Summary: For a group of people to accomplish the monumental task of growing into a Kingdom community, the first step is understanding and correctly practicing the use of the relational spaces in which people belong to each other. One of the biggest downfalls of typical church programs that attempt to build community is they don’t understand or correctly practice the use of relational spaces; resulting in the forcing (programmatically) of relationships into spaces they aren’t meant for or ready for. This not only limits their success, but many times results in negative consequences.
Many of the major problems the church faces today really boil down to it’s inherent inability to do one thing – practice community. Why is attendance falling so rapidly? As some popular books on the subject might claim, it’s not because the music is bad. It’s not because the sermons are bad. When people feel like they belong, they sit through bad music and sermons and then complain about it :).
Why is financial giving so poor that church administrators have to constantly ask for money from the pulpit? It’s not because people do or don’t have the money. When people feel like they belong, they tend to give generously.
Why are an increasing number of people unconvinced of the validity of the Gospel? It’s not because of a lack of rational evidence. When people see Christians belonging to each other in Kingdom community, they tend to become Christians.
Yet, church administrators keep scratching their heads trying to figure out the next best church growth strategy to get people in the doors and filling the offering plates (house church, small groups, singles ministry, whatever’s new nowadays). The answer? Create belonging.
There’s just one problem. Unfortunately, it’s against the nature of institutional models to be able to do this. This is why churches that try this transition either abandon the change, or close their doors. Running an institutional machine and creating belonging are fundamentally opposite approaches that produce fundamentally opposite outcomes.
Creating belonging requires patience measured in years, not patient measured in weeks. Creating belonging requires relational focus, not numbers expansion. Creating belonging requires collaboration, not cooperation with a hierarchical team of leaders. It’s a total and complete paradigm shift.
To get a large group of people at the same time to complete a 180-degree mindset change that requires a total reversal of lifestyle and priorities? Virtually impossible. This is why my advice is usually to abandon ship.
Where it occurs
I told you in my last post that we would start exploring the knowledge and skills required for groups of people to grow into Kingdom communities (aka “church”). One of the most important principles that a group of people must know in order to have a chance at Kingdom community is that belonging in community occurs in four distinct and different spaces – public, social, personal and intimate.
Humans will use verbal and non-verbal cues to communicate what types of spaces they desire to be in with each other. If I verbally invite you over to dinner at my house, I’m extending an invitation for you to come into my personal space and “belong” to me at that level. If you invite me over for dinner at your house multiple times and I always seem to have an excuse for why I can’t come, I’m sending verbal cues that I’m really not interested in coming in to your personal space.
Now, this doesn’t mean that I’m totally rejecting you. It may just be that I’m not ready to come into that space with you yet. Maybe I need more time in social space before I’m comfortable enough to move into personal space. Or maybe I’ve had plenty of time with you and decided that social space is where I’d like the relationship to stay.
This is where you must be careful because this doesn’t mean I don’t want to have a relationship. It just means I don’t want to have the type of relationship that you might want us to have. If that’s the case, you now have a choice – be content with a social space relationship, or end the relationship altogether.
It’s the same concept with the “he’s just not that into you” principle. If a man is really interested in a woman, he will do crazy things to be with her. He’ll find a way to ditch guys night out. He’ll drive hours to see her for only a short while. He’ll stay up to the wee hours of the morning listening to her feelings. He’s doing this because the relationship isn’t in the space that he desires it to be in.
If he’s just not that into her, he won’t go out of his way to be with her. He’ll spend time with her when it’s convenient for him. He’ll claim that guys night out is simply off limits and can’t be interrupted. Again, this doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to be with her. It just means he’s comfortable with where the relationship is and doesn’t desire for it to go any further. As the woman, you’d have a choice to make – be content with the space the relationship is in, or end the relationship altogether. We likely all know of someone that chose neither and suffered for it.
Don’t force it
But in all cases, no matter what, don’t try to force relationships into specific spaces. This, my friends, could be the biggest interpersonal reason that attempts at community fail.
When a group starts getting together with each other, they get in a circle and a leader (typically) presents a plan to get close to each other and to God. The group is then led into exercises that end up forcing everyone to unnaturally smash into personal and intimate space together. This simply doesn’t work. It’s a net negative gain. It drives people away. It creates bitterness toward church and community life. If you’ve experienced this, you know what I’m talking about.
People that aren’t able to discern spatial communication clearly and quickly usually find themselves in relationship trouble. What could have been a perfectly fine social relationship is broken because one person tried to forcefully push it into personal space; an area in which the other person was uncomfortable with. Or a woman wants desperately to be in intimate space with a particular man, but misses the signs the man is constantly giving off that he only desires a personal relationship (even though he might marry her).
The same can occur with people that don’t act appropriately for the spaces in which their relationships exist. I was invited to Christmas dinner at someone’s house who I hardly knew, let alone knowing all of the family members that were going to be there. I’ve known people invited to stand up in weddings where they expressed to me that they hardly even knew the bride or groom. While one may interpret both invitations as nice gestures, they’re simply not appropriate for the spaces in which the relationships existed. When this occurs, it tends to drive relationships apart rather than grow them closer.
Learn to dance among the spaces
I say all of that to say this – it’s very important for the success of community that the people who will be involved learn what the spaces are and how people should dance among them together. If they don’t first learn how to do this, at best you can expect a very low success rate for the community gathering as a whole. At worst, deep wounds may occur because people were forced to get too close to people too soon.
In my next post, we’ll take a bird’s eye view of the four relational spaces before we dive more deeply into them in future posts…