How Can We Build Community In Our Churches?
Perhaps you have visited a church, or maybe attended for a few months. You’ve enjoyed the worship and the teaching, but at the end of the service you’ve stood round and thought – I actually don’t know anyone here and I don’t have anyone to talk to. Everyone is moving around chatting to others but for you it feels like a sea of unfamiliar faces. If only someone would smile and say hello. If you haven’t had this experience, you may be fortunate. If you have, you will know how awkward it can feel.
One topic that has been on my heart for a while is that of building community in our churches. Community adds a richness to life. Living in authentic biblical community can be challenging and indeed messy, but it is important all the same. If you enjoy good community and even a sense of family in your church, you are blessed. You may even take it forgranted. Sadly, many believers today don’t experience fellowship in church. It seems that fostering authentic church community is challenging in today’s modern world. A common theme in church life all over the world (but especially in the West) is that believers feel that they aren’t ‘connecting’ with others in their local churches. Real face to face heartfelt relationships are rather rare today. This isn’t a criticism of churches, as most churches do what they can to develop community and many do offer pockets of community. I wonder whether it is a symptom of a wider picture, which is the fragmented society that we find ourselves living in. Difficulty connecting with others in church is a problem that many people face, regardless of their circumstances. Disconnection is prevalent amoung many sectors of the church – the elderly, singles, students, young parents, and those who are struggling econonically. It is also one of the top reasons why people leave churches. Offense is also a primary reason, but if we don’t have connections in church, it is easy to either hide or to stop going to church.
‘WE LOVE THE IDEA OF COMMUNITY—EVERYONE ENGAGED AND INVOLVED AND CONNECTED—BUT HOW MANY PEOPLE SHOW UP … LONGING FOR SOMEONE TO REACH OUT TO THEM, SHAKE THEIR HAND AND HAVE MORE THAN A TWO-SECOND CONVERSATION?’
What are some of the barriers that people looking for church community might face? Well for one, many folk don’t attend their local church, preferring to travel some distance to find a church that suits their needs. In previous generations, people lived their whole lives locally and so relationships developed naturally. These days we have to be a lot more intentional about community. Take our family for example. We don’t attend our local village church because it doesn’t have a weekly children’s programme. We do however, maintain links with our village church. We live in the countryside and we drive half an hour to an inner city church in the nearest small city. I’ve often found that it can be difficult to build community in inner city churches because it’s harder to connect with people who live across a broad geographical area. Smaller churches often offer more community, but it is possible to develop community in a larger church setting. It just takes time and a ton of effort.
A second barrier is because people are so busy today. Some busyness is a choice, but much of it isn’t. People are working longer hours, and many families require two jobs just to pay for the ever increasing costs of housing and basic living. Let’s not forget that living in a capitalist society makes us busy. Things and stuff (though not wrong in themselves) make us busy. Busyness means that it is more difficult to serve (which helps in getting to know others).
Another reason for limited community is that people may be afraid to get to know others, for fear of being hurt. I’ve seen this dynamic play out in many situations. If you have been hurt in home groups or just in general relationships, you are naturally more wary.
‘IF PEOPLE FEEL THEY’RE GOING TO BE JUDGED OR RIDICULED OR IGNORED BECAUSE OF A LIFE CHOICE, THEY’RE NOT LIKELY GOING TO ENGAGE IN ANY COMMUNITY’.
How can we foster community in church? Small groups/life groups are often the backbone of church community. They are a good start, and while we have only been at our church for six months, we have helped to start a community group in our rural area. The ladies meet once a week and the blokes meet when they can, and then we have a family lunch once a month at our home. I am very thankful that I have a small group of friends to pray with and do life with.
Church leaders can also develop community by making it a priority and encouraging the congregation to be community minded and inclusive. But it’s not just about leaving it up to the leadership team or the welcome team. Everyone has to play their part. We need to be aware of others and practise being others focused. We can be a blessing to someone else, even in our busyness and brokenness. Most of us really only have time for a few good relationships, but relationships where we are invested in one another are key. We need to bear one another’s burdens and be accountable to one another.
It’s great to be mindful of building community, but at the end of the day, we don’t just want to talk about community, we want to get out there and practice it.
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10: 23-2