While churches are communities, they are often poor examples of community. People meet together, they worship together, they may even pray and study together but often, there is a distance and a lack of real connection within the community. Some believers, in fact, aren’t even sure that they need to have a Christian community–we are, after all, deeply affected by western individualism, which requires that we stand independently on our own two feet, not needing anyone else.
But ours is a community oriented faith and any gathering of believers that doesn’t foster a sense of community is dooming itself to weakness and possible problems. The difficulty is that most congregations are composed of people who are busy and active and who don’t have time for community–we need to be focused and make good use of the limited time that people offer the church.
But if community is important, we need to build in ways to develop the community. And that means much more than just taking a few minutes during worship to greet each other–in fact, I could probably make a good case that congregations that need that included in their worship really don’t have a good community. If they had a good sense of community, they would have already greeted and welcomed each other before the worship time and would continue after the worship.
There are ways to create stronger community among believers. One significant and often overlooked method is to have coffee and tea available to people, either as an official “fellowship time” or just there, somewhere near where people are gathering. The process of pouring and preparing coffee and tea seems to have a deep effect on community building. As people stand around pouring, preparing and tasting their beverage, they talk–about the weather, the new car, the latest grandchild (I serve older congregations), who is in the hospital, how bad the church coffee is and on and on.
But they also build community. They demonstrate their care and concern in a real and tangible way. Talking about the weather is much more than just talking about the weather–it is an essential tool in building community. As we talk about the weather, we are measuring each other, evaluating each other, checking the relationship, discovering and deciphering the non-verbal messages–in short, we are learning a great deal about each other and in the process, contributing to the strength of the community.
We could probably do all that without coffee–and a healthy Christian community should probably be able to do it automatically. But just as we are not perfect as individual believers, so, we are also not perfect as congregations and what we should be able to do we probably need help to do. Coffee Christians might not be particularly Biblical but a good conversation over a cup of coffee can help build community, which is a strong Biblical mandate.
We can build community by encouraging people to talk together–meetings can be conducted in a way that is efficient but also allows people time to talk and share. I am a very strong proponent of effective and short meetings–but even in that context, I encourage people to talk and share. Whether we buy blue hymn books or red hymn books is probably important–but the community we build in the process is even more important. After all, we won’t have either red or blue hymnbooks in heaven, but we will be together with all the people on the committee for eternity–we can probably spare some time here and now to help build a good foundation for that eternal community.
Congregations need to build in times and opportunities to develop community. When we try to live our faith as determined individuals, we pick a hard road to travel. Since God has designed our faith to be lived and developed in the context of a community, whatever we can do to build community not only makes the community stronger but also makes our individual faith stronger because the plan is for the community to help individual. We are our brother’s and sister’s keeper–and they are ours, by God’s design and plan.
May the peace of God be with you.