Last spring, my husband and I were touring elementary schools in our area’s magnet district. I asked one mom in particular what she loved about her daughter’s school. “Easy,” she said, “it’s the sense of community.”
I wasn’t surprised at her answer, but to be honest, it felt like taking the easy way out. Like saying, “try the ice cream, it’s delicious.” Of course it is. Almost everyone loves community, and almost everyone loves ice cream. Community has become such a buzzword, it can hardly be used as a selling point anymore.
And yet, I use it all the time. When people ask me about our church plant, I’m quick to say something like, “it’s a really special community.” Because while “community” is a total buzzword, it’s also a unifying ideal. No matter what we believe, we know we want it.
The difficulty comes when we want the ideal without the process it requires. As I’ve watched our church and our friends grow and stretch in this area, I’ve noticed that most of us have to push through the desire for immediate, plug and play community in order to settle in for the journey it takes to actually build community with one another.
Building community takes hard work. It’s a slow process, and slow isn’t exactly popular these days.
But it’s worth it.
As we’ve pushed through the building process with our church plant, I’ve noticed these five misconceptions most of us have realized and work through as we come together in community:
Misconception 1: It’s Easy
Because community is such an attractive, necessary ideal, we sometimes act like it doesn’t really take work. We really want things that are right to also be easy.
Unfortunately, what comes easily to most of us is making things about ourselves. The other day, someone mentioned that small groups are often just an opportunity for people to be self-centered with others. Showing up is the easy part (and even that can be tough). Turning to each other, being others-centered is hard. It takes mindfulness, and it has to come from an overflow of the heart.
Misconception 2: It’s Natural
I just want something that develops organically, we say.
Few things evoke a more dramatic sigh from my church-planting heart. I mean, yes, sometimes friendships do develop fairly naturally, and that’s great. But generally, anything bigger than you and your best friend is going to take more work.
When my family moved to Asheville, I joined a moms group. I found that I’d already crossed paths with many of the women naturally, but it wasn’t until we all came together with the understanding that we now belonged to each other that we actually invested in each other. I didn’t learn anything about them until we planned stuff and showed up and sat on the floor with scones, coffee, little metal cars and plastic shopping carts all around us.
Intentionality is necessary for community, and sometimes that doesn’t feel as organic as we’d like.
Misconception 3: It Will Come to You
Oh, how I loved high school and college ministries. I loved the games, I loved the drama, I loved the camps. I especially loved the way the campus ministry team chased me down to take me out to lunch.
Christianity after college can be very confusing, because all of a sudden, you leave school and, as long as you wait, no pastor comes knocking at your door.
Instead, you have to go to them. You have to find a church. You have to actually go to church. You have to join groups. You know what’s cool about that? It becomes about more than you. That local church needs you; their community isn’t complete without you, and you can’t find real community until you commit to them.
In adulthood, autonomy skyrockets and it takes a while to figure out how to handle that. But one thing is for sure: You have to show up and step up if you want community. It is unlikely to land at your feet.
Misconception 4: It’s Convenient
Real community can be super annoying, because it just won’t leave you the alone. You have to start rearranging your life for people. Some of that well-earned autonomy starts to slip away a little bit, which is hard but ultimately good.
Whether it’s committing to a weekly meeting or showing up when someone needs help, company or advice—community requires you to step outside the you-bubble and into someone else’s bubble. What’s harder—it requires you to invite other people into your own. That can be physically, temporally, emotionally and spiritually inconvenient, but it’s the best thing for us.
Misconception 5: It’s Optional
We simply aren’t meant to be alone. Look at Genesis: God creates Adam and almost immediately acknowledges the need for a life mate. Look at the triune God Himself—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are made in His image!
We see it in the way God calls His people group—not just individual people but the whole group. He says, “I will be your God, and you will be my people.” And we see it in the way Jesus died and rose and instructed us to carry on. The new Israel is the Church, and He gave His life for it. We are meant to be in close, close community with others. We reflect God Himself when we do that, and we are most satisfied when we are living His best for us.
Through our church plant, I’ve had a new opportunity to watch a community come together to dream, execute, rework, sacrifice, share, pray and live together. I’m seeing firsthand what happens when a group commits to each other and to God, and it is so, so good.
So, what do I love about our church? Easy. It’s the sense of community.