Being a new believer was awesome. I found new mind-blowing truths every day as I soaked in God’s word. One thought that rocked my world was that I had a new family. Yes, I loved my family by blood, but if we are all adopted as sons and daughters of God then that meant I had a whole new family in Christ. I found that my new connection with God had simultaneously connected me with other Christ-followers.
I was sold on the idea of community.
I thought being a part of a Christian community was supposed to be an easy thing. There would be no more boundaries of race, personality-types, or interests. Our unifying bond in Christ would surpass all of these other things. I thought that if I Christians just got together and talked about Christ, the relationships would grow quickly and easily.
But that didn’t happen for me.
I quickly found that many Christians didn’t want to talk about God or the Bible as much as I did. They wanted to talk about sports or politics. Often when we actually did talk about God, there was a lot of debate and disagreement.
In my pursuit for Christian community, I would join small groups at whatever church I was a member of at the time. I love the idea of small groups, but most of my experiences have not been great. I’ve been a part of 10 or more small groups since I’ve been a Christian, and while everyone was always really nice, most of the time it felt awkward. And that may be the most frustrating part of all. Here I am meeting with other followers of Jesus on a weekly basis, sitting in a circle, talking about God, and for some mysterious reason things don’t seem to click.
Maybe I’m just crazy. Maybe I’m the awkward one. But I don’t think I’m the only one who has felt this way. If you’re reading this article, I’m guessing you’ve felt this way too.
Sometimes, it can seem like real, life-renewing friendships and relationships within the church are unattainable in this life.
But what are we to do? Give up? Spend the rest of our lives going to church and making surface-level acquaintances with fellow believers?
There has to be a better way.
Perhaps the problem isn’t with community. Perhaps the problem is with the method in which we try to manufacture community.
As soon as Jesus began his ministry, he started building community. He called Peter, John, Andrew, and all the rest to follow him. Over the next several years these men traveled together, ministered together, drank, ate, and worked together. In a very real way they “lived life” together. Jesus cultivated a real community amongst these men.
Now it wasn’t perfect. They had their disagreements, shouting matches, and even a traitor. But this community was something none of them would ever forget, and their legacy would change the word in a way unlike any other small community ever has.
Imagine if Jesus’ ministry to the Apostles had been limited to a what a traditional church service looks like today. What if the Apostles got together once a week for an hour, sang some songs, listened to some teaching, engaged in some small talk, and then went home for lunch. I doubt that would have inspired that group of men to change the world.
The apostles heard their fair share of teaching and did plenty of talking, but they did more than that. There are many things to learn from this community, but there’s one critical, obvious thing they did that I think we’re missing today: they actually did things together.
In fact, Jesus’ lessons often were a result of things they were doing. He would teach them using their location, the people they were around, and the food they were eating as metaphors for spiritual truths.
The things they learned were brought to life by the things they did.
I have been a part of a few small groups that where I it felt like I built real, life-giving relationships. It would puzzle me as to why things seemed to “click” with these groups, but not the others I had been in.
Now I know that it really came down to this one simple thing: doing stuff together.
In one group I was part of, the guys often got together outside of the official group time. We ate pizza, watched football, and helped with each other’s home and yard projects. Those were really great memories.
Another group was full of people who were passionate about witnessing to Muslims. We ministered and served alongside each other. Our common cause built a strong bond between us.
Currently, my wife and I host a small group in our home. Every week we eat a homemade meal together, but we don’t make all the food. Everyone pitches in. Some people come with store bought cookies, and others bring ingredients to help make a dish. Personally, I love cooking and getting others involved in the process. I’ll ask someone to chop tomatoes for the fresh salsa, another to flip the bacon, and someone else to mix the batter. There’s something about making a meal together that naturally draws people together.
Christian community can be an awesome thing. If you’re struggling to connect with people, don’t just invite them out for coffee. Don’t just go to a small group and talk to each other. Don’t just say hi at church. Find something to do together. You can volunteer, serve, or witness together. You can host a movie night, game night, or grill out. Invite people to join you with your hobbies whether it be fishing, disc golf, or bicycling.
When you’re doing things it’s far less awkward to share your testimony or to talk about what God is teaching you. Find one thing to do and someone to do it with, and you will be on your way to building real community with your brothers and sisters in Christ.
Tim is the senior editor for the ABC Voices blog and ApoloThink.com. He also writes for Apologetics315 where he is a team leader. He is the chapter director of Ratio Christi, an apologetics ministry, at Grand Valley State University and has a BA in Worldviews and Apologetics from Boyce College. Tim, his wife Alexandra, and children MaryKate and Oliver attend Allendale Baptist Church where Tim also works as an administrative assistant. Anyone who meets Tim easily remembers him as the tallest Filipino they've ever met.