The church and community are two words that often feel like they are in a bad marriage. They are stuck together and don’t really like each other. I mean they had a good run but things just aren’t really working anymore.
And it’s not for a lack of trying. There are small groups, community groups, luncheons, breakfasts, retreats, classes, service opportunities, studies, clubs, and functions all throughout the week. There are dedicated “meet someone new times” there are greeters and ushers and all kinds of other people who are supposed to make this community thing happen.
Of course, because the marriage is supposed to be great, churches will usually act like it is. Everyone here is best friends. We eat together, pray together, walk the neighborhood together, and, sometimes, even sleep together. We do life together. Want to join into our amazing circle of friends?
If your church is not filled with vibrant community, pastors should lead better, read more books, go to more community conferences, or really challenge the community to start acting more like a community.
I used to take a lot of the community or lack of community personally as though I had to do more.
I don’t know anymore.
Here’s what I’ve learned.
1. Some people do want community and they can’t get it. These people break my heart. They break it because I want to give them a friend but I can’t. Friends take time and they take two parties. One person wanting a friend can not simply be given a friend. They have to find someone who wants to be a friend.
I equate community to coral. Coral will grow just about anywhere except in empty flowing ocean water. However, put an old ship in the water and, over time, it will start to grow.
Every church has at least a piece of wire in the ocean. Coral will eventually attach. But there is absolutely nothing the church can do to force coral to attach. Some will build really big shipwrecks, and pump all kinds of nutrients that help coral, but in the end, it still has to grow on its own.
2. Some people don’t think they want community.
Many people are simply afraid. To make friends you have to vulnerable and risk. Some people don’t want to be vulnerable and/or risk and often for very good reasons. The church’s job is to encourage vulnerability and risk and to be there when it hurts.
And then let coral grow.
3. Some people have community and are doing it outside the church.
Churches love to label everything with their brand. It’s our small group, our Sunday morning, our Bible study. The thing is that many people have all kinds of community in all kinds of places that are not labeled City Church A. We should encourage that and let it be.
4. Some people need to not talk to a person.
There are many people who shouldn’t talk to one person on a Sunday morning. They are exhausted. They are tired. They need to rest and breathe and relax and remember they are enough and worthy and loved and life still exists and beats all around them.
There are many people like this and they are often berated at churches for not building community. Churches need to be berated for putting more burdens on them than they already carry.
Someone once called our church, church for adults. If you want something you have to go get it. I found this to be an incredible compliment for all the reasons listed above.
I don’t know where everyone is at on every given Sunday.
I do know that many people who complain that they can’t find community at a church will never find a church that gives them community. They’ll go on lots of first dates - because first dates always seem hopeful - but they won’t find a lasting relationship with a church until they stop complaining about life not being what they want and start trying to be a different person.
I do know that some people who don’t need another friend, need to be a friend to someone who does. This is hard and this is sacrifice and it costs. This is not for everyone but it is for some people. They have to figure out if that’s them.
I do know relationships (and coral) take time. You can’t leave a church of 10 years and say you haven’t found friends like you had at your old church after being at the new church for 6 months.
I do know people who come into a community with the ability to be slightly vulnerable and to take some risks, embed into that community much faster than people who wait for someone to approach them and offer them a friend.
I do know that many people who complain that they’ve never been invited to ______’s house, have never invited ______ to their house.
I do know that life is complicated and busy and full and that whenever I take a moment to connect in a meaningful way to another human being, I’m living more than I was with whatever complicated, busy and full thing I was doing previously.