As a pastor of a small church, I’m particularly sensitive about building a sense of community. I don’t think community is just another 21st-century buzzword; I think it reflects the body life described for the church in the New Testament. For example, in the Lord’s Prayer, I’ve been struck by Jesus’ intructions for how to pray.
You will notice the use of the plural: “Our Father,” “Give us our daily bread,” “Forgive us our debts.” This pattern is all through the Gospels, the epistles, the pastoral letters—commands and encouragements given in the plural.
The point is this: Christianity was not meant to be lived individualistically. When you put your faith in Christ, you are baptized into a body, joined to a people.
So it is an important function of the church to create environments where this body life, this community, can flourish. Much of this falls on church leadership. They must work hard to create environments for God’s people to fulfill the “one-another” commands, where Gospel fellowship, confession, repentance, friendship, encouragement and life can happen together.
But there is a role for the church member as well. Since I’ve been in some form of church leadership for a long time, I’ve really never had the experience that many Christians have in choosing a church. But in talking to people who have joined our church, and in talking to friends, it seems finding community is at the top of the list when deciding between equally strong, Gospel-preaching churches.
People will attend and stay at a church where they have friends. But what role do the church members, not the leaders, have in creating such an environment? I want to offer five ways for church members to create community. You’ll notice that these are more pragmatic in nature. I didn’t mention things like small groups, Bible study, etc. Those are sort of assumed. I’m talking here really of just developing friendships.
1. Attend the potlucks.
I realize that if you attend a large church, you may not know what a potluck is. And if you attend a small church, maybe you think it’s outdated. I realize that I’m speaking out of my own experience at a church of under 100 in attendance. But my larger point is this: Attend social functions at your church. You may think that potluck or chili cook-off or ice-cream social is kinda lame. Maybe there is an NFL game on that night. Maybe you’re on a vegan diet. Maybe you’d rather clean out your car.
You should attend the potluck anyway and here’s why: You can’t create community simply by going to church on Sunday morning, checking it off your list and going home. At some point, you need to break bread with people, to experience life with people, to see where your church is going as a body. There is a lot in Scripture about “breaking bread” together, because something beautiful happens when people enjoy a meal together. It breaks down differences and unites you in your need to sustain yourself with food.
I’ve often said that what happens at a potluck may be as important as what happens in church. Don’t mistake what I’m saying. Preaching and corporate worship are vital to the body. So is good doctrine. But you can do those two things and not have community, and therefore not experience body life, and therefore experience a void in your relationship with God. So, go to the potluck and eat the bad lasagna. You’ll thank me later.