Learn the Secrets of Building Community

Here you will find resources of knowledge to help direct you in the desire for community in your life.  The focus of this blog is to concentrate on practical advice that reveals insights into how human beings were designed to live and function together.  When applied correctly, this information should bring forth a rich and effective experience of community in your life.

How To Carefully Manage Church & Small Group Connections

Summary:  For healthy community to emerge among a group of people (church, small group, neighborhood, whaetever), members have to learn appropriate activities, appropriate behaviors, and the appropriate amount of investment for each of the relational spaces (public, social, personal and intimate) and put them into practice.  Mistakes are made when specific spaces are promoted more than others or when the four spaces are treated like an assembly line through which relationships are moved.

“…no relationship survives in one space for the entire life of the relationship.” –The Search to Belong

Space vs. investment

Spatial ConnectionsWithin a group of people (church, small group, community group, whatever), each individual only has so many slots in each relational space (public, social, personal, intimate) that can be occupied at any one time to remain healthy.  (Here’s more info on the spaces.)  Since change is inevitable, people “dance” throughout the spaces with those they come to know throughout the seasons of their lives and in different contexts and environments.

For example, a person that occupied a slot in personal space as my roommate in college has now moved to social space as we see each other every so often to catch up on each others’ lives and maintain a friendship.  This opened up slots in both of our personal spaces for others to fill, while now occupying slots in both of our social spaces.

Remember, individuals only have so much time, money and energy to spend on how they belong to each other.  Being overloaded in one space (relative to the investment to stay healthy there) deprives an individual of healthy belonging in another space.  For each of the four relational spaces of an individual’s life to be healthy, the number of slots occupied should be inversely proportional to the size of the investment in each of the slots.  Intimate space has just a few, but requires the most investment; while public space has multitudes, but requires very little.

The fans of my favorite sports team are in my public space.  In order to stay healthy in this space, I’ve got to make sure I’m not investing more time, money and energy with them than they warrant from occupying the slots in this space.  If I do, it creates unhealthiness in another space.  For example, if I watch my favorite professional baseball team on TV every night, when am I spending time with my wife?  She’s someone I claim to want in a slot of the intimate space of my life, which has very few slots available, but requires the biggest investment of them all to stay healthy.  If I choose to watch the game every night, all the relationships in my other spaces are now out of whack.

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The Liberating Truth About How & Where Church Community Emerges

Summary:  Church leaders tend to jump from strategy to strategy in a noble attempt to build stronger Kingdom community.  The reason for the jumping is they tend not to understand how community emerges, or where community emerges.  It emerges spontaneously, and it emerges in healthy environments where leader control is absent.  The problem is, the nature of institutional systems doesn’t allow for this.  It demands processes that humans aren’t built to function in.

We jump from this to that

JumpingWhat really helps people grow and experience community?  We jump from this model to that model, from this fad to that fad and from this strategy to that strategy.  But, if we really had this question figured out, we wouldn’t have to jump at all, would we?  Sure, the expression of community might change from generation to generation.  But, the fundamental principles of what causes community to be experienced and grow are eternal.

Somehow, it seems like we’ve lost sight of the fundamentals while jumping all over the place, doesn’t it?  I mean, every time someone comes out with the latest greatest strategy (small groups, house church, cell groups, whatever), there’s a huge scramble by church leaders to read books, get to conferences, hire staff and re-organize.  But despite all the time, money and energy spent, the facts are institutional church attendance is declining.

But it’s not about the numbers.  If numbers were declining because the Church was living out the Kingdom and this “cut the fat” so to speak, why should we care?  But numbers aren’t declining because of that.  They’re declining because the number of people who prioritize going to church (whatever that means) in their lives is dwindling.  It doesn’t make the cut anymore.  Rightly or wrongly, other things are more important.

Not only that, but people are dropping out of ministry positions at alarming rates as well.  They’re just tired of trying and trying while feeling very little success with what they hope for.  Most want to build the Kingdom, but they’re so busy having to maintain institutional machines that they get little to no chance to do that.

So, what’s the root of the issue?

  1. People (especially leaders) don’t first learn how community emerges.
  2. The nature of the systems/models/fads we choose aren’t built to create environments where community emerges.

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A Huge Little-Known Mistake That Stifles Small Groups & Churches

Summary:  There are 4 spaces through which all relationships ebb and flow.  A small group, church or other group’s ability to live out healthy community is directly tied to their ability to achieve harmony within these relational spaces.  When too much belonging is dominated by one space, or people are forced into spaces they aren’t ready for, it creates problems that typically do damage.  The key to building relationship harmony and growth in a group of people is to allow them to dance among the spaces together; allowing relationships to form and grow naturally.

Learn about relational spaces

The first simple step to experiencing healthy community in a church, small group or other type of group is to learn how to create healthy belonging among the members (see last post).  Unfortunately, most groups of people simply don’t know how to do this very well.  This is because they typically don’t understand or practice the use of the four relational spaces in healthy ways.

Let’s try and avoid this by learning about these four spaces.  We’ll start with a quick overview here.

Public Space

Fans High Fiving

Mac or PC?  Yankees or Red Sox?  Although it’s at the most shallow of levels, people make connections over these things.  People don’t high five other people they’ve never met before.  But if they’re at a sporting event their team makes an amazing play, you see high fives everywhere between people that have never before spoken a word to each other.

Ever go on vacation somewhere and get asked where you’re from?  Then when you respond with your location of residence, you find the person you’re talking to has lived in the same state before?  If you didn’t first establish the commonality of geographic location, you wouldn’t have a conversation.  But once the commonality is established, conversation ensues because you feel like you’ve established public belonging to each other.

You’ll never invite these people to a party.  You’ll only see them at very specific events or never again.  But, you feel like you belong to a community on a public level because you share a common experience or interest.  This is a natural and good thing when experienced in harmony with the other spaces.  When this space occupies too much of a person’s life, you can tell because they invest more time, money and energy in public interests than they deserve to have.

Since I love sports, I think about the fan who goes overboard.  Maybe they decorate their house with their team’s gear.  Or better yet, maybe they even include their team’s identity in significant life events like their wedding.  Whatever the expression, there’s extreme behavior because too much of their belonging comes from this space.

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The Simple First Step To Experiencing Healthy Community

Summary:  For a group of people to accomplish the monumental task of growing into a Kingdom community, the first step is understanding and correctly practicing the use of the relational spaces in which people belong to each other.  One of the biggest downfalls of typical church programs that attempt to build community is they don’t understand or correctly practice the use of relational spaces; resulting in the forcing (programmatically) of relationships into spaces they aren’t meant for or ready for.  This not only limits their success, but many times results in negative consequences.

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Create belonging

Many of the major problems the church faces today really boil down to it’s inherent inability to do one thing – practice community. Why is attendance falling so rapidly?  As some popular books on the subject might claim, it’s not because the music is bad.  It’s not because the sermons are bad.  When people feel like they belong, they sit through bad music and sermons and then complain about it :).

Why is financial giving so poor that church administrators have to constantly ask for money from the pulpit?  It’s not because people do or don’t have the money.  When people feel like they belong, they tend to give generously.

Why are an increasing number of people unconvinced of the validity of the Gospel?  It’s not because of a lack of rational evidence.  When people see Christians belonging to each other in Kingdom community, they tend to become Christians.

Yet, church administrators keep scratching their heads trying to figure out the next best church growth strategy to get people in the doors and filling the offering plates (house church, small groups, singles ministry, whatever’s new nowadays).  The answer?  Create belonging.

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Why Most Small Groups Never Grow Into Kingdom Communities

One of the church’s common answers these days to how someone can grow in Christ is “get into a small group.”  Finally, we’ve admitted the church service is of little value.  In fact, many churches have so totally given up on the church service model that a buzz-phrase that has gone around for a while now among administrators in these types of churches is “We’re not a church with small groups, we’re a church of small groups.”  Basically, people are so totally over church as they know it, even the language that is being used is trying to escape it!

But, is a small group really the answer to growing in Christ?  Or is it just the latest fad soon to die out like the rest?

The typical small group meeting

In the typical small group meeting, you’re likely to find some or all of the following parts:

  • members that typically see each other the most in weekly or bi-weekly meetings.
  • a small group leader who controls leads the group in discussion about a spiritual topic.
  • a pre-planned spiritual agenda or a curriculum for spiritual guidance.
  • the eating of (usually unhealthy) food together.
  • icebreaker games to encourage people to get to know each other.
  • an expectation of commitment
  • common beliefs about life

Small GroupIf and when people dig deep enough, they find that the real reason they attend churches isn’t to sing songs and listen to sermons (although this is what churches are built around).  The real reason they attend is because they’re searching to belong to close-knit-organic-body life-Kingdom community. This search is in every Christian’s spiritual DNA.  When they aren’t in it, they feel (even unknowingly) that they’re in a wilderness.  This is because Kingdom community is a Christian’s home.

The small group is the church’s latest answer to manufacture it.  The problem is…community can’t be manufactured.  This is because authentic community contains life, and life can’t be manufactured.  You can’t build a living thing on an assembly line.

But this is the way it’s attempted in small group programs.  The thought is that if all of the parts above are “put together” by following the instructions, then Kingdom community will “be built.”  But, it’s being learned the hard way that this just isn’t the case.

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