Many people have difficulty connecting at church, especially larger ones. A myriad of reasons contribute to this, and blame can't just be laid at the feet of the church itself.
It's easy to get into church-bashing and stories of abuse, but it can also be the person's inability or unwillingness to connect.
I've been in many different churches in different nations. I've been an outsider and part of the church body infrastructure. Too many times, I've seen a cliquishness within good, solid churches. It happens, and it usually isn't intentional. But it happens.
Community is a popular theme today. But what is meant by community? It depends on the context. A community can be defined as a group of people who have something in common, or are related by something common.
You or I may be in community with others and benefit from it. Yet others, not included in our community for whatever reason, may view us as a clique. Without going too far down that trail, let's understand a simple truth—a clique is not a community—and I'm speaking of a biblical community.
It doesn't matter that we don't think we are a clique. When others feel or seem excluded from our community, we are a de facto clique. And yet, we feel a common bond, which makes us a community.
A look at biblical community
Many are seeking genuine community within and outside of churches. It's a legitimate desire, in fact, I'd say we all ought to be seeking community. It's what the church was intended to be, and what we see in the Book of Acts.
In the late sixties and early seventies, community began to spring up in a natural, biblical way. My wife and I lived near one such communal (community) house connected to our church. It was a small version of what we see in Acts. Today, not many of those types of church communities exist in the US, though there are still some legitimate ones.
Even the community we see in the first few chapters of Acts ran into some dissension (Acts 6:1-7). It was resolved, but it shows it's difficult to maintain that type of community. What was the secret of the early church? I don't see a particular secret, but I see a few things that make up biblical community.
5 Basic elements of biblical community
The first biblical model of community is found in the Old Testament under the leadership of Moses. But the community in Acts was based on what Jesus modeled for us. Of course, one obvious thing is that a church community is the Body of Christ, so Jesus is the Head of it.
Here are five general things based on the early church model in Acts. You might see more or less, but here's what I see.
Biblical community is relational
The early church had one thing in common. That one thing was their relationship with Jesus as their Lord, though they referred to Him as Messiah. Jesus was their primary bond. This is the heart of observing communion, or as some call it, the Eucharist.
The one obvious thing of any community, biblical or otherwise, is that it's relational. This is the nature of being a community. A biblical community not only has a shared relationship with Jesus, they have close ties to one another because of shared experience. This is seen with the early church.
The disciples were devoted to the teachings of the apostles, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer.... All the believers kept meeting together, and they shared everything with each other. (Acts 2:42, 44 GW)
It is inclusive, not exclusive
When we have close relationships—people with whom we're comfortable and familiar—it's easy to become exclusive. It's not intentional, hopefully, but it happens rather naturally.
The early church, following the example of Jesus, was inclusive, not exclusive. People followed Him who were not part of the religious community of that day. This created opposition, as it does today.
When I was involved with my community working with a drug intervention program, someone in my church said to me, "What if those kinds of people start coming to church?" I told the church that I hoped they would, and they'd be welcomed. It didn't sit well with some and they left our church.
It is dynamic, not static
A real community changes, even when we want it to stay the same. If it doesn't change, its life gets choked out. It's been said that the last few words of a dying church are, "But we've never done it that way!"
I planted a church towards the end of the seventies and remember our growing pains. One that shocked me was the attitude towards the church's growth. "Pastor, I miss the days when we were a small, close-knit group."
Although I understood what they meant, I could see the problem it caused. As new people came to church, they weren't easily included, especially when they were different in some way.
It is open and non-discriminating
We tend to discriminate for a lot of reasons—race, status, doctrine, appearance, behaviors, even politics. Sometimes, we don't even realize how we discriminate.
Every day the Lord saved people, and they were added to the group. (Acts 2:47b GW)
Will the church be open or discriminate against the LGBT community, people of other religions, the de-churched, and unchurched? We discriminate against non-believers by our attitudes of self-righteousness towards them, though we say we want to win them to the Lord.
Remember, Jesus broke a lot of social norms and met a lot of opposition because of it.
There's a shared sense of responsibility
Do you remember the call of the Three Musketeers? "One for all, and all for one!" This expresses the idea of a shared sense of responsibility. It goes beyond having a common bond. It's a commitment to one another.
The whole group of believers lived in harmony. No one called any of his possessions his own. Instead, they shared everything. (Acts 4:32 GW)
This may be one of the more challenging elements of true biblical community today. We live in a culture that asks, "What's in it for me?" But, a biblical community asks, "What do I have that benefits others?"
Sharing is what we're supposed to learn in kindergarten, but not out of obligation, nor emotion. It needs to be out of a commitment of love for Jesus and His people.
To connect or not to connect?
It's not up to a pastor or a church, it's up to each believer within the church. Each of us is responsible for creating community and not a clique that appears to be community.
Each of us is responsible to be relational, inclusive, open to change, open-hearted, and committed to others. These are my thoughts on the subject, but what about you?
How have you experienced healthy community within the church?
How have you contributed to a healthy and biblical church community?