Sunday, September 1, 2013

How to Create Community

My family had a lively and interesting discussion around our lunch table today after worship services over the sermon:
what is authentic community?

I would say discussion about developing community is one of the big topics among church leaders today, along with spiritual formation and discipleship and thought you might find our ideas stimulating.

The first thing we did was to drop “authentic” out of the discussion. Authentic and authenticity have become insubstantial buzzwords used to declare, “I don’t agree with what proceeded so I decree it invalid.” We thought you either have something like community or you don’t, so delete the authentic.

Then we carved up the sermon trying to make clear what each one heard and what the pastor might have been trying to say. That was interesting. His main point, we decided, was that the attractional mode of church (attractional is another one of those unhelpful buzz words), probably better spoken of as attractive, is really used to describe an over-emphasis on what happens on Sundays to the detriment or exclusion of Christian community any other day of the week. Got it.

So what is this thing called community that we all seem to hold as part of the Holy Grail but struggle so deeply to achieve? Here’s my definition: community consists of those people I live and die with. Yeah, that’s pretty deep. This is what came out of the recent LifePlan I had done.

We went further and looked for the component parts that seem to give rise to community. We came up with these four:

1.     Consistency: Community develops when around consistent relationships. Community doesn’t seem to develop well when the people keep changing and shifting over and over. We need to see the same people—regularly.
2.     Shared Experiences: Community forms when people do enough life together to have a set of shared experiences that draw out shared memories, emotions, and attitudes.
3.    Overlap: Community is probably hard to achieve in once a week relationships. We need our lives to overlap with each other to form community. We need to be in one another’s homes and see one another at school, business, or play. There’s something powerful about being in other people’s lives and letting them into ours.
4.     Time spent together: Community takes time to develop. That’s why community is hard to achieve just from the Sunday worship experience. It’s too little; we just seem to need to have more time together than that. I don’t know if there is any specific amount of time anyone has identified. In my experience it is certainly longer than a few weeks (unless there is a dramatic experience at the heart) and something less than a year.

How do you build this thing called community? My family decided when these four components exist community is going to happen—you won’t be able to stop it.

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