the weblog of Alan Knox

Finding Community

Posted by on Jul 13, 2010 in church life, community, fellowship | 42 comments

Finding Community

I get alot of emails because of this blog. In the majority of the emails, the authors ask some form of this question: “How do I find community like you describe?”

I often describe the life that we share with our brothers and sisters in Christ. The life that we share today – the community – is different than anything that I’ve ever been part of. And, according to the emails that I get, it’s different from what many people experience as part of churches today.

We’ve been sharing life together with some people for more than five years now… and we’re still learning what it means to be family. We’re still learning what it means to relate to one another as brothers and sisters with God as our father.

But, we had a benefit. We were part of a church that moved from being event-centered and program-centered to being people-centered and relationship-centered. We had the benefit of working through the changes together. It took time and grace and tears and hope and failure and victory… it took big things and small things… and alot of food.

Many of our friends have moved, and when they move, they often struggle with finding community. Even though they have been part of a close relational group (and perhaps partly because they have been part of a close group), they struggle finding believers interested in sharing their lives in a similar way.

So, I’m asking you for help. What would you say to someone who is moving to a new location (or perhaps is in a location with few – or no – close friends)? What encouragement would you give them for building close relationships with other believers? How would you help them find community?


42 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 7-13-2010

    as one of those emailers let me say thanks to Alan for asking this question and thanks to anyone willing to give input on this!

  2. 7-13-2010

    Alan, I had prepared another response with a few points but then it hit me. The greatest encouragement would be Jesus himself. He came into this world and picked a hand full of people and started having community with them without them realizing what was actually going on. God was fellowshipping with His people and they were missing the point. Emmanuel: God with us. It was only years later that they finally got it. And then they began to emulate it and teach it to the next generation of Christians.

    It often takes time, lots of time and patience. But we can tell them and show them and then one day many of them will wake up and realize what is going on and start doing it themselves.

    So everyone like me (moving to a new area and looking for good family of God fellowship) hang in there, trust in and fellowship with God, put out feelers and those who respond to interaction show them how to be in each other’s lives.

    Danny

  3. 7-13-2010

    it is all about centering our lives around Jesus. He must be the head. we need to listen to the Spirit to lead us to those who desire the same thing. Prayer I think is key, asking the Lord t open our eyes to those who have the same heart. I would say one of the most helpful things for me was reading “Finding Organic Church” by Frank Viola.

  4. 7-13-2010

    Dan,

    Community is hard work… especially at the beginning. But, hang in there, because it’s worth it. I hope you get alot more advice here.

    Danny,

    Yes, you will be in the same boat soon, won’t you? I’m glad that you mentioned patience… that is very important!

    John,

    Absolutely! The first thing that I tell people is to pray. Then trust God. Then wait…

    -Alan

  5. 7-13-2010

    I wish I knew. I had it, but I had to move across the country to get it. It was worth it.

  6. 7-13-2010

    After years in a locality that had none, I found an organic/simple church when I moved to a new city. I just googled the city name along with the terms “simple church” and”organic church.”

    I would also like to encourage the people who are already in organic churches to go online, either with a small website – just saying who you are as a relational community – or create a facebook group. It’s not a matter of “marketing,” it’s just a way for people to find you who are looking to participate in that kind of faith community. Some simple churches are turned off by advertising and church marketing that they’ve seen in more institutional settings. I understand that, but I think there are a lot of believers out there who want this kind of faith community, but have difficulty finding them.

  7. 7-13-2010

    Personally, I feel that the question ought to be self-directed rather than other-directed. I assume that those asking the question and seeking the type of community you write about, experience within your local church-community, and encourage is something that is lacking to those who are asking the question. My response is, “Stop looking for it and begin creating it. Start loving others sacrificially and sharing your lives together. Invite others into your lives/family’s lives. When people ask you how things are going be honest and not superficial. Build relationships via the art of listening to others and when you speak, speak with edifying words that are gospel centered.” (Just some thoughts.)

    The type of community you speak of is one that I think is completely sacrificial.

  8. 7-13-2010

    Benjamin, thanks for your advice, what you say makes a lot of sense. A couple questions:
    where do we find the people to build these relationships with?
    what if they don’t want to participate (many seem content to keep their distance)?

  9. 7-13-2010

    I think there are basically two different tracks toward seeking authentic community in a local church setting. One is to leave the church you are at now, and try to find another church that “does community right.” Another is to stay where you are, and try to work toward seeing transformation, both in yourself, as well as in the others around you.

    The problem with “community shopping” is, at the core, it is basically a consumeristic approach to church. Also, while there are, without a doubt, some churches that “do community” better than other churches, it is not a totally black and white thing. Any church we might find, when all is done and told, is, at the core, defective in one way or another, and, if we build our hopes too much on the way our church “does community,” we are setting ourselves up to have our hopes dashed eventually. On the other hand, anywhere the Spirit of God truly indwells a group of people, there will be some spark or another of authentic community manifested in the life of that group.

    In the end, I think, we have to ask ourselves why we choose to “go to church” wherever it is we choose to “go to church.” And, there are several factors that I believe legitimately play into this. In the end, however, I think that how it helps us to serve and love others should take priority over how it may or may not meet our own needs, or scratch a certain itch we may have. In other words, the place God wants us to “go to church” may not always be the place we happen to like best, or that best conforms to our expectations of community life.

  10. 7-13-2010

    David,

    I think your comment touches on our inherently selfish nature regarding the church. I agree that we shouldn’t be shopping for the right community that will best serve our needs.

    What if you aren’t currently part of anything? You have to choose some direction to go in. We want to serve Christ in the church and are wondering how to do it, we are not so much looking for the “right” community for us.

  11. 7-13-2010

    Sarah,

    I’m familiar with the group that you’re talking about, and I’ve had the opportunity to meet another person who was part of the group thanks to Bill’s help. Interestingly, I first heard about that group through their blogs and websites. :)

    Benjamin,

    Great points! We can’t expect others to live in community with us. We must offer ourselves and our lives to other people.

    David,

    Yes. In fact, I never (or maybe rarely?) suggest that people leave whatever church group that they’re currently part of. Unfortunately, even when someone is part of a church, they can still have a hard time living in community with others, especially when the others feel that participating in church activities is community. Still, there is no reason to separate yourself from that group. Instead, seek people from within the group with whom you can build community, and pray that the leadership doesn’t see it as being rebellious.

    Dan,

    Thanks for continuing this discussion here and on your blog.

    -Alan

  12. 7-13-2010

    Dan,

    In that case, I think the key question is, Where can I plug in where I will be able to make the most strategic and helpful contribution toward the building up of the Body of Christ in the locality in which I live, and around the world? To a certain extent, if we are not getting fed, and our own spiritual needs are not getting met, we will end up being less effective in building up the Body of Christ around us. The needs of our family are also important, in this regard. So, I’m not saying we should totally disregard that aspect. But, at the core, we should be asking ourselves, Is this more about me, or about how God can use me to build up others?

  13. 7-13-2010

    Sarah has a good idea about listing one’s church. I’ve tried numerous church listing sites and “enter your zip code” map things. I can’t seem to find anything within 100 miles and I live in a metro area of almost 8 million. Our situation is that we’re so overwhelmed with life that searching just can’t be the top priority right now. I’ve googled my town and nearby towns with the same words Sarah suggested, and all I can find is churches in other states with the same city names.

  14. 7-13-2010

    David,
    thanks for the advice. For a long time I just had nothing to do with the church because I didn’t want to be part of the institution, but this has been very detrimental to both my family’s growth and our “contribution toward the building up of the Body.” This is where my selfishness stood in the way!

  15. 7-13-2010

    Thanks brother Alan for posting this on FB & asking the question. I’m in Bloomington, MN if anyone knows like-minded family members here……thanks!!!

  16. 7-13-2010

    There’s a lot of lovely books on the topic, but my favorite is M Scott Peck’s The Different Drum. In this book and workshops through FCE, the Foundation for Community Encouragement, Peck asserted that groups of strangers could become community if they persisted in relating to each other through four stages of increasing intimacy:

    Psuedocommunity, where we hide our rough spots and act polite.

    Chaos, where the reality of who we are emerges as people are honest with each other; conflicts and friction result as people try to control each other, fix others and solve problems.

    Emptiness, where we give up the hope of ever changing the jerks around us and sit hopeless, consumed by despair that this will ever work …

    And in helplessness we surrender into a more unconditional acceptance of others and reach true Community, often in a moment of transformation where everyone realizes deep connection with each other and feels very safe.

    The challenge is (1) investing the number of hours in unstructured communication required for community to develop and (2) understanding that people relax into community rather than strive to achieve it. Peck’s workshops, with people in continual unstructured communication face to face, would usually reach community in by the end of the weekend – 30+ hours non-stop? Meeting less often would require more hours.

    So the riddle is this … when I think about the people I spend time with in the past year, the total hours of communication are far less than 30 except for my significant other. Is your experience different than mine or are you as isolated from other people as I am?

    If you are isolated, you can’t find community … you have to build it.

  17. 7-13-2010

    Benjamin —

    “via the art of listening” yes yes yes to your points there – great thoughts :)

  18. 7-13-2010

    it would be cool if we could find out where your readers are from Alan :) how to do that without having to click on each name and profile separately?

  19. 7-13-2010

    Caseyville Illinois
    9 miles east of the St Louis Arch

  20. 7-13-2010

    just outside Wilmington, North Carolina :)

  21. 7-13-2010

    Arlington, Texas

    Oh, and it’s tough being spoiled. That’s about all I can say…

  22. 7-14-2010

    Concord, California.

    About 30 miles east of San Francisco, 20 miles east of Oakland, 60 miles north of San Jose and about 70 miles SW of Sacramento. Oh, and 2830 miles west of Youngsville, NC.

  23. 7-14-2010

    Waterboro, Maine – about 15 miles west of Portland

  24. 7-14-2010

    Well, I’m in Youngsville, NC which is just north of Wake Forest, NC which is just north of Raleigh, NC.

    -Alan

  25. 7-14-2010

    Just by posting my area I was sent an email today from someone about an hour from me who is looking for a community of believers as well. He told me about two or three other people he knew in the general area who are also looking for the church! So Awesome!

  26. 7-14-2010

    Dan,

    That’s awesome! Thanks for letting us know.

    -Alan

  27. 7-14-2010

    Cordova, Tennessee (right outside of Memphis)

  28. 7-14-2010

    I did ask this question in your “Blogging I Love” post, didn’t I? Hmmm… guess I should weigh in…. I’ve just been watching others’ responses – answers and questions, both – with great interest.

    I’ve actually started responding a few times… and every time I just go on and on… hardly qualify as “comments”, lol!
    So I just keep deleting. Although then I go over and think it through on my Church Journey blog…

    Anyway, thanks for all the responses.

    Oh. I’m in Penticton, British Columbia, Canada (a couple hours due north of Wenatchee, Washington).

  29. 7-14-2010

    Ask..
    Seek..
    Knock…

    :-)

  30. 7-14-2010

    I’m know I’m pretty late in the conversation here, but you’re post reminded me of something Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, and I’m paraphrasing: “If you try to create community, you will destroy it. But if you simply love those around you, you will create it.”

  31. 7-15-2010

    I think this is a tough question. The history of your community, Alan, is fascinating. I believe there is a fellowship in Wichita, KS that is going through that same process. I can only speak from my own experience, which is much different. I quit attending organized church 10 years ago, and didn’t have consistent fellowship with other believers for 9 years. Only in the last year has the Lord knit me with likeminded believers. From my point of view at that time, I had to get out of that environment, as it had poisoned my mind, and my mind had to be renewed. I was so repulsed by the fake that I couldn’t stomach to even be in that environment, for the most part. At times I would get lonely, and if I was home attending church with my parents I might have a part of me long for part of the experience, especially the music. I firmly believe that I had to have the old foundation of my faith removed, so that it could be based in truth. I think in my current state I could better function back in that environment, but even now it would be difficult. There is such a difference in function between the two environments, that, having seen the beauty of the truth, I just don’t think I could stand to be involved in the lie. Now some would argue that I shouldn’t have forsaken the assembling of the saints during my 9 years, but that 9 years was integral in building a foundation of trust in Christ alone. Although it was a lonely, painful road I wouldn’t trade it for anything now.

    Regarding how to find community I guess I would say that the key is to pray and trust God. I believe he is raising up a remnant, so to speak, in communities all over the country, and probably all over the world, who will seek after Him in truth. If we as believers find ourselves alone in our community, maybe the Lord is planning to use us to establish His kingdom in that community. I know for my wife and I that that was the case. He brought us to our town 5 years ago, we began working to establish ourselves in that community, and to do the things he called us to, and eventually he surrounded us with like-minded believers. Now there is a wonderful thing in the works, as there is such a great caring one for another, and such a heart for the body at large, and a sense of greater things in the works than just our own little “bible study”. It certainly is a hard place to be in, but I think we need to think outside of ourselves and try to see what He may be trying to do. Also, we can’t doubt that he’ll use “lowly me” to do great things.

    BTW, Larned, KS is my location.

  32. 8-9-2010

    i am having such a hard time with this community. we gather and try so hard to do this. then as we move forward, some leave the community for reasons like, why cant it be at my house, or sing my songs, or my feelings were hurt… as a leader (just ended up in that spot) i struggle with, have i offended, did i over look, am i playing favorites.. this is new to me. men that stood next to me or i them do flip flops on what is in their heart. someone here said to stick it out, its worth it. i am trying.. i once made a post years ago saying i hate Christians… the brethren at times are so … i cant even explain it..sigh

    thanks for being here mr knox.. i have learned so much from you.

    you are loved
    Brother Frankie

  33. 8-9-2010

    I started in organic settings after being saved by Jesus people in Champaign, IL, in 1972 while a junior in high school – a different small group community every night of the week except Wednesday. Continued the same through college, wasn’t involved in a traditional church per se until I moved to Louisville and applied to enter seminary. So I’m familiar with various levels of commitment, groups forming and morphing and disappearing, and leadership in leaderless groups going up and down like a roller coaster. It was wonderful, and it at times was very painful.

    Then I became a full time pastor after graduation and have been serving in structured churches for 30 years since 1980. This has always seemed strange and cross cultural for me.

    I can see the great value of both working together. The strength of the structured church, like bone, is it’s rigidity. It endures, it survives, it lasts. The strength of the organic church, like muscle, is it’s ability to flex, move, and exert strength. Both are alive.

    Muscle without bone, however, becomes just a twitching lump … with a lot of unfulfilled potential. All the groups I was a part of in those early days fell apart and have totally disappeared … except in how they blessed me. So I guess they aren’t by nature very institutional.

    The world’s largest and fastest growing churches in the third world have this dual nature of bone and muscle, of mother church and organic small group. Cho at Yoido now even calls them house churches. John Wesley did the same things with a system of graduated small groups within the Anglican church.

    Here’s a parable on the matter … http://www.disciplewalk.com/parable_coffee_cup.html

    Blessings on you, Brother Frankie.

    David Kueker

    Hot coffee needs a cup …
    and the cup needs the coffee.
    Coffee without a cup is a mess.
    A cup without coffee is just empty.

  34. 8-9-2010

    David, that’s a great analogy. At its best, a healthy expression of Christ’s Body needs both structure and flexibility, both stability and momentum.

    One question I constantly ask is why so many people are unbalanced in one direction or the other. Maybe it just means we’re – all of us – most often following theories of construction, instead of following Christ. (?)

  35. 8-9-2010

    Hmmm … to me, Willy Joe, we are made to be imbalanced and only complete when we are interlinked and functioning together. That’s the body of Christ metaphor in 1 Cor 12. The body when assembled uses everyone’s strengths in a way that makes everyone’s weaknesses irrelevant.

    What I saw in my study of Yoido (online for free download at http://www.disciplewalk.com) was the interaction of the dual systems – and once I saw it there I saw it lots of places, particularly in Peter Senge’s “Limits to Growth” systems archetype and Everett Rogers Diffusion of Innovations.

    I named them the discipleship system (that makes disciples) and the church system (all the rest).

    So you may be fully invested in one or the other, or some combination of the two, from my point of view.

  36. 8-9-2010

    More of the same … Just as you can have a church system with just a tiny portion functioning as a discipleship system, you can have the opposite – a powerful discipleship system with a minimal church system.

    The way this dual system works with house/simple/organic churches is that they have the most powerful discipleship system possible hooked up with minimum possible church system.

    But “the life is in the cell” not the shell, whether the cell is a part of a grand liturgical cathedral shell seating thousands or a house church meeting in someone’s living room.

    “The fourth wave of cell church innovation is a Church Planting Movement strategy rather than a church growth strategy. In the fourth wave, as in the New Testament, all energy is invested in disciple-making and no energy is wasted on creating an institutional church or rebuilding the Temple. More aptly named a “disciple multiplication
    movement,” fourth wave churches begin small, remain small,
    and continually spin off new small churches rather than grow one larger church. I believe that these evangelistic methods can be highly effective in small churches where individuals are ready to make a serious commitment to making disciples.” (www.greenhouseSTL.org)

  37. 8-9-2010

    I appreciate the continued discussion here. It continues to amaze me the number of people who contact me asking about community.

    -Alan

  38. 4-13-2012

    After struggling with several moves I finally realized that community has to start with our relationship with God. Only when we are confident and peaceful because of Christ, can we reach out as newcomers. It’s not always easy but we always need to keep striving for fellowship. I wrote a forty-day devotional, Changing Zip Codes: Finding Community Wherever You’re Transplanted (Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas) to help encourage those who need to find community again.

  39. 5-30-2012

    I am looking for community myself. However I did not move, I was exiled from my community. I live in Fort Worth TX, if anyone is near. Part of my issue also is that I don’t get out much….so I am attempting to build community online, but finding it is not the same….

  40. 6-1-2012

    I agree that online fellowship can be beneficial, but it’s not the same as consistent face-to-face time.

    -Alan

  41. 3-15-2013

    If you can get hold of a copy of John Saunders’ A Heart For The Stretch, there is a chapter called “Of refrigerators and the internal combustion engine”. I think this essay is brilliant and really encouraging in finding community and maintaining fellowship in the American context – Published by Guardian Books, Memphis, TN.

  42. 3-15-2013

    Myrtlemrtus,

    I’m not familiar with that book. Thank you for the recommendation.

    -Alan

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