The 5 Big Misconceptions About Community

Last spring, my husband and I were touring elementary schools in our area’s magnet district. I asked one mom in particular what she loved about her daughter’s school. “Easy,” she said, “it’s the sense of community.”

I wasn’t surprised at her answer, but to be honest, it felt like taking the easy way out. Like saying, “try the ice cream, it’s delicious.” Of course it is. Almost everyone loves community, and almost everyone loves ice cream. Community has become such a buzzword, it can hardly be used as a selling point anymore.

And yet, I use it all the time. When people ask me about our church plant, I’m quick to say something like, “it’s a really special community.” Because while “community” is a total buzzword, it’s also a unifying ideal. No matter what we believe, we know we want it.

The difficulty comes when we want the ideal without the process it requires. As I’ve watched our church and our friends grow and stretch in this area, I’ve noticed that most of us have to push through the desire for immediate, plug and play community in order to settle in for the journey it takes to actually build community with one another.

Building community takes hard work. It’s a slow process, and slow isn’t exactly popular these days.

But it’s worth it.

As we’ve pushed through the building process with our church plant, I’ve noticed these five misconceptions most of us have realized and work through as we come together in community:

Misconception 1: It’s Easy

Because community is such an attractive, necessary ideal, we sometimes act like it doesn’t really take work. We really want things that are right to also be easy.

Unfortunately, what comes easily to most of us is making things about ourselves. The other day, someone mentioned that small groups are often just an opportunity for people to be self-centered with others. Showing up is the easy part (and even that can be tough). Turning to each other, being others-centered is hard. It takes mindfulness, and it has to come from an overflow of the heart.

Misconception 2: It’s Natural

“I just want something that develops organically,” we say.

Few things evoke a more dramatic sigh from my church-planting heart. I mean, yes, sometimes friendships do develop fairly naturally, and that’s great. But generally, anything bigger than you and your best friend is going to take more work.

When my family moved to Asheville, I joined a moms group. I found that I’d already crossed paths with many of the women naturally, but it wasn’t until we all came together with the understanding that we now belonged to each other that we actually invested in each other. I didn’t learn anything about them until we planned stuff and showed up and sat on the floor with scones, coffee, little metal cars and plastic shopping carts all around us.

Intentionality is necessary for community, and sometimes that doesn’t feel as organic as we’d like.

Misconception 3: It Will Come to You

Oh, how I loved high school and college ministries. I loved the games, I loved the drama, I loved the camps. I especially loved the way the campus ministry team chased me down to take me out to lunch.

Christianity after college can be very confusing, because all of a sudden, you leave school and, as long as you wait, no pastor comes knocking at your door.

Instead, you have to go to them. You have to find a church. You have to actually go to church. You have to join groups. You know what’s cool about that? It becomes about more than you. That local church needs you; their community isn’t complete without you, and you can’t find real community until you commit to them.

In adulthood, autonomy skyrockets and it takes a while to figure out how to handle that. But one thing is for sure: You have to show up and step up if you want community. It is unlikely to land at your feet.

Misconception 4: It’s Convenient

Real community can be super annoying, because it just won’t leave you the alone. You have to start rearranging your life for people. Some of that well-earned autonomy starts to slip away a little bit, which is hard but ultimately good.

Whether it’s committing to a weekly meeting or showing up when someone needs help, company or advice—community requires you to step outside the you-bubble and into someone else’s bubble. What’s harder—it requires you to invite other people into your own. That can be physically, temporally, emotionally and spiritually inconvenient, but it’s the best thing for us.

Misconception 5: It’s Optional

We simply aren’t meant to be alone. Look at Genesis: God creates Adam and almost immediately acknowledges the need for a life mate. Look at the triune God Himself—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are made in His image!

We see it in the way God calls His people group—not just individual people but the whole group. He says, “I will be your God, and you will be my people.” And we see it in the way Jesus died and rose and instructed us to carry on. The new Israel is the Church, and He gave His life for it. We are meant to be in close, close community with others. We reflect God Himself when we do that, and we are most satisfied when we are living His best for us.

Through our church plant, I’ve had a new opportunity to watch a community come together to dream, execute, rework, sacrifice, share, pray and live together. I’m seeing firsthand what happens when a group commits to each other and to God, and it is so, so good.

So, what do I love about our church? Easy. It’s the sense of community.


What I Wish I Hadn’t Learned in Sunday School

My good friend growing up never missed a church service. Many people looked up to her spiritual maturity. To me, she was the definition of godly. Fast forward 10 years—she has walked away from God and has expressed no desire to return. To this day though, there are ribbons, medals and awards still hanging on her wall for Bible memorization.

When did the disconnect happen?

Today, church attendance in America is declining. Many “Christians” are walking away from their faith once getting to college or entering the workplace. Ministries and churches are fighting to stay relevant with millennials. Our nation is seeing a generation walk away from God as if He were merely a fashion trend that’s no longer in style.

So what do some Bible memory verses and a church attendance decline have to do with one another? We have perhaps trained up a generation to know Jesus as a correct answer, instead of an actual person.

We have perhaps trained up a generation to know Jesus as a correct answer, instead of an actual person.

In his Bible Study Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby calls it a “crisis of belief.” A Google search will bring up many people who call it “losing their religion.” Whatever you want to call it, it’s happening to an alarmingly large number of young Americans. As they become adults and join today’s competitive world, they’re expected to explain why they choose one answer over the other. Being able to critically think about a matter separates those who get accepted to good schools and high-paying jobs from the rest. So in this same atmosphere, when questions or doubts arise about their spirituality, young adults soon fear they’re not Christians anymore because they can’t always explain to others—and most importantly themselves—why they should be.

While memorizing the Bible is a great thing to do, if we’re not teaching young believers to truly have a relationship with its author, it can become a lost cause. If public schools can fight against using rote memorization in order to help students become better critical thinkers, why should the Church not be leading the way in doing the same thing?

So how do we change it? The simple answer is that Jesus has to move from being an answer in our heads to a truth in our hearts. Head knowledge is easily replaceable. But truth that has made it into someone’s heart is rarely moveable.

How do we get the truth about Jesus from someone’s head to their heart? We don’t. Only God does that. But there are some ways you and I can help:

1. Ask More Questions Than You Give Answers.

One of Jesus’ favorite ways to teach was by asking questions. In Luke 9, Jesus asks His disciples, “Who do people say I am?” He could have easily said, “Hey guys, guess what? I’m the Son of God! Crazy huh?” But He knew if He told them this, it would probably just go into the category of head knowledge. So Jesus, in His desire for relationship, decided it was better that His disciples come to this conclusion on their own. This way, it would be a truth that went down into their hearts.

In a similar way, as we disciple young believers, let’s think twice before giving them answers to all their questions. Doing this can rob them of the experience of letting God reveal Himself to them. Let’s give them the tools to seek out and find God, like in every other life endeavor, they will value highest what they seek out hardest.

2. Stop Scheduling People Out of a Prayer Life.

In today’s fast-paced culture, we schedule ourselves and other people into ridiculous numbers of commitments. This way of life has now even invaded the Church. In many congregations, there is a small group, prayer meeting, conference, retreat and worship night on an almost weekly basis.

The best lie Satan tells today’s generation is that if you question God, you must not really belong to Him.

Where did the idea “less is more” go? Sure, these events are important resources to help people encounter God, and we shouldn’t just toss them out the window. However, if we really want to see young people grow up to be faithful followers of Jesus, give them a Bible, teach them to pray, and send them out to do it! The convictions they’ll come out of that time with can last them a lifetime.

3. Encourage Those Who Are Doubting.

For anyone reading who thinks “It’s too late for me! I am so far along with so many doubts! I don’t even know if I’m a Christian anymore!” You should know you are not alone in that feeling, and it doesn’t mean you aren’t a Christian. The best lie Satan tells today’s generation is that if you question God, you must not really belong to Him.

A great example? John the Baptist’s last documented words to Jesus: “Are you the one who is to come, or should I look for someone else?” John went out with some hardcore doubts. It seemed as if his whole life’s passion for Jesus was depleted in one single moment. But Jesus’ response to John wasn’t one of condemnation. Jesus tells John’s disciples to go back and “Tell him what you have heard and seen—the blind see, the lame walk … and the dead are raised to life.”

Jesus doesn’t comfort John with theology. Jesus comforts John by reminding him of his experience. Similarly, if we have a friend dealing with doubt, often the worst thing we can do is try to comfort them with good theology. Theology only reaches the head, but experience goes down to the heart. So encourage those who struggle with doubt there is no rush to be able to explain God, just encourage them to go experience God.