PUT YOURSELF ASIDE.
So often, one of the major roadblocks to building community is our own selves. If we worry constantly about whether others will like us or be bored with us, then community is going to go nowhere. Stepping outside of our own issues, swallowing that lump of pride in our own throats, and reaching out a hand to the person next to us who seems lost and confused or just plain out new, are what will begin that process of building long-standing community.
Whether you’ve been on the inside of a church or are coming in from the outside, allowing yourself the grace and awkwardness to talk to someone new is what plants a seed of community.
BE WILLING TO PUT IN THE TIME.
Relationships and community take time to build. Even if someone seems unwilling to talk, keep taking the time to engage. Don’t be pushy or force them to do something they wouldn’t want to do, but take time to ask questions. Ask about their week, their job, what things they like to do for fun or in their free time.
Realize that building community takes a lot of time. Friendships hardly ever explode into full being overnight. Often they grow slowly over a long period of consistent time and energy spent together.
WALK ALONGSIDE PEOPLE, NOT AT THEM.
One of the biggest fears many people have is the question of safety. Are they safe to engage in their current environment? Will they be judged for any one of a myriad of daily choices? Will this group turn on them as soon as they say or do one thing wrong?
Many people church communities have a reputation of walking at people with a finger raised and shaking in disgust. Our churches need a reputation of arms around shoulders, walking together to face the challenges of life. If people feel they’re going to be judged or ridiculed or ignored because of a life choice, they’re not likely going to engage in any community. Instead they’ll be walking to the door, grabbing their purse, and never coming back.
This doesn’t mean that we excuse poor life decisions or make light of sin. This means being willing to recognize the world is broken, people are broken, and we all have issues in our lives to work through. Community is a place where those issues can be explored safely and in context of loving relationships.
Will communities always be safe? No. Is there risk in every relationship? Yes. Can we improve? Yes, indeed. As churches continues to talk about community, finding the grace to interact with each other in the midst of a broken, hate-filled world is difficult, but it is definitely worth every step of the journey.