the shape of leadership

Five Ways to Build Community in Your Church

Connect people, and keep them coming back

Lisa Price on October 22, 2019

Most pastors have heard that the key to church growth is to make a good first impression on visitors. Some have been led to believe that training greeters, ushers and administrators to be friendly and respond to needs quickly will transform first-time guests into active and engaged church members.

However, this seldom works out because the premise is only half true. First impressions are critically important, and details do matter.

Visitors may decide whether to return for a second visit based on seemingly superficial criteria, such as the taste of the coffee or the appearance of the restrooms. And a well-run service, helpful parking lot attendants, friendly greeters and a first-rate children’s department can make a crucial difference. Nevertheless, those things alone won’t keep people.

If people don’t find a place of community in church, they aren’t likely to stay long. Community is how people connect. Community creates a feeling of belonging. It is the sense that you are in a place where people know you and accept you, in spite of your flaws — that you are part of something bigger than yourself.

Churches that master community building are churches that keep people for decades.

Here are five ways to build community in your church:

1. Cultivate and support small groups. Small groups are critical to building community. A small group does not have to meet in a home. Sunday School classes and even ministry teams can function as small groups. The key is to build a time of prayer, a devotion and fellowship into each meeting.

Prayer, serving and Bible study are the most important components of any small group. Groups who focus on these three elements provide an environment where intimacy and spiritual growth thrive. Even interest-based groups (running, quilting, horseback riding, etc.) should set aside time for these community building elements.

2. Train small group leaders to do the work of pastoral ministry. Exodus 18:17-26 reveals that Moses divided up the work of leadership by assigning responsibilities of oversight and care to small group leaders. Similarly, no pastor, no matter how caring, can provide personal attention to more than a dozen or so people at a time. However, every congregant needs regular access to a leader in the church.

If people don’t find a place of community in church, they aren’t likely to stay.

The solution is to train small group leaders to care for the basic spiritual needs of small groups of 10 to 12 people. Small group leaders should receive training that will help them respond to the needs of group members and provide prayer, guidance and spiritual support.

For instance, if someone in the group is expecting a baby, the leader could organize a shower event and arrange for meal delivery after the baby arrives. If a group member is unemployed, the leader could offer prayer and organize some kind of practical help. In the process of meeting needs, community is built.

3. Be willing to give up expediency. A desire for expediency can have the unintended consequence of killing community. Consider the difference between choosing to serve pie or cookies after an annual business meeting. Pie is the labor-intensive choice.

To pull off a pie social, people must work in teams to set up tables, prepare the pie, and clean up the mess afterward. Cookies are quicker and easier. It only takes one or two people to set out the cookies and clean up.

The difference between the activities is community. When you serve pie, people work together and get to know one another. It is difficult to eat pie quickly, so people sit down at tables and talk as they eat. Conversely, most people will simply grab a couple of cookies, run out the door and eat them on the way home.

If we want to build authentic community, sometimes the labor-intensive choice is the best choice.

4. Preach and teach regularly on the importance of caring. Caring is about more than simply being friendly to new people, although friendliness is a critical first step to building community.

Caring means reaching out to new people in meaningful ways, like sharing a meal with them or inviting them on an activity. It also means going the extra mile for our brothers and sisters in Christ.

5. Set a good example. Pastors who are the last to show up at events and the first to leave rarely build a sense of community in their congregations. It is critical for pastors to interact with and show interest in the people they serve.

Building community is no easy task. It takes hard work, vigilance and a commitment to training laypeople to do the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:11-16). Community is worth the effort it takes to build because when individual Christians feel a sense of community and belonging, they become truly invested in the church and the people in the church.

Churches where individuals are invested in the work of ministry change the world (Acts 2:42-47).

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