What is the secret to true community?
What is not a secret is that community is hard to find these days - and getting harder. Robert Putnam, in his book Bowling Alone, makes this point by giving some insightful statistics on how loneliness is increasing and relationships and community are decreasing in our culture. Putnam did a study examining community over the last 25 years and his findings are shocking. The study showed that playing cards with friends has decreased by 25%; we are having dinner with our neighbors 33% less; family dinners are down 33%; having friends over is down 45%; and readiness to make friends is down 33% from 1985-1999. These stats are scary and clearly show the decreasing trend of community in our culture.
The trend in our culture is also indicative of what we have seen at Living Stones. As the Community Groups Pastor, I have seen the hunger people have at Living Stones for relationship and community. Many are seeking true community, but few can find it. Unfortunately, the answer to finding true community is not as simple as getting into a Community Group. In fact, many people in Community Groups are just as lonely as those outside of them.
One of the most common questions I receive is, “Can I get into a group that has true community?” Coming from a pastor, I am sure my answer will shock you. The first step in finding true community is look to Jesus. Jesus said, “For whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matt 16:25)”. Jesus is saying that the way we find life in anything, especially community, is to GIVE. What we are looking for from community or relationships is life, because we were created to experience life through community.
Many people know there is life in community and relationships; they are just going about finding this life in the wrong way. Most of us, however, enter a Community Group or relationship looking to receive. We go to group wanting people to care for and lead us. I have never had someone who is looking to get into a Community Group ask me, “I would love to give to a Community Group. Do you have one in mind that I could really bless?”
In February, my wife and I started a new Community Group. As we began the group we had one goal, to experience biblical community. In an effort to create community, we decided to eat dinner together every week before the discussion. This was more successful than we dreamed it would be. What has surprised me is that we have experienced biblical community because we enjoy each other, laugh, and just talk about whatever comes up during dinner. We have community because dinner has given people in the group an opportunity to give. Members not only give their money to buy the food, but also give their time to cook it before group. Those in the group haven't just made any meal for people to eat, they are generous and have made some amazing meals. The generosity of those in the group is what has brought life through community.
So what does it look like to give? Where should you start? You can give in many areas, including time, energy, talents, and money. I would hope many who read this would begin by having a conversation with their Community Group and/or those they are in any sort of relationship with. Begin by asking which of these areas can you most bless others. Then ask yourself which area, if you gave it, would hurt you the most. For many people, giving of their money is most difficult, so I would suggest finding a way to develop relationship by giving financially to your Community Group, Living Stones, or someone in need.
The secret to true community is to GIVE. What does giving look like for you in this next season of life? How can you grow in this area?