Community. If there is anything people are looking for after the events of the past two years, it is true community. Although this has been highlighted during our current cultural moment, community has always been a need in the human heart.
Most people seek greater community. Whether this is in the current community they have or in the new location they are in. It is safe to assume that most people would either like more friends or deeper friendships. I believe this is true of all people. Community is an important part of life. We are made in the image of a God that exists in eternal community with Himself. Therefore, community is necessary for a thriving Christian life.
To answer this common need of humanity, many churches strive to provide activities to develop greater community. This often takes the form of lunch after church or potlucks during a holiday. These are normally fun events where the people of the church are provided space to mingle freely with the others. The goal: greater community. The question I would like to explore in this post is, “Do these community building events actually develop greater community?”
This is a difficult question to answer. Each person might have a different understanding of what the word “greater” actually means. For the sake of this post, I am going to provide three metrics to help us decide whether the before mentioned community building activities actually develop greater community. These three metrics are: 1) Greater Inclusion, 2) Greater Intimacy, and 3) Greater Intentionality.
One metric for measuring a community building activity is whether it gives new or unengaged people a place to find belonging. Can a new person attend this event and without much work be authentically engaged by a member of the church? These types of spaces are important for churches as they grow. As new attenders desire to find deeper community in the church, these types of spaces give them the ability to connect with a current member. While people might come to a church for good music, preaching, and children’s programs. People stay at a church because they find a place to belong.
Now to the question, “Do community building events (like lunch after church) provide a space for greater inclusion?” I am going to submit that these events do not. These types of events are intimidating for new or unengaged attenders. These types of events are like trying to find a seat in the lunchroom at a new school during your freshman year of high school. Unless you are already connected to someone in attendance, new people normally find a seat by themselves and people that have long standing relationships in the church acquire a group of seats together. Therefore, unless current members go out of their way and find new people in the crowd inviting them into their group, these events simply remind the new and unengage attender more of what they do not have but desire tremendously: true community.
There are ways that events like this can promote greater inclusion, but they must be done with much intentionality. It is simply human nature to desire to be with people that you know and like. This is normally how these events end up. Long time church members sit with long time church members and new or unengaged attenders sit alone. Long term members mean nothing by this. They simply do not think about it. They want to talk with friends about new and exciting moments in life and these types of events provide a platform for that.
So, while community building events are fun, they are not a good platform for greater community as measured by greater inclusion.
Another metric for measuring a community building activity is whether it provides current members a space for greater intimacy. Does this event give current members a platform to deepen their relationships with those they already know through open and honest dialogue? These types of events are important for the spiritual health of the church. Two keys to health in the Christian life are support and accountability. An important step in this process is to have a space where you can be known by a group of people. These people know your highs and lows. These people know your strengths and struggles. These people can ask you hard questions from a place of love. These people are helping you become like Jesus.
Now back to the question, “Do the before mentioned community building activities promote greater intimacy?” Again, I am going to submit that they do not. I think we can all see why this is true. These events are designed for catching up with old friends and, maybe, meeting new people. These events are not designed for deep authentic conversation. First, many people are around. Most people have no desire to air their personal struggles with a large group of people around. Second, these events do not provide an environment for true, deep conversations. People are walking around. Kids are playing. You will likely be interrupted by many people telling you goodbye. There are too many distractions and not enough focus. Therefore, I believe it is clear to see these events do not provide a space for greater community as measured by intimacy.
The last metric we are going to use to examine community building activities is greater intentionality. Do these types of events activate the congregation on mission together? This can be expressed through community wide evangelism, service of the poor and sick, or church wide prayer. These events are important for the aim and direction of the church. The purpose of community is not the community itself. The purpose of community is mission. As has been frequently said, “God did not give the church a mission. God gave the mission a church.” The church exists because of the mission. The mission does not exist because of the church.
These types of events will not be focused specifically on community development. Yet, similar to how deep community is developed among a team of people who go on a mission trip together, these types of events naturally produce a deep sense of community among the participants. The people involved realize the connection they have through this mission is deeper than race, background, location, or hobby. This connection is through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Let’s ask this question one more time, “Do the before mentioned events promote greater intentionality?” Once more, I am going to submit that they do not. Many times, a lunch after church or a meal during the holidays happen for the enjoyment of friends and food. They are not designed to further the mission of God. This does not mean enjoyment of friends and food are bad. They are actually great gifts from God. But they are not the metric. This metric is greater intentionality, specifically regarding the mission of God. Therefore, I think it is clear to see that these types of events do not produce this desired outcome.
Having now evaluated, community building events through the lens of greater inclusion, greater intimacy, and greater intentionality, it is hard to see how these events truly promote greater community. They promote fun. They promote excitement. They promote activity. Yet, it is hard to say that they promote greater community. Does this mean we need to stop having these events? No! It just means that we cannot use these events as catalysts for community development.
So, what is the answer? That is also a difficult question. Whatever it is, it must include a space where new and unengaged people can find a place to belong in the church. It must include a space for people to deepen their relationships with others and through this deepen their relationship with Christ. It must be focused on the mission of God. The mission of God will produce community, but community rarely produces the mission of God. Maybe the answer is not an event at all. Maybe it is something else.
Imagine a church, where the members are actively looking for God to bring new people their way. Imagine a church whose members actively look for visitors each and every Sunday. Members that invite new people to their Sunday school classes because they desire for new people to find belonging. Imagine Sunday School classes that multiply because they desire to have room for new people. Imagine small groups of men and women who gather during the week for accountability, prayer, bible reading, and evangelistic support. Truly this is not an event at all, it is a church culture that is built around the mission of God with a wonderful community to support that mission.
Keep pursuing the Lord, church! Let’s pray for God to do amazing work in our midst! Let’s come on Sunday ready with anticipation!