One of the challenges many church leaders face is developing communities of believers within our churches. It is the topic of many discussions. In fact, just this morning I had a conversation revolving around this topic. We talked about a couple of books that discuss doing church as described in the book of Acts. As I continued to ponder this throughout the day, something came to mind. Is it possible to do church in the same fashion as it was in the first century? Since there are a few modern-day examples, I used to think so; but it does not seem to be the norm. Now I am beginning to question this idea.
In today’s society, people are busy. Some would say that we are too busy. We spend a great deal of time away from home working at our jobs. Add the fact that many people commute 50 or more miles to work each day, and the workday can be 12 hours or more. When we get home, many of us spend our evenings chauffeuring our children around to different activities such as soccer practice, baseball practice, youth group, scout meetings, and other similar activities. By the time we get home from all of this, it’s time to retire for the evening so we will be ready to begin again the next day.
In my neighborhood it is not uncommon to see people drive down the street toward their homes, watch the garage door open as they pull into their driveways, and then close once they are in the garage. I never see the person. I would be challenged to recognize many of my neighbors if they were to walk up to me and say hello. I used to frown on this when thinking about how churches can reach people in our neighborhoods. After reflecting on it a bit more, it is easy to understand why churches struggle with building communities when people find it a challenge just to spend time with their immediate family. Many people simply do not have the time to be a part of a faith community, much less doing so in a similar manner as described in the book of Acts.
When describing most churches, we see people gathering for an hour to an hour and a half every Sunday morning. They arrive at church and greet one another as they find a place to sit. During the worship service, it may be customary to have a time when everyone stands to say hello to those sitting near them. After the service, they may have a couple of brief conversations as they leave the church to return home. All in all, many people spend only a few minutes actually interacting with other people, yet we expect to create communities of believers under these circumstances. Is it any wonder people feel uncomfortable when placed in small groups where the only thing they have in common is the initial of their last name or the zip code in which they live?
When we look at the community as described in Acts, we see the people of the church eating together and spending time in fellowship. In the first century, people lived, recreated, and worshipped within walking distance of their home. Everything was located nearby, and people rarely ventured more than a mile from our home. It was much easier, and some would say necessary, to be a part of such a fellowship. People today no longer live in organic communities as the people did in the first century.
So what is the answer to building a community of believers? I am beginning to wonder if we are seeking the wrong answer. Perhaps the answer is not to build (dare I say) artificial communities of believers within our churches. After all, they barely know one another. Perhaps the answer is equipping and encouraging the people of our churches to bring their faith and beliefs outside of the church into the community in which they are already a natural part. Hmm, sounds like discipleship is the answer we should be seeking.