While many of our institutional churches have made noble attempts at trying to build Christian community, entering into this type of environment involves much more than just joining a small group.
It involves a counter-cultural lifestyle change that encompasses re-organizing priorities so that we actually have the ability to create the type of environment that builds community naturally. For most of us, this type of environment doesn’t currently exist. So if this is what we desire, we must thoughtfully consider a strategy that will make what we hope for happen.
Start Thinking Geographically
But we must be careful not to fall into a trap. It’s one that many have fallen into; including those that try and manufacture community through small group programs. It’s the trap of of thinking that biblical-Kingdom-organic-body-church-life community is something that can be manufactured, organized or planned. It simply cannot, for this is not the way humans were programmed to operate. You can manufacture, organize or plan attempts at community, but you cannot control it actually happening.
The best we can do is build environments where people naturally connect and community naturally springs forth. At the level that we’re called to do so requires close-knit geographical relationships. Yes, this means people must live with and by each other. We must learn to become environmentalists instead of programmers.
Create the Environment
For something to grow organically, the conditions have to be right. If you’re unwilling to manipulate your environment by making lifestyle changes that will create “healthy soil” and “provide plenty of water” and “adequate sunlight,” you can’t expect that community will grow. You can only expect that you will get what the environment you’ve created is suitable for.
If you’ve created an environment that consists of neighbors that you rarely converse with, infrequently planned meetings with other people you don’t live in close proximity to, a lifestyle of wants instead of needs, and enough commitments that you’re always doing and never free to share and just be with those around you, what grows naturally from that is a fragmented, isolated, individualistic and ultimately lonely existence.
Adjust Your Lifestyle
Instead, you’ve got to thoughtfully consider where and how you live. Does the location of your residence contain the characteristics for community to develop naturally? Do the margins you’ve built in to your time, money and energy allow for community to develop with those around you? What are current habits that your family partakes of that discourage instead of encourage community to develop?
Don’t be fooled. If you hope for the type of community experience that God has presented to us as the environment in which the Christian life was prescribed to be lived out to happen, it will require much more than minor adjustments. It will require much more than another church program. It will require much more than weekly meetings with scattered Christians. It requires a fundamental shift in the way we live life.