It’s common for pastors and other church leaders to recognize the fact that there is a danger of building a consumer-oriented church, especially in North America. It’s less common to have a handle on how to engage in the hard, rewarding work of creating biblical community.
The good news is that pastors don’t have to be alone as they lead this effort. As a matter of fact, they can’t be alone – the leaders of transforming churches are passionate collaborators, leveraging the insights, gifts, and abilities of a diverse and vibrant team. Creating a church characterized by biblical community is bigger than any one person – and that is a good thing!
The transforming church leader is the one who is asking the right questions, framing the issues in a way that provokes curiosity and passion and leads to action.
As for the action…our research and decades-long experience of working with churches show that there are five essential building blocks for creating biblical community.
- Mentor mission partners. Churches need partners more than they need “members” or “volunteers”, who fill spots on an org chart. If you are a partner in an enterprise, you have a stake in the outcome, skin in the game. So partners in children’s ministry aren’t there because the church “needs people to watch the kids”; they serve because they value parents and families who are raising kids who will serve God and His kingdom. Partners believe “My everyday life is an extension of our church’s mission!”
- Invite input. The healthiest transforming churches make decisions in such a way that their partners feel connected to their internal processes and outcomes. Our work with congregations always begins not with strategic planning or visioning but with gathering as much input from as many people as possible. The most effective churches foster this sense of community by putting feedback mechanisms in place and insuring that their leaders reflect and act on the feedback they receive. Community requires that partners feel “My opinion matters around here!”.
- Create a structure for involvement. People don’t just automatically connect to the life of a church, its mission, or its experience of community. Assimilation is hard work – and the deeper one is involved in the life of a church the harder it is to see just how challenging it can be for a newcomer to connect. Involvement is a shared process, and it needs a team. Static communication processes (i.e. sign up notices in a bulletin or pulpit announcements) won’t get the job done – everyone from the senior leaders on down must demonstrate an ongoing, well organized and mission-focused commitment to seeing more and more people using their gifts and passions in the church’s ministry.
- Develop meaningful relationships. Thankfully, the vast majority of church leaders now recognize that deep involvement in small groups is essential for biblical community. However there is a growing recognition that structured small groups aren’t enough. The key is that every partner feel that he or she has several close friends and confidants in the church. This may be in a traditional small group or in an affinity group or even in a task-oriented ministry team where relational connections are nurtured. Some people just don’t connect to traditional small groups. And that’s OK. The important thing – based on our research and experience – is that people feel that they have at least one or two close friends at church, however those friendships are formed and fostered.
- Build third place. In the important and understandable press to encourage deep and meaningful relationships, churches building biblical community don’t ignore the importance of casual relationships as well! After all, every deep relationships begins with an initial meeting. Look around your church campus or facility. Are people ‘hanging out’? Are there ways you can get creative around using the open and common spaces in your church to invite connection, conversations, chats, moments of pause – instead of a cattle herd from building to building?
Perhaps you and your leadership team can do an inventory of your church around these five markers. We can’t “manufacture” biblical community, but we can be intentional about creating fertile ground for it to take root. And, in the process, we will find that our partners are becoming not consumers of church goods and services but rather fully engaged members of a biblical community which is impacting its surrounding community for the Gospel.