Community: Now Only $14.95 Per Person!

I’ve been thinking a lot about community lately. And I’m not the only one; community is high on the priority list for most people who attend a church in America today. But while community is important to almost everyone, that’s about where the commonality ends.

It seems there are as many different opinions of what church community should look like as there are people. The church I pastor, like many other churches, is made up of all sorts of different people. We have different church and denominational backgrounds (including many with none at all), different personalities, and different life experiences. This can lead to different ideas about how “community” should function.

With so many different opinions, how do we experience community at church? In fact, what is God’s ideal for church community? Interestingly, the Biblical phrase most frequently used to describes community is “one another.” As in pray for one another, bear one another’s burdens, encourage one another, be kind to one another, exhort one another, teach one another, admonish one another, be patient with one another, and love one another. Two things stand out in my mind as I examine this Biblical list of “one-anothers.”

First, Biblical community is all about, well, one another! Community does not mean a few insiders reaching out to the masses. It isn’t mainly about the few pastors or elders of a church pursuing each member, which would make community a top-down thing; something done to us. Rather, the Bible is describing community as all of us reaching out to all of us. Biblical community is a delightfully organic thing, engaging every person in a thriving dance of giving and receiving. Because community is not a one-way thing, the person who walks in to a church, sits down, and waits for community to happen to them is going to be waiting a long time. And the person who goes from church to church doing this, evaluating each one on how relational the church is will almost assuredly never find what they're looking for.

Which leads me to the second thing: a direct implication of the “one-another” language in the Bible is that community is not something you find. Community is something you help make. Many people bounce from church to church looking for community the way we might hop from store to store in search of just the right plasma TV. But because of its one-another nature, community can’t be boxed and put on a shelf for discovery. Community is not something we find at church; community is something we bring with us to church.

Community happens when I determine to be a one-anothering kind of person,
and I seek opportunities to share love, grace, patience, encouragement, and burden-bearing with those around me. It does not require me to have a socially outgoing personality. Rather, it requires me to spend enough time getting to know people that I know what needs they have, and what will encourage them. Then it requires me to take a little risk, by stepping out and meeting that need.

At that moment, you’re touching another person’s life powerfully. You become Jesus to them, you begin a strong relationship, and you make God’s church a little bit more like what he wants it to be.

And that’s way better than anything you can get from a store.


Amy Guerino said...

Well said, Dearest One. I'm delighted to have discovered your post before you told me you had a new one up.

I love doing community or the "one anothering" with you and beside you at our wonderful church.

Crown of Beauty said...

Hi Matt,
I love this post!

To do an in depth study of the ONE ANOTHERs of the Bible is one of my goals this year. Hopefully your post will start it off for me...

What you wrote wasn't anything too deep or profound, or anything that we haven't heard before.

But it is so refreshingly true.

And, I couldn't help but laugh at the title you gave your blog entry. I could be wrong, but I think it is a tacit "attack" on the way many people view community and this whose church thing as a commodity to be purchased on Sunday morning, whether online, on television, or in megachurches.

Spirituality for probably know what I mean.

And the word of God, worship music, prayer for healing or anointing, programs are peddled by preacher salesman who is dressed for the part and has mastered the subtle art of Christian salestalk.

It is sad, isn't it? That is why I loved your post, because it is a Biblical reminder of what Jesus meant community to be, we call it "body life" over at our church... or Life Together (was that phrase coined by Dietrich Bonhoffer?)

There's value in being small and simple and going back to the basics and essentials... it makes drawing near to God and to one another so much more meaningful, and authentic!

I always praise God for your deep insights.


Matt Guerino said...

"I could be wrong, but I think it is a tacit "attack" on the way many people view community and this whose church thing as a commodity to be purchased on Sunday morning, whether online, on television, or in megachurches."

Nope, not wrong. Dead right! I really think it's hard for most Americans NOT to think of church as a commodity to be shopped for. Just last week I talked to a Christian lady who has lived in our town for almost 2 years and still not found a church. She admitted that her family was probably too "consumeristic," but then she went on to describe how she and her husband would love one church, but they would let the kids in on the decision and if even one of their two kids wasn't excited about the church they would move on. What are they teaching these children about church, and the reasons we plug into one!?!

I'm so grateful for people like you for whom these thoughts seem like simple, solid reminders. I only wish there were more people like that state-side.

Blessings sister!

Matt Guerino said...

Oh, and it was indeed Bonhoeffer who popularized the phrase "Life Together" . That's the title of of a well know book he wrote.

As I re-read your comment it occurs to me you might be interested in a post I did last year on consumerism within the church. If you have time to read it, I'd value your thoughts as always.

Jerry Casper said...


While I agree with the substance of your article (We are individually responsible for reaching out to others), I seems to me that you've presented it as an either/or scenario. Having experienced real community on many occassions, I agree that one anotherness is an amazing blessing from God. With that said, in countering the trend of people to shop for churches that meet their needs, I think you've significantly discounted the role that leadership of a church has in helping building the community. I'm not suggesting that the pastors and elders invite someone over to their house each week or that they are primarily responsible for building community, but the church can and should create opportunities for people to connect.

In reality, community in the church is both/and scenario. Both the Church leadership and the individual have roles in this process. The role of the individual is to take the risk of putting themselves out there for one another. For some individuals, risking themselves is a difficult or terrifying thing. Some simply don't have the skills to reach out on their own or need opportunities to make those connections, so I'd suggest that one of the roles of a church is to encourage community.

The church needs to go beyond just verbally encouraging it, but needs to help lower the barrier to entry for those of us that have a hard time connecting with others. Things as simple as small groups, or a Sunday evening potluck/dessert followed by a sing-a-long (Every Christian gathering needs music and food, right?), or arranging for community involvement opportunities (serving together helps build the ties that bind), or some form of men's event that doesn't involve golf, fishing, or fried pork. Can community happen without these opportunities to connect with others? Yes. Will it be as effective or will community develop as quickly? I'd suggest that it won't.

Although the individual has the primary role in building community, I think the case can be made Biblically that the church leadership has a strong role in ... leading. In practice, the only organizations that I've seen successfully build community among their members - both secular and Christian - had leaders that work hard to provide opportunities for their members to connect and deepen their relationships. Even small intentional decisions or actions on the part of leadership can have a tremendous impact on our ability to develop deep relationships with people who can lift us up and be lifted up in turn.

Don't take this as a knock against you or against Harvest (except maybe the limited opportunities that guys have to connect with each other), especially since I agree with your basic premise that community happens when we each determine to be a one-anothering kind of person and that community is something that we help make. The reason for my response is that many of the lonely, hurting, and broken people I meet in church or at work don't really know what community means or what it should look like. Expecting them to figure it out on their own is naive. This is where the church leadership has an opportunity to step in, provide opportunities for community to develop, and to demonstrate what it looks like for us to become Jesus to others.


Matt Guerino said...

Good thoughts Jerry. Here's a fun irony: at the very moment you were typing this comment I was at Peet's (of course) meeting with a guy who has felt difficulty connecting at church. So clearly leaders help set the tone. But let me address two things: a clarification of my point, and then addressing yours.

What I'm suggesting in this post is that "leaders need to set the tone in building community" does not, should not - indeed CANNOT - mean "the leaders didn't personally invite me out to lunch." In other words, I'm saying that when community becomes the few (leaders) establishing a relationship with the many, community is not sustainable, nor is that the Biblical ideal.

And I think this tends to happen more subtly than overtly. While most people will readily admit that a few pastors and elders can't possibly connect with everyone, but only some, there is often a desire that we personally will be part of the "some." If enough people entertain that expectation, even sub-consciously, you can see at least one reason why community becomes so elusive.

So I'm trying to surface - to get us to think consciously about - our expectations and assumptions about how community should look and feel at church. If we're going to achieve this thing called community, we'd better start with a common definition of the term; a common view of our goal. And the Biblical definition seems to be all of us to all of us.

Now, to your point, I'm not suggesting that this means everyone's on their own and the church has no obligation to help. I didn't discuss what I think the church's obligations are in this post because blog posts are more effective when they're focused. Too many points confuse a message. So my silence on the topic in this post doesn't mean I don't think there's anything to say about it.

Actually I agree with your overall point, and in fact that's a point I've made myself many times in staff and elder meetings. I even said it to the guy I was meeting with while you were typing - no joke. The role of the church is to paint a common vision, based on Scripture, of what community is. And then to help facilitate it; that is, to create maximum opportunities for members to step out and create it. We do that lots of ways at Harvest and we'll keep on doing it, hopefully better and better. We're always open to suggestions about how to do it better, and we need to not be afraid to stop doing some things that don't work well if we can replace them with things that will work better.

Cabana Man said...

Here's a community building idea... The ABC Show! Woo hoo! Okay, I'll admit, it's only a couple times a year and definitely isn't everyone's cup of tea and contrasted with the other comments here is quite obviously just a shameless plug. However, I actually have a reason other than shameless plug to bring it up. The show's original concept was two fold: 1) to create an evening of enjoyment that unbelievers would feel comfortable in (and realize it's safe to step foot in a church) 2) to create an evening where our church members can come and hang out and have an enjoyable evening together "connecting." But I noticed something at one or two of the shows... people came for the show, and then left! Now, maybe they just wanted to get out of there ASAP because the show stunk (stunk? stank?). A valid and likely reason. But perhaps they forgot that it was an opportunity to get to know someone a little better, enjoy each others company and talk about how bad the show was.

So what's my point? I don't know. Thanks to ADD I've forgotten by now. Suffice to say, the leadership (or some pathetic drama group) can create the avenue for community, at a price lower than $14.95 per person even, but the horses decide not to drink.

Jerry Casper said...

Dana, For the record, the ABC Show rocks! At the last show, I had the pleasure of sitting across from Glynna. She laughed so hard I thought we needed to call an ambulance. If I remember right, there was an intermission where we connected with others at our table, but I had to leave afterwards to pay the babysitter. Please keep doing the show. I think it's a blast and it gave a group of us something to talk and laugh about on Sunday morning.

Matt, I think it's very funny that you were having a similar conversation while I was posting my comment. As a pastor's son, I couldn't agree with you more and I hope my comments didn't come across otherwise. Leadership needs to set the tone and provide opportunities, but there is no way a pastor/church leader can connect on that level with even a small percentage of the church body, and as you said, they 'should not'.

My comments stemmed from the fact that I don't develop deep relationships quickly or easily. Since I was a pastor's son and we moved between small towns every few years, relationships became disposable. At Harvest, I have many 'friends', but it has taken four years for both Kari-Ann and I to start developing those deep relationships with others. I've been in several churches that talk about connecting, but only provide token opportunities to do so. I've been in others that actually provided real opportunities to connect with other believers. Some of the relationships I developed as a result are still very important to me today. My passion for the topic comes from seeing both sides and I'd love to see Harvest be excellent at helping people connect with others. It's painful to feel lost in church when you're surrounded by hundreds of other believers.

With that said, what I'd really like to see are more opportunities for guys to interact with other guys. I like golf, but I suck at it and don't want to spend a bucketload of money just to hang with the guys, I can't stand fishing, so I'll never attend one of those events, and as much as I like fried pork, the monthly breakfast meetings are mainly speaking events where we listen and process what we heard. I want to do something with guys that involves activity. Whether it is basketball, hiking, softball, or something where there is physical activity involved, I think we'd find that connectivity happens for guys at a much deeper level if we did something where physical labor and sweat is involved. :-)

Anyway, as always, I appreciate the response Matt. I certainly didn't mean to imply that you had nothing to say on the topic, and I'm glad that you continue to have connection as something you're thinking about.


Cabana Man said...


I'll make sure to invite you to my next poker game.


Jerry Casper said...


Somehow poker night for me always seems like making donations to the other players. If the conversation is good, it can be fun if done rarely and for less than $5.


Matt Guerino said...


Did I just hear someone volunteer to organize a men's hike? ;)

I appreciate your clarification, and I really enjoy thinking these kids of things through TOGETHER with people. That's why I blog! SO thanks for your thoughtful input into this discussion. You too Dana.

And I don't think you're alone in forming deep relationships slowly. I think that's the norm - sure is for me. Real relationships take time, a measure of risk, time, and more time. Even then for whatever reasons (personality, "chemistry", whatever) some of those relationships don't "take." But some do, and it's then that we have real community on our hands. We have people who "get" us - and we them - below the surface level, and people we can call - and be called by - in need. Amy and I have gotten to that point with people before, but it has always been a slow process that has to be pursued deliberately.

I think of church activities in two broad categories. There's the more socially-oriented stuff including the Community Cafe time Sunday mornings, men's breakfasts and golf tournaments, the Girl's Night Out things the ladies do, that ABC thing (he, he) and many others. These are all good ways to make a few connections and break some proverbial ice, but relationships can't really go deep in most of these venues.

We need regular time with a smaller group of people if real community is going to form. That can be through a church-organized Community Life Group or a self-organized group of some sort, but that's where community really happens in church.

Like you, I've experienced both before: times where we established deep relationships and times when we didn't so much. Our desire is that everyone at Harvest has the opportunity for the former!

Jerry Casper said...

Hmmm...did I volunteer? I must have missed that somewhere. :-) Actually, I'd like to start with a basketball get together. After all, we have a 'gym'.

And since we're talking about community, one of the other blogs I read just wrote about it today. It's Christian satire, but he's usually funny and thought provoking. The title is, "Pretending you care about community."

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