During my 20 years as a pastor, I was privileged to be invited into the heights of the human experience as well as the deepest valleys. I presided over weddings and was one of the first to hold newborn babies. I was also one of the first called when there was a life-altering diagnosis or a tragedy, and I walked with families through the grieving process. Through those 20 years I have become convinced of two things.
First, deep down, everyone desires and knows they need community, yet most people aren’t sure how to create it. In our early years, community is created for us through our parents and our environments. Many of us grew up playing with the kids of our parents’ friends, and we found friendships and community with classmates and through after-school activities. This built-in community continued and was encouraged through high school and college. Then as adults, we move away from those built-in communities and must learn how to build community on our own for the first time. Second, true community shows up the moment a need arises, but only if it has been built patiently over time. Even if it is easy to ignore the desire or need for community today, there will come a time when your need for support is undeniable. If you wait until you need community to build it, it won’t be there for you. So, even if it is a bit clumsy at first, here are some ways to begin building community today.
Community happens when it is prioritized. One of the greatest obstacles to developing community may be the lack of margin in our lives. Screens and technology have also become a barrier to the development of deeper relationships. Create space, lift your head, and see the people around you. Try joining a club, a community service group, a sports league, or a church.
BE FIRST. Too often we don’t pursue community because we are waiting for someone else to go first. It’s like we are still living out the middle school lunchroom narrative. The fear of rejection or judgement often keeps us from the best parts of life. But maybe we can find encouragement to connect if we remember that, deep down, those around us also desire community and may be waiting for someone to go first.
BE CURIOUS. One of the best ways to connect with others and build trust is to listen. If you have ever interacted with a good listener, you know how valuable listening is to connection. Develop a genuine interest and curiosity in the lives of others, learn how to ask good, open questions, and then, most importantly, listen intently. Open questions invite more than yes or no answers. Examples include: How was your test? Tell me about your meeting. How are you feeling about your relationship with your friend?
BE GENEROUS. Intentionally notice the needs of others in both small and larger community settings. Join with and lead others to generously meet those needs when you find them. Cultivate a generous spirit toward others in general. Allow for differences in personality, beliefs, and perspectives, and give others the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, this is becoming increasingly counter-cultural. If you choose to only be in relationship with people who act and think exactly like you, you are destined to lead a lonely and isolated life.
BE VULNERABLE. True community and connection require accepting the love and support of others in times of need. Though it’s difficult, when we can set our pride aside and admit that we don’t always have it all together. When we acknowledge we need help carrying the overwhelming load, we create opportunities for honest relationships. Friendships and community take effort, time, and vulnerability. But those investments make the world—and life—significantly more meaningful for you and for those around you. What is one practical step you will take to begin building community? Imagine the impact if we all committed to building community as an intentional practice. May it begin with you and me.