Sunday, August 17, 2008

Connecting Community

These last few posts have been exploring and developing the themes laid out in a post I made on July 13, Why Do We Do What We Do? (Part 2). In that original post, I talked about a "Welcoming Community," but I'm actually changing that terminology to a "Connecting Community."

In fact, this week's subject and next week's were the ones that I really wrestled with finding just the right words. I know what I want to communicate--it's a matter of applying the proper words that will transmit the idea.

On July 13, I wrote: As people come into our church, we want them not only to feel welcome, but to actually be welcomed--with open arms. We want people to know that this is a safe place, where they will be loved and supported in their pursuit of Christ, a place where they can be authentic, sharing their needs, their fears, their struggles, and their questions, along with their joys and hopes. We want people to be connected into a family.

But my fear is that "welcoming" actually conveys not the idea of deep safety and love, but rather a superficial smile and handshake. This is actually the opposite of what we want. A smile and handshake is a nice beginning, but if we stop there, we fail as a community that follows the path of Christ. You can get a nice greeting at McDonald's and Wal-Mart, but the church of Jesus Christ ought to be a place that truly welcomes people to come and join us on this path of becoming fully devoted followers of him.

A Connecting Community is one where we are linked and joined to one another with bonds of love, consideration, authenticity, and care. Moreover, we work hard to connect the unconnected--those who stand off apart from the community, who are fearful of rejection if they should reveal too much of themselves. We actively seek to attach ourselves to each other, knowing that it is God's will for us to hold one another up as we stumble together toward Christlikeness on our journeys of faith.

In searching for the right word, I considered many options:

  • Phrases like an "Open Community" and an "Embracing Community" not only had the same failings as a "Welcoming Community," but in some circles they signify an endorsement of a homosexual lifestyle, which is certainly not something we want to communicate.
  • An "Approachable Community" puts the responsibility on those who come--that they should approach us--when in fact we should be the ones seeking to incorporate others into the body.
  • I thought about an "Attaching Community," but it reminded me of a vacuum cleaner or some other machine with attachments. I thought of a Frankenstein-like monster, composed of various assembled parts, when we want to communicate something natural and attractive. The same goes with "Sticky Community"--Eeeewwww! Yuck!
  • I really liked an "Adopting Community"; it carries the idea of incorporating people into a family. But I felt it was unclear what we were adopting--people? ideas? babies?

It is important for a church to be a Connecting Community. If we are not connected in this deep-life way, we have no place to go with our questions, our doubts, our fears, and our struggles, and that void leaves us open to Satan's attacks. If we are not connected with others in our church, it becomes hard to grow spiritually because growth most often comes only when we are challenged to grow, and we are best challenged by those who really know us. Finally, when we are unconnected, it becomes very easy to simply drop out. After all, if no one really cares about me, why should I keep going?

So what makes us connected? How do we connect with one another?

  • We feel connected when we can identify friends in the church.
  • We feel connected when we have an important role or ministry in the church.
  • We feel connected when we grow closer to God through the church.
  • We feel connected when we believe in the mission and vision of the church.

How can we become a Connecting Church. Particularly, how do we connect the unconnected?

  • Identify those who lack friendships, who seem isolated, and befriend them. Or introduce them to others they might have something in common with.
  • Identify those who lack a place to serve, and encourage them to get involved in a ministry that fits how God has shaped them.
  • Identify those who are not in a small group, and help them find a group that fits their needs and schedule.
  • Continually communicate the mission and vision of the church in an attractive way.

When we remove the barriers to connection, we become a place where people feel they belong, where they feel comfortable to be themselves, where they know that there is a radical acceptance based on the unity that comes from the blood of Jesus Christ that gives us equal standing before him. We become a community that people cling to and will not relinquish because they find their deepest needs for purpose, acceptance, and encouragement met right here through the people of God.

No comments: