Community: Different than Church

Community has been on my mind lately and has been a buzz word for quite some time. Living in it, being in it and existing in it are all things to strive for. I took this to heart. My entire being has been saturated in community for the past 4 years. I have amazing friends and we do some awesome things. I love simply living with these people. However, now that I’m planting a church, a lot of questions and problems have arose. So many so I’m wondering if planting a church is actually the same thing as planting a community. Because I’m starting to think it might be two different things, and both are needed.

For starters, communities need to be small. You can’t have a community of 1000 people; it just doesn’t work that way. The largest a community could be and still actually consist of the characteristics of a community would be around 100 people I’d guess, anything larger and people become anonymous. A community also is full of people that have the same interests and do them together. A community to me is a group of people that love to have fun together and spend lots of time together. They let each other into each other’s lives and connect on all sorts of levels.

Now this is hard when it comes to theStory (our church plant) for a number of reasons. There are always new people coming in and out of churches (I’m not just talking Sundays). Checking things out, seeing if it is right for them or for no other reason than they have been asked to come from a friend. This means that at any given time there are people among the church that don’t line up with the values, and aren’t intentionally pursuing the vision of the church (Christian or not). A lot of people are simply around the church to see if the vision really lines up with where they are heading or just watching for months at a time. I would think to actually be part of a church, it is a lot more mental at times. You need to be intentional and you are more connected for how you think and what you believe than where you are and who you are with.

Inside theStory is a couple different communities already. I can’t be expected as a church planter to be ‘in community’ with every single person that walks through the door. I think that was my mistake all along. I thought that to start a church I needed to start a community. By doing that I burned myself out with trying to be in community with tons of different people and spreading myself out too thin. Instead, I’m starting to realize that my community exists within my friendships, inside and outside of theStory and I don’t need to get a new community to plant a church.

A church though I’m finding expresses itself in the midst of all these communities. We are all part of different ones and they extend to other ones. A church gathers up all these different people from different communities and worships together (through social justice, music, teaching, gatherings, and events). I think I’m still far from understanding this. I am a bit relieved though because I was getting frustrated because I wasn’t finding time to hang out with all these different people and then feeling bad because I didn’t want to hang out with certain ones. I can’t do it though, I can’t be expected to be in community with every person that is part of theStory, that just isn’t going to work.

I’m still at lost a little bit through all of this. I’m at lost because where I thought I was planting a church I’m actually helping a community grow and where I thought I was building community I’m actually planting a church. The lines are extremely blurry, and sometimes they are the same thing. I start to wonder if there was ever supposed to be churches though, because a lot of times communities just make a lot more sense and I feel at times churches are just institutionalized communities. Then at other times I feel like the power of communities can’t do enough because there is no organization and no one really cares about structure to get anything done. So I have a hard time with it.

However, I’m thinking that theStory is heading to be a church that is going to accomplish some pretty amazing things in Sarnia, things that I don’t think a small community could do. We have some pretty big dreams that I think will take numbers and finances; things that communities don’t usually have quick access to. So I’m excited for theStory, but at the same time I’m excited for the relationships and the communities I’m part of because without them I don’t think churches and other things would exist. Churches are extremely intentional and I think that is what differentiates them in many ways from communities. I guess that’s where I’m at with it right now. Communities are groups of people who love to hang out, are usually built around common interests and where relationships are deep and meaningful. Churches are like intentional communities but they exist of combining people from all these different communities, is that right? I’m not sure. Anyone else got any insight?

3 Comments

  • This makes me think of something I was reading on the ferry last night… there’s some before this which would add perspective but I don’t want to make this too long…”There is probably no Christian to whom God has not given the uplifting experience of genuine Christian community at least once in his life. But in this world such experiences can be no more than a gracious extra beyond the daily bread of Christian community life. We have no claim upon such experiences, and we do not live with other Christians for the sake of acquiring them. It is not the experience of Christian brotherhood, but solid and certain faith in brotherhood that holds us together. That God has acted and wants to act upon us all, this we see in faith as God’s greatest gift, this makes us glad and happy, but it also makes us ready to forego all such experiences when God at times does not grant them. We are bound together by faith, not by experience.” -Dietrich Bonhoeffer ‘Life Together’ sorry this was not more personal- I just can’t explain it better than that…- Christian community is not like other community for it is Christ in each other that we see…

    Paige

  • I am in much the same place, wrestling with definitions of terms and trying to find a balance between what the church should be, the institution it should not be, and how it all fits into The Church.

    Recently I got the chance to hang with some people where we were discussing these very questions. The question posed was how do you form community (in the church sense). The answer was that we had the wrong question. We should instead be focusing on cause and that people joined together for a cause can’t help but form community.

    Still wrestling with that thought and what it looks like in the real world.

    The two pictures I am currently playing with in my head are the triangle from chapter 5 of the shaping of things to come. Three things you need to “be a church”. Communion, community, and commission. Basically, a relationship with Christ, a relationship (with accountability) to each other, and a relationship (specifically purpose) with the world.

    The other picture is one you hinted at. The idea of overlapping circles. I am a member of several communities. One of those is the church I am currently a member of. Each of those members have their own circles of community. Some overlap in several places, some overlap in only a few. As “the church” gets bigger, we realize that there is not one community circle that represents the church except in an institutional, membership sort of way. Some communities are on the fringe of “the church” some are closer to the core purpose. Many overlap.

    I don’t necessarily like this picture, it is just where I am at in process. I am meeting regularly with a couple of guys and tearing apart these kinds of things. I don’t know if a “new church” will be the result or just maybe a better understanding of the gospel, the church, and my purpose in those contexts.

  • I love the contemplation of church vs. community. I believe ones church is part of one’s community, uniting the point that communities are comprised of individuals and smaller clicks of folks with similar beliefs, interests, an bonds.

    However, I am not sure that would lend that communities should be small, or linked to any particular size. More importantly, the community’s strength and reputation should be the focal point.

    Too often in our Western civilizations, size and stature seem to weigh heavily on our perception. To me the strength and bond created within a community is what makes it prosper…and that, many times can be leveraged by the church.

    I do not attend a church regularly, but do have my own beliefs and views on how the church has failed (ragardless of sect) and how it still succeeds.

    The bottom line—if one can exist in his/her community, participate, grow, and better themselves and the communities environment…then they have attended the greatest church of them all…the church of “community”.

    Just my two cents…great post…really makes one ponder…

Join the Discussion