Want your initiative to become a community? Why this matters, and some principles to guide you.
1. The secret of community
Hospitality is the key to community. It goes beyond welcoming new arrivals. It’s a deeply ingrained, constant attitude of welcome toward the other person.
In a healthy community, both newcomers and long-standing members are always made to feel at home. They are well known and deeply loved, warts and all.
Feeling at home is more likely the longer people spend with each other. So how might members of your community spend more time together – for example, by:
- More use of social media?
- Eating together regularly?
- Film evenings and the like?
- Day trips?
- A weekend away?
- What else?
2. Your community’s “hidden curriculum” can help foster an hospitable community
In a school, the “hidden curriculum” is the informal lessons and values that the school’s everyday life communicates to its students. It is unwritten, unofficial, and often unintended.
Your community has a similar “hidden curriculum”. How intentional are you about it? For example, does your “hidden curriculum” express a generous hospitality?
- Do members of the core team model how to make people feel they belong?
- Is the core team willing to listen actively to as much as the other person wants to share? And to go as deep in their relationships as the other person chooses?
- Are people made to feel special – for example, by celebrating exciting events and achievements in their lives?
- Do team members go beyond sympathy to patient empathy?
There are different degrees of hospitality.
3. The first is a welcome into “my home”
It is equivalent to the invitation: “Come into my home and share the meal I’ve prepared for you.”
Is that the kind of hospitality your new Christian community displays? You’ve listened to people, come up with an idea to love them, and community has formed round this loving activity.
Even though you’ve asked people to help you, basically it is your initiative. Hospitality is welcoming others into what you’ve developed.
Maybe this is unavoidable. Without your initiative, the new community would not exist. But it should be just a first step.
4. The next step is to turn “my home” into “your home”
It’s one thing to welcome people into your home where you set the rules, quite another to declare “This is now your home.”
This deeper hospitality is how God welcomes us. In the Bible, in Genesis 2, God planted the garden, but then handed it over to Adam and Eve. They were to care for it and develop it as they thought best. Apart from one rule (not to eat the forbidden fruit), they could create the rules. In effect, it became their garden.
Tim Mitchell started a new all-age community in England’s East Midlands. He learnt that round him, for people under 40 a community was not “their” community unless they could help lead it.
So from the start, he involved anyone who wanted in its leadership. Even agnostics and atheists could help prepare and lead the worship! His was not a them-and-us community. Everyone could get involved. Involvement deepens community.
Think of your community as a gift from God both to you and to the people the community serves. Let the gift go. A gift is not a gift until it’s released. Imagine you never handed over your presents at Christmas. How would they be gifts?
So let your community go. Release it into the hands of its members. Let it become real community by involving other people in leadership.
5. The greatest gift is turning “it’s your home” into “it’s God’s home”
When this happens, God becomes the host and community members his guests.
In Luke 12.37 Jesus likens himself to a wealthy man who returns home. His servants expected to prepare him a meal, serve up, and clear away afterwards.
But the owner turns the tables. He cooks the meal, he waits on his staff, and he washes up at the end. The owner becomes the host to the people he employs, and waits upon them personally.
Jesus said, “I no longer call you servants . . . [but] friends” (John 15.15).
Let your community be led by Jesus. Let him set the tone. Follow his example of serving his friends. Encourage loving service to ripple through the community and shape its “hidden curriculum”.
Suggest “rhythms of life” that encourage community members to take their cue from Jesus in looking out for one another as good friends. For example:
- Members who wish might commit to pray (or have positive thoughts) for one other person in the community for a week. The next week they pray for someone else.
- Or they might agree once a month to invite at least one other member to a meal.
- Or through WhatsApp, they might swap skills and resources to help one another. (“Anyone got a lawn mower I can borrow?”)
Community is a journey from “my home”, to “your home”, to “God’s home”. What stage have you reached?
Christine describes how hosts become guests and community is a journey from my home to your home to God’s home.
Charlotte and Rachel describe releasing their community into the hands of its members.
Prayerfully read Acts 2.42-47 (the first Christians).
- What would the life of your new community look like if it was to share the characteristics described here?
- What would realistically have to change for your community to be more like the description in these verses, especially verses 44-47?
- What’s the first thing you would change to move in that direction?
Choose one or more of the following:
- Re-read the Guide and then discuss what forming community looks like in your initiative. Ask:
- What do people do and say that indicates they have begun to belong?
- What are the signs that people are looking after each other?
- What routes into leadership exist?
- In the light of this discussion, what would you most like to change?
- Invite a wise and experienced Christian to visit your community, and report back on the strengths and weaknesses they have observed. Might the visitor suggest how you could deepen your communal life? For example, might you and the visitor conduct a SWOT analysis:
- What are the strengths of our communal life?
- What are the weaknesses?
- What are the opportunities to deepen our communal life?
- What are the threats?