Do community groups create community?

George Gallup Jr. concluded from his studies and polls that Americans are among the loneliest people in the world. (Randy Frazee, The Connecting Church. 16)

The quote above is startling considering the massive networks of communication that we all have. From the personal touch of a cellphone call, the convenient tap of an email, and the intricate relational rhythms of social media, we are a generation that has the ability to stay un-lonely. As if that weren’t enough, the gathering church pulls out all the stops with its prized relational weapon: community groups! (or whatever 12 monikers it’s also known under: small groups, home groups, cell groups, etc).

But are these actually creating real community?

I think many of you have some worthwhile things to say about community groups. This is a safe place to be real, and for whatever it’s worth, I really would like to know…

What are YOUR honest thoughts on your community group experiences? Are they creating community for you?

About Lazo

Lazo is the pastor for preaching and vision at Reality SB. He is committed to spreading the value of our union with Christ in Santa Barbara, through the expository preaching of God's Word. You might like these blog posts, 5 Wrong Ways To Comfort Hurting People, or Daisy Love and the Magic Eraser. You can follow Chris on twitter at @LazoChris.

Posted on June 11, 2011, in Church, community, mission and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. I think it depends on what kind of community groups you’re a part of, what you talk about in the group, and how the group is being led (is it being led by man, or by the Spirit).
    I am a part of a community group with 10-12 girls, it’s been growing so much the last few weeks, and it’s been so fruitful. I think part of it is because we love to know one another, pray and encourage one another AND we want to see each other outside of group one night a week! (one night just doesn’t cut it for us =)
    Especially when you’re involved in a big church, or a big college/young adults group, it is so easy to fall through the cracks. People want to feel like they belong in a specific group, or have relationships with specific people. I’m 99.9% sure I’m not the first to admit that ;)
    Like I said, I think a huge part of how to know if whether or not community groups are effective is what goes on in the community group. Right now in our cell group, we have been sharing our testimonies. It’s been SO good, because it takes us in a deeper level and we get to know where others come from. We have made it clear to our group that we want it to be a place for the girls in this group to be honest, and not to be afraid to hold anything back. We are there to encourage and pray, not to judge.
    If the group is truly being led by the Spirit, we are being filled. When we are being filled by the Spirit, we are being sent out and when we go out we tend to have the desire seek those who are lost, or falling through the cracks. We want to invite them and encourage them to have their own relationship with the Lord, and to feel like they are a part of a family, no matter how big or small the church is…and they know we love them.

    Are community groups creating real community? Yes….If the community groups are Christ-centered, and we do what God has called us to do.

    I feel like I rambled a lot, so I hope this made sense :)

    • I like hearing others “ramble,” and yes, it did make sense :-)
      I think it’s especially notable what you said about commitment and time spent together,

      We love to know one another, pray and encourage one another AND we want to see each other outside of group one night a week! (one night just doesn’t cut it for us)

      You girls are involved in each others lives all week long! And coupled with the honesty, and the culture of trust that you girls have cultivated, it makes a difference. Thank you for that insight Mallory!

  2. I love community groups! They are such a place for healing, restoration, joyful abundance, and even painful struggles. They NEVER create community for me though…. I have to seek it myself. I can be in a very community oriented group, but if I don’t reach out to be a part of what God is doing then it’s not going to be done for me :) Many of us come to groups with that hope and expectation, and indeed that will be met, but it’s a sacrifice. I’ve learned that groups come and go, flourish and flounder, and that can all depend on the individual members. It often falls back on me…just like the Proverbs say, “One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.” Pv11:24-25.

    Community is a commitment and sacrifice, but proves to be a very fruitful thing…Just like most things that are a commitment and sacrifice, they take time, effort, and commitment (and it is not always enjoyable giving these things) but prove worth-while. A commitment to community doesn’t have community as the end goal, rather it has the building up of the body of Christ and it’s strengthening, the fragrance of Christ, a modeling and representation of the Trinity, and the glorification of Christ as main the goal, for it is through these things that He is glorified by having His body (He as the head) built up. People will be cared for, known, and know others, needs will be met, people will be encouraged to look towards Jesus. These things aren’t always seen immediately through the run-of-the-mill meetings, dinners, birthdays, Bible studies, play dates, etc., but if Christ is sought to be known through being talked about, studied, worshiped and served in the midst of these things, then people will see a transformation in themselves and others around them (Rom 12:1-2). It is like our Christian walk. Some of us cannot always pinpoint when or where various transformations occurred (and at other times we can), but with a sacrificial commitment to seek and follow Him we are changed along the way.

    The leader should have, or seek to cultivate a heart, desire, integrity, commitment, selflessness, etc. to the group and to loving people (again, not for the group or people as the end goal, but out of love and obedience to the Trinity and Christ’s commands). We are all learners by nature and many times learn best by observing and experiencing. If I am not being shown how to do community by my leader then…well, …it’s just not good. I may not even be experiencing community because of the lack of example from my leader. WE WILL ALL fail miserably at this, and the leaders of community groups do as well. A goal should be to start small, to begin to break out of our comfort zones, and to progressively seek to model community and the mutual submission commanded in scripture (Eph 5:21) and modeled by Jesus.

    Finger pointing if the leader fails in this area will never create community and authenticity, yet a persons humble obedience to Christ and to loving others and looking at one’s own walk rather than others, will find them doing just the things they wanted their leader to do (instead of giving way to a fleshly and Satanic root of bitterness – Heb 12:14-15). We as group members or participants must pray for humility and a rebuke from God when we point the finger. Each must look to himself and not others (Phil 2:3-4; Gal 6:2-4) for the work to be done instead of letting all the load, burden of care, and expectation of community to fall upon the leader. The group members should seek God to help them cultivate a heart, desire, commitment, selflessness, etc. just like they want their leader to have.

    These are just some thoughts and things that I think about community groups… I love them!

  3. Jesse, this was really good,

    These things aren’t always seen immediately through the run-of-the-mill meetings, dinners, birthdays, Bible studies, play dates, etc., but if Christ is sought to be known through being talked about, studied, worshiped and served in the midst of these things, then people will see a transformation in themselves and others around them

    It sounds like your saying that sharing our lives together is not transformative in itself, but when its done with the intention of wanting more of Jesus as a group, transformation happens in those things. Is that right? Is that what happens in your community group? Thanks for the comment bro.

    • Yep, that’s totally it. Just sharing lives together will not in itself transform us into the image of Christ, though it will fulfill a basic God given human need. But somehow, living in community with other Christians helps fulfill that basic human need, and also changes us into the image of Christ.

      Yep, the group I’m a part of does those things with the intention of wanting more Jesus. It is at the heart of the group. It is not always at the forefront practically (though it is in a weird way…would take time to explain), but at the center, and underneath, we do the things we do because it says so in scripture, because it brings us joy, and because we know our Lord better through them. Our larger gatherings are always centered upon Jesus, but the off-shoots are indirectly bringing Him glory.
      When someone new comes to our comm. group it is sometimes the things we do together, the play times, or the meals that Christ uses to bring them, connect them, and love them, but I believe I’ve seen Him do a work through these things that leads to them loving Him more. So at first, transformation may seem to happen through living life together, but then deeper transformation takes place…

      Before I followed Jesus I was part of a couple close knit groups of friends. We knew each other, lived life together, and helped each other get through tough times. But they weren’t transformative, they didn’t make me look like Jesus, and they didn’t offer me anything near to kind of care that a Christian can – from comfort in the smallest issues to comfort in larger life issues – and that’s probably why when I went off the deep end they weren’t able to bring me back…something that I’m sure that the power of Christ and the Holy Spirit could do through the believers in my life now :)

      I’ll stop now :)

      • Yes it’s true that a Christian community group needs Christ. But the question also being posed here is simply what makes real community. A street gang probably isn’t experiencing transformation in Christ, but they are definitely experiencing a deep level of family and community. Many times for the Christian, it’s the opposite. We have a lot of Bible study, but we are still disconnected from people. The home groups that can model the committed tribalism of a gang are very few and far between. That make sense?

  4. We’re going to implement community groups at our church soon. I don’t have anything to contribute to this conversation- but I’m enjoying reading the comments and look forward to more! Thanks for asking the question, Chris!

    • Thanks Mike. I would love to hear how you go about it when you do, especially in Cork, Ireland. I love your gravitar, by the way :-)

      • Ya- It might get me in trouble in certain circles, but I saw it in while I was in Geneva and just had to get a picture!

  5. Kaleb A. Riley

    See notes you took in our conversation :) Those are good words from all previous posts. Love hearing all of them.

  6. This has been a very fruitful thread reading! Thank you so much for posing this Q Lazo and the responses are SO good!

    My attempted answer to your question “what makes real community?”:

    There are so many quick responses I can spout out: “It’s people sharing their lives with one another”, “It’s centered around Christ and He’s the common bond and reason we love one another”, “It’s meeting regularly”…
    Those are very true things, but what does that REALLY mean and what does that look like?

    The prefix comm- means that “with” or together” modifies the word. So community literally means “with unity”! So I guess the next question is what does unity look like?

    When we were praying before our “cell group” was started we were being silly and thinking of a tailored name for our little gathering. Amanda Lee thought Harmony would be a perfect name to describe our vision for the group. She explained how when a group harmonize together the purpose is to make everyone sound better so the sound as a whole is beautiful. Each person must sing their part well and in a way that makes the others sound even better! There can be a group with the most amazing voices, but if they compete and sing over one another it will sound horrible.
    The definition for harmony is – “the quality of forming a pleasing and consistent whole; an arrangement of the 4 Gospels, or of any parallel narratives, that presents a single continuos narrative text; agreement or concord”.

    Here are a few major components that promote unity: honest vulnerability, sacrifice, sharing, commitment, communication.

    HONEST VULNERABILITY
    Honest vulnerability is essential. How can we have community if we don’t really know one another? How can we help one another if we don’t know where we need help? “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body” (Eph 4:25). There must be genuine personal depth in our communication.
    If we go on flippantly repeating all the verses and phrases we’ve read or heard from others we may not be writing them on our hearts and actively causing God’s truth to come alive and transform our lives. If someone is opening up in vulnerability, we must first listen. Ask God to give us His love for that person so that He can heal and comfort them whether He leads us to speak or not. I’ve so often been too impatient to listen and a verse comes to mind so I spurt it in their face before they’ve finished sharing. Or I’m too focused on myself so I see their condition through my own lens (mindset, perspective, history, and worldview) and respond with a “feel good answer”. So rather than giving them living water and bread, I hand them candy that will eventually give them a stomach ache and rot their teeth.
    However, all this honest sharing can be going on but if it’s being done for the glory of man or to be accepted by man, I’d have to say it’s not true community. Because fear of man is really a selfish thing anyways. It’s not really for the others that we want acceptance, it’s for ourselves. Soooo

    SACRIFICE
    Sacrifice. Because gospel community isn’t about ourselves. Each member is living for the good of the others (individually and as a whole). Christ is our example Phil 2:1-11 I wanted to write an example for each but this is getting long and out of control.

    SHARING
    Sharing means a literal sharing (food, house, car, time, interests, possessions) as well as an emotional and spiritual sharing. “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). Worshipping and praying with one another are some of the deepest ways to share with one another.
    A right and radical sharing would come from the perspective that we (the Church) are one. “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me” (John 17:20-21).
    This also means that each member of the group has something to give to another. Each member should feel like an irreplaceable member, because they are!!
    “…and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good (esv) A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other (nlt) …So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad. All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it” (nlt) 1 Cor 12:5-7, 24-27.

    COMMITMENT
    Like a family, we’re in it for the long haul, 24/7. This also promotes a great amount of trust and investment.

    COMMUNICATION
    What’s a relationship without communication. AND the suffix to the word is -unication! This means connecting with one another outside of the weekly meeting. Communication shows others that you care. We can’t read each others’ minds so we need to be effective communicators.

    Honestly, I just read Romans 12 in the New Living Translation and I think that’s a pretty good outline. Love in action!

  7. Bri, I’m so glad you chimed in! I think that qualifying question on community is SO important when you asked, “What does that REALLY mean and what does that look like?” We can quickly get lost in the technical “missional” jargon if we don’t have some type of baseline or measurement.

    I thought these points you brought up were helpful and worth exploring…

    1) Honest vulnerability is essential
    2) Gospel community isn’t about ourselves
    3) Each member of the group has something to give to another
    4) We’re in it for the long haul, 24/7
    5) Connecting with one another outside of the weekly meeting.

  1. Pingback: Adventures in rubbernecking: The New Testament’s original community group. « ChristopherLazo

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