There are two essential elements of community. 1) interpersonal commitments and 2) a sense of belonging. True community needs both of these elements in operation. Without interpersonal commitments, a sense of belonging would soon be lost as a sense of belonging is derived from and is a result of the interpersonal commitments. Did I loose you there? Ok, let me break it down.
Bob joins a new church. He is warmly welcomed. He soon receives salvation. Bob likes the people and enjoys what he feels in the church. However, as time goes on, Bob soon realizes that since his only real commitment is to come to church, worship and give in the offerings, his commitment level is not very deep. In fact, if Bob only develops a deep relationship with the pastor there, then the Pastor is Bob’s only real reason for staying there. What happens however, when Bob gets upset at the pastor? What happens if the pastor resigns? You and I know what happens, Bob soon leaves. However, what would happen if Bob were was interconnected in a deep level of community or fellowship with 10-12 other people within the church? (Small Group) What if it were possible that Bob could get upset with the Pastor, yet his love for and interconnectedness with these other 10-12 were so deep that he would stay?
Relationships are powerful. A good relationship will build a person up and a bad relationship has the potential to destroy someone. We often fail to realize the value of relationships within the church. We exhaust ourselves with evangelistic efforts and get so excited over the sudden growth or influx of visitors. Yet we then often fail to get those new people into bonding relationships within the church and soon lose them. What we end up with is a person who is easily offended and will have nothing or nobody to stand in their way of an exodus.
I have actually heard pastors say a key to keeping someone is to find them something to do in the church. “Make him an usher.” “Let her teach Sunday school.” What happens then when we find that this person was not so qualified to teach that class? What happens when we have to remove them from the position we gave them. This position may be the main thing or the only thing binding them to the Church. (Don’t negate that statement. If you look around your church you will find people whose only connection to the church is their position or role.) I’ll tell you what happens. They leave. Why do they leave? It is because you took away from them the only thing that bound them to the congregation.
Relationships and not jobs or job titles are the most valuable and most bonding element for converts. Jesus understood this. Notice in the whole 3 years He discipled the 12, he never did hand out offices or titles. He built relationships. He not only connected them to Himself, but He connected them to one another. Why did he eat at their houses and teach in their homes? He knew that this was the place were deep meningful relationships could be developed.
It is the early relationships in a person’s life that molds their emotional and spiritual make up. A child who is wounded by those relationships will grow up a wounded adult. Relationships give us identity within a unit. They give us purpose and reason for belonging. A bad relationship in a marriage will cause a person to seek ways to leave the marriage. A good relationship in a marriage will cause a person to find ways to improve that relationship. This principle works the same in any case.
Within the church we realize that problems will arise. Negative personalities and situations within a congregation will work to drive people away or cause them to leave. However those influences will have little effect if the individual is in a deep meaningful relationship with others in the church.
Can I give you an example? I have seen in marriages where a spouse will stay in an adulterous or abusive marriage simply because they do not want to hurt the children. We would all agree that this marriage should remain, but notice the reason many people stay in an abusive and unfaithful situation, it is for the children. The person has other relationships within the marriage that cause them to “stick it out”. They are interconnected within the family to other people than the one who is the offender.
For this reason it is imperative that we labor as hard at building relationships within the church as we do at evangelizing. Opps, I just lost someone there. I went too fast. Ok, let me ask you something. What kind of a society would we have if women became impregnated and in 9 months gave birth to a child that they never did raise? As a matter of fact, the child never did even know its father. No brothers. No sisters. We just threw them out into society to be raised by and reared up by who ever and what ever came alone. You and I know that this would breed a dysfunctional person and ultimately one messed up society. Yet we somehow believe that the church can become impregnated with revival, give birth to souls and then not give those people bonding relationships that connect them to the family unit that is the church.
It is not enough to teach someone a bible study, baptize them and see them filled with the Holy Ghost. I wish it were. That is fairly easy. In this, God is doing most of the work. We simply teach the person and pray with them. No really love relationship is necessary. But a relationship takes work. It takes commitment. It brings us to a place with our brother or sister where we have to work threw some things rather than just write each other off. It gives significance to Jesus’ statement when he said the world would know we are His disciples because we have Love one for another. Notice he did not say we would have a casual commitment with these people, but we would have a Love for them.
Small groups offer to the church the mechanism needed to create and maintain genuine Love relationships. Within a small group these relationships work together to reinforce the teachings of the church as well as bind the person to the family unit that is the local church.
–James Smith ©2004