By Reid Smith
Culture is something you feel. Every group of people and organization has a distinct culture. It’s the water in which you swim when you’re hanging out in an environment or with a group of people. It’s what you experience through all your senses when you are gathered with others who are included in it.
You, for example, are experiencing more than just coffee when you sit inside a Starbucks. There is a culture that has been intentionally and artistically created to entice customers to return and build brand loyalty. Although our motivations differ, church leaders want people to return and consistently engage in community life for infinitely more important reasons.
Pastors love it when people say their church feels like family. It’s always a win when folks say they feel like they belong and enjoy connecting with others each week. However, most leaders are not conscious about all the factors that contribute to this. The DNA of culture must be deliberately molded, and just like a potter with clay, it is best to do this at the very beginning of a new work.
Regardless of where you consider yourself in building a community culture in your church, here are eight keys I’ve discovered along the way that will help in this process:
- Discern God’s plan for building community in your church and reaching your surrounding community with the power of the good news. It’s safe to assume the Lord is already at work building His church where you minister and your primary job is to figure out how that’s happening. Invariably, it will be a community of two or more people pursuing Christ together. So how is God already moving in your midst to reach the lost?
- Decide together with your core leadership team how everyone will prioritize community and relationship-building. How will each one live it and lead it? The involvement of pastoral leadership in a church’s community life is the linchpin to the ongoing growth of biblical community. There is no substitute for what the most influential and visible people in the church model and advocate, particularly on the weekend.
- Don’t allow groups to be viewed as another ministry program/department of the church or as something that good Christians do. A programmatic paradigm can be lethal to the life of organic community. It is not groups that we’re after ultimately…it’s what happens in groups. Biblical community empowers believers and churches to function as the body of Christ should (Rom 12:4-5; 1 Cor 12:21-27).
- Dedicate resources towards building community. Invest time, energy, and money into the leaders and resources that serve as the life source of community in your church. By virtue of resourcing this area of your church, you will be enhancing all areas. There is no shortcut to healthy ministry that flows out of healthy relationships.
- Discover who is gifted in communications and beat the drum of community every chance you get. You want to show and tell people what you believe about the importance of biblical community in their spiritual growth and well-being. Use all forms of communication: platform, print, digital, visual, and stories to convey what God is doing through the community life of your church.
- Design a community life calendar and include no less than three church-wide opportunities per year for people to get plugged in. Present new ways for people to get connected in new types of groups. Feature existing groups and new group startups in your weekend announcements, website, social media platforms, slides, etc.
- Determine that every event you host or program you run will be used as an opportunity to help people take their next step toward greater engagement in your church’s community life. Churches tend to pour a lot of time and energy into planning events but the next step for people to take is an afterthought. Flip this. When events are built around a clear next step, more people are inspired to actually do something and you’ll see measurable fruit from your organized activities.
- Devote yourself to building a community culture. The journey will be filled with successes and setbacks, but stay with it. Study churches that do it well and read books by leaders who are community building champions themselves. Attend groups conferences and take staff and key volunteers with you. In other words, be a learner and take others along with you. Never settle.
This is all worth doing wholeheartedly because healthy spiritual relationships are essential to a growing relationship with Jesus Christ (Hebrews 10:24-25; 1 John 1:7, 3:14, 4:20). Furthermore, when spiritually lost people come to a loving community, they tend to come to Christ (Acts 2:47; John 13:34-35; 1 John 4:12). Building a community culture is not optional for a church that wants to advance God’s mission in the world and these keys will help you and your team in the process.
Reid Smith has been equipping leaders in churches of all sizes and stages of growth for effective disciple-making since 1996. He lives in Wellington, Florida where he serves as a Groups Pastor at Christ Fellowship. You can find more of his helpful resources at www.reidsmith.org.