By Kenneth Meyers
This is the ninth article in a nine-part series on empowering a faith community to impact the world. Previous articles can be found here.
Is your congregation missing the cherished familial fellowship and sweet spirit of church community? The solution is certainly not a program or even a doughnut. Community or, as we Baptists like to say, fellowship emerges out of an intentional gathering of the saints and sinners. Once authentic community is experienced, church vitality and spirit strengthen.
Church as covenantal community bids the Holy Spirit and transforms the community toward faith formation. Jon Huckins, in his book, Thin Places, writes, “Community is the gift God has given each of his [sic] followers as we seek to be faithful to our individual vocations and the overall mission of God.”
The distinctive of the priesthood of all believers has as its emphasis the “all” or the “community.” In this manner the church is not a gathering of privatized beliefs. Rather, the church moves as an organic body following Christ as a community toward faith maturation.
Dan Aleshire points the way in his book, FaithCare: “Learning in faith is a community enterprise. It is something people do in the presence of others, in response to shared prompting, common longings, and diverse reactions.”
If there is no silver bullet to advance church community, how does this fellowship transpire? Here is an example.
In the Washington, D.C., suburban church that I served for 10 years, we struggled to generate community in the ever-changing congregation. The campus was composed of four separate buildings. We built a large and open space or foyer that connected three of the buildings. In so many ways this space fostered interconnectedness among the membership. This space also allowed visitors to enter the church in a welcoming space that did not seem claustrophobic.
Practical solutions are not easy to come by. Each congregation must ascertain specific ways in which people will gather and communicate in non-programmtic ways. Such gatherings invite the free and genuine sharing of life stories. In Storytelling in Religious Education, Susan Shaw writes, “Stories invite learners into a realm of possibility in which they may learn new ways of being faithful people in the world.”
It is incumbent upon the church to generate the means for congregational community. By worshipping together, praying together, studying together, living together and storytelling together, the church comes together as a force for impacting the world.