“I think community has to be organic,” said the guy across the room.
I cringed and sucked in a deep breath. My heart picked up pace. My body always responds this way when something severely rubs me the wrong way.
As someone who had just left my community and moved across the ocean, the comment felt like a slap in the face.
The initial response in my head was defensive. Easy for you to say since you come from a well-known ministry. Community isn’t so organic when you’re changing cultures.
But my heart response was more along the lines of, What’s wrong with me? Why has it been anything BUT organic for me? Why do I have to try so hard?
For a long time, community seemed organic for me. I had lifelong friends that had been playing by my side since before we could talk. I had more recent friends that quickly became kindred spirits.
But when I moved, community was my biggest struggle, and it hasn’t been easy. Not because people aren’t friendly, not because people in my new city don’t have community, but because community isn’t always as natural as we think it is.
I used to think all I need is God. And that the loneliness I’ve struggled with is just helping me to turn to God instead of relying too much on people. There is some truth to that. But the truth is our hearts need more than an individual relationship with God.
In Genesis 1, God creates the world. At the end of each new creation, God calls it good. Then God creates Adam.
So there’s Adam, living in what the most beautiful place there has ever been on earth. Adam walks with God. There is no sin separating him from God. He has all the food he needs. He knows nothing of shame or pain or sadness. He’s in paradise. Adam has it all.
And then, for the first time since the world has been created, God sees that something is not good. He says in Genesis 2:18, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make him a helper suitable for him.”
Again, Adam has everything. A perfect relationship with God. Plenty of food. A safe and beautiful environment. Everything is working how it was created to work. And yet, it’s not enough.
This scenario isn’t just about marriage. Jesus, who was the perfect man, the “second Adam,” was single. But this speaks to a larger need we all have: A need for relationships and for community. We weren’t meant to be alone. In fact God says, “it is not good.”
Community is a buzzword, but it’s easier said than done. And often it’s more talked about than it is practiced.
As I’ve worked to develop community, I’ve learned that there are a few things every strong community needs:
Community has to be intentional. Even if it starts organically, it still has to be maintained.
The community that Jesus formed with His 12 disciples was intentional. It wasn’t organic. It’s very unlikely that a tax collector and a fisherman would have naturally come together had Jesus not called them both. And there are decidedly some moments of tension within the group. It wasn’t this group of guys that just understood one another’s hearts and agreed on everything and sat by the fire singing kumbaya. They bickered, they disagreed, and they resented each other at times. But they became a community that multiplied and changed the world.
Community can’t just be with people we feel comfortable with, who completely understand us and believe the same things as us.
This is what I love about church families. The diversity, the differences, all of these imperfect people that come from different walks of life and yet share one common love: Jesus.
A Willingness to Embrace Awkwardness
Developing community can be awkward. I’ve learned that creating community means pushing myself beyond my comfort zone, my insecurities and my discouragements. It can mean awkward conversations, refused invitations, miscommunication and expectations not matching reality.
Invite others in. Come as you are and you’ll find me as I am.
One of the best ways I’ve found in creating community is inviting people into my life, and into my home. Letting people see our imperfections (and our imperfect homes and meals), helps others to feel more free to be themselves. There is nothing like bonding over a flopped cake or an embarrassing moment.
The Ability to Have Fun Together
Create a memory. Stop just going out for coffee. While I love going out for coffee, coffee dates are better for maintaining relationships than starting new ones.
Do something that will create a memory and bring people around a common cause. Whether it’s hiking a new trail or getting people together to raise awareness for a social justice issue or organizing a game night, initiate activities that will bring people together.
Expand your community. Don’t create cliques, create community. Always be expanding your community and looking for new people to invite in.
Creating community has been an up and down process for me. I’ve had to work to put aside fear, laziness and anything that keeps me from stepping out and pursuing relationships. I’ve learned that I have to let go of self-preservation and self-criticism.
Through community, and these new people God has brought in and out of my life, I’m encountering God in new ways and growing in ways I never could have without community.
Native of Lancaster County, PA, Mareesa lives in Cape Town, South Africa where she serves with Paradigm Shift, a nonprofit organization that alleviates poverty by training and discipling the poor. Mareesa blogs at ineedwords.com.