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Why it’s more difficult to have community when working with existing believers

Many of today's simple/organic churches  start when a Christian with a vision of a group meeting in a home or other culturally relevant context invites his/her friends to start a church. The problem is that usually those coming only know the person who invited them; they may not know the other people involved.  It takes time to develop friendships.  It's more of a challenge to develop a sense of community, especially if the only time people get together is for a meeting. There's no natural context for community.

The dictionary definition of community includes:

  • a group sharing common characteristics or interests
  • a group of men or women leading a common life

We assume that Christians have a natural affinity with each other because the Holy Spirit dwells in each of us, and therefore community should be instantaneous.  It is true that there is an immediate bonding and recognition of the presence of Jesus when Christians meet each other for the first time. But there's more to community than that.

One of the fastest ways to develop community within a group of strangers is to share a common goal and task. Working together towards something specific provides a natural way to share life.

When you use the person of peace principle to work with a group of not-yet-believers, you are entering an existing community who already all know each other. (The person of peace is a person of influence who has a community  gathered around them. Often it's their family.) They get together naturally to celebrate birthdays or just to hang out together. They already go shopping together, or help fix each other's cars. Now they are doing what they know how to do (be family)  but with Jesus at the center.

We have seen that in several contexts. Perhaps the most obvious one was when we worked in the low-income housing projects.  Our person of peace, Rosa, accepted us as part of her family.  There was instant community because she and her relatives lived life together anyway.

9 replies on “Why it’s more difficult to have community when working with existing believers”

I’ve enjoyed and appreciated your post on the topic of community. And the earlier post on being missional were very timely in that our fellowship has wrestled with the tension between building relationships within and looking outward to the hurting world around us. I’m part of the same fellowship as the guy that posed the question “Is it good to start an outreach with this kind of tension going on?” We have been talking about this for months pertaining to the group we are with now. And for years before that pertaining to the traditional churches we were involved with. As we have prayed and talked more recently I have become more and more convinced that the first part of the first sentence you listed under your post “12 ideas to help an inward-looking group become more missional” is the key that “churched” people find so easy to overlook. “Spend time as a church asking God to give you his heart.” The reason I leave the second part of the sentence off is because I think that it is where the enemy has a field day. Getting well meaning Christians blogged down (I know it’s bogged, I’m being witty) in debating should we be focused on relationships or outreach? Bible study or the homeless? Inner city ministry or foreign missions? You mentioned that in a group formed of people that were already believers it was the person that got the vision and called people that was the common factor. I would hope that person would be Jesus. I really think that when we make anyone or anything other than him central we get off track. Including being missional. If that becomes the central focus of the group rather than the person of Christ things become less than abundantly alive. And I believe that when the person of Christ is the focus we naturally become less selfish and more outward in our entire approach to life. I’d like to see us helping one another to desire God’s heart for all of life. Including mission, relationship, and whatever else he wants to share with us. I’d hope that more and more when the question “what should our church be focused on?” is asked, the answer would be Jesus. I’m sure you know all to well that this being central is not to be assumed just because people have gone to church for a long time. I hope I haven’t violated any sort of blog etiquette by going on for so long. I really enjoyed “The Rabbit and the Elephant” It played a part in giving me the courage and confidence to leave behind what had felt dead to me for years.

When we first started with house church, this issue of how to develop community was quite a concern. This was especially true when new people would come and not feel that they were a part for quite awhile.
In recent years, we’ve found that using a simple tool for connecting on the heart level every time we gather has greatly accelerated the process of community bonding. The tool we use (SASHET) levels the “playing field” because both long time members and new comers can talk about their emotions. (I am “the” expert on my emotions!) We make it very safe by explaining that people can share at whatever level they are comfortable with and are also free to “pass”. Our check-in tool is so simple that even new people quickly see how to do it. And, the benefit is cumulative. As you connect on the heart level week after week, the sense of community deepens.

Agreed. If you have surface relationships; create surface environments that provide an atmosphere where relationships can grow naturally. If people don’t know each other that well, don’t get in an intimate circle and ask people to share about how God is dealing with them! The relationships aren’t there yet. Eat together, play games, watch movies, go on hikes, etc. Then, when that’s comfortable, add some mission in there; then some spiritual activities and on and on.
I think our “your way, right away” culture has got us thinking that a new church should act like an adult right away. It’s not. It’s a baby. You have to be more careful with them. Let people get to know each other before you suggest a 4-hour prayer meeting :).

Tony P, thank you for your insightful comments, and no, you haven’t violated blog etiquette! I agree totally that Jesus needs to be our focus. I think it’s often because we get off focus that we miss out on either community or mission. Having said that, Jesus was practical as well as spiritual. He spent time in communion with his Father, but he also spent a lot of time with the ordinary people. He did what he saw his Father doing. I think we Christians can often focus upward (being spiritual) and miss out on doing what Jesus did, which was looking to see where his Father was working in the world.

2nd man united, I had a fascinating conversation with a friend recently on this subject. As Christians we tend to think that spirituality automatically leads to community. But community has a natural component to it. As you say, it’s sharing ordinary, everyday life together too.

We started a work with some skateboarders in our city and I saw this principle to be true. We simply joined the skate community that already existed. Right now we are beginning to experience the challenge of getting Christians to experience this type of community. I can see much truth in what you are saying here and this will be very important for our simple church network to consider. I agree that it will indeed take time. Very thought provoking. Thank You!

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