow it to be flexible.
Be the one willing to share your vulnerabilities and struggles first. Not just about the obvious things (like cancer), but about the hidden things. I struggle with…would you pray for me?
Why does it matter?
Well, we are the body of Christ. The intrinsic idea of body is that the parts work together. It’s a seamless process of many parts, all working as one.
Plus, Jesus said, “By this all people will know you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.” (John 13:35)
Community would definitely fall into the category of loving one another. Furthermore, our love for each other is our life testimony to the world. It’s our actions that are speaking louder than our words. And people are drawn to genuine love.
Cultivating community starts with individuals. It starts with me. It starts with you. What can you do today, to cultivate community in your local church?