Home Outreach Leaders Articles for Outreach & Missions Why Building Community is Easier (and Harder) Than You Think

Why Building Community is Easier (and Harder) Than You Think

Every week, I hear from people throughout the U.S., Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand who are longing for genuine Christian community. They’ve heard a story or read a book about the new monasticism, and they want to know where it’s happening, what it looks like in practice, and how they might be part of it. It’s been a gift to be part of several programs helping young communities connect with older ones, cross-pollinating passion and wisdom, energy and experience. I have seen some great fruit from these programs, but the single piece of advice I find myself repeating most often is this:

You can learn about community elsewhere. But you can only make it happen–you can only ever have it–where you are. So find 3 to 5 people who will commit to share life together for six months or a year. Sit down and make a plan. Find an outside mentor for the group if you can. And schedule a time to evaluate your experiment after the initial commitment is over.

It’s simple, I know. It may not seem like much. But I don’t think any community ever gets started without doing something like this. And without a start, there’s little chance for much else to happen.

So I wanted to share one little “rule” that some folks who’ve gotten together in England shared with me this week. They call it their “heart beat,” and it’s a great example of the kind of thing people can give themselves to as an experiment toward community. After six months, they may have seen enough to know more specific practices they can commit to. They may know more about who can stay and who can’t. They may be able to invite others in, to commit for another year or two, to start a business or a ministry or a community garden. The Lord only knows what might happen. But it all depends on getting started. So, here’s one place to start:

Heart: The heart of who we are becoming together as we follow Christ in this place is summarised by open hands, open hearts and open eyes toward each other and our neighbourhood. By open hands we recognise all we have is a gift to us from God and so we will not be tight-fisted in holding onto things, but open handed in making them available for others. By open hearts we resist the tendency to become hard hearted toward other people by opening our lives to others, recognising that we discover the Divine Other as we welcome friends, companions and strangers. By open eyes we commit to re-imagining our neighbourhood through the eyes of faith, seeing where oppression and injustice is present but looking beyond it to discover God’s vision for people, relationships and creation.

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Jonathan is an author, New Monastic and sought-after speaker. A native of North Carolina, he is co-founder of the Rutba House community, where he lives with his family and other friends, and Director of School for Conversion. Jonathan's books include Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, The Wisdom of Stability, God's Economy and, most recently, The Awakening of Hope. He blogs regularly at The Everyday Awakening.