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Why Community Is Hard To Find & What To Do About It

People in wealthy countries are much more likely to be depressed than people in poor countries.* Many have stopped having children because they’re pessimistic about the future. The average couple in Europe has about 1.5 kids, far below the replacement rate. Something is broken. …
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

People in wealthy countries are much more likely to be depressed than people in poor countries.* Many have stopped having children because they’re pessimistic about the future. The average couple in Europe has about 1.5 kids, far below the replacement rate.

Something is broken. If we look at our cultural roots, we can sniff out a few possible reasons why we’re unhappy. For one thing, many of us don’t do well in community. As we’ve become immersed in social media, we live online more and live less in the world of normal human interaction.

Our websites and lives have privacy settings that keep us from sharing. We have become a nation of fence-builders. 

As a consequence, people have fewer friends and lack community. The number of people with no friends has tripled in a generation.** It’s an irony – we seek community in virtual space, but we are losing it in real life.

Communities are groups of people held together by common interests and values. Students and retired people tend to be tribal, hanging out on-line or in RV campgrounds. Facebook is a mechanism for building virtual tribes, but can’t deliver on the real thing.

We humans are social creatures who need one another in order to feel at peace and whole. Yet our national history is one of struggle against dysfunctional community. America was born as an act of rebellion and independence. Children of tyranny, we pushed back and fought for freedom.

And while this explains the reason we are prone to keep declaring our independence in the modern day, we need to find ways to move toward interdependence. Adolescents righteously seek autonomy, but as adults how do we move toward maturity as a part of a group living interdependently?
 
Young people seem more prepared to grapple with this issue than their parents. They have an inner drive to find their social context, the community to which they belong. They know we need community to be happy.
 
A better way
 
Those of us who follow Jesus believe that he showed us a better way. A good place to start may be to take a closer look at what that way is. Jesus showed his disciples how to live in community by walking with them for three years. They did life together, studied together, and pressed in to the kingdom of heaven together.
 
Could it be that the answer we’re looking for is embedded in the radical life that Jesus modeled?

I think so. A remnant of Christ-followers have always sought to walk that old narrow path that Jesus showed us. People see them walking away from the institutional church and worry about it. What are we boomers to do? We grew up with that church. We ate potluck dinners there. We like the sermons. We have friends there.
 
The good news is that many young people are not quitting the church entirely; they are looking at other ways to walk towards life in the kind of community that Jesus showed us. They don’t need sanctuaries and pulpits. They like kitchens and living rooms better. And, like metal filings to a magnet, they are gathering.
 
Yes, it looks a bit rag tag and broken, but in their spirits, they’ve seen a better day and are moving toward it and one another. Metaphorically, they’re like the children of Israel moving out of the wilderness of their own isolation. 
 
Trading up
 
And while they may have become disenchanted with the belief systems of their parents’ generation, they are believers nonetheless. They’ve just traded up on a more authentic set of beliefs. They believe in a lifestyle of
community not independence
 
freedom not legalism
 
kingdom not isolation
 
and discipleship not token faith 
They believe these things. And they are looking for others who share a common Lord, a common purpose, a common spirit, and a common vision for loving others. But where do they find them? 
 
The encouragement I want to offer is that smaller church is often the answer. The early church didn’t meet in sanctuaries, but in homes. And a growing movement is doing the same.
 
These churches have swapped the call of Christ for the concept of a meet-on-Sunday social club. They know that Jesus died for more than that. Young people especially are looking for something to believe in. Seeing the radical tenants that Jesus espoused, they are finding connection with other believers in homes.
 
Many mega-churches, recognizing this phenomenon, emphasize the primacy of small groups as the place where connection happens. Northpoint calls them community groups. Grace Midtown calls them “house churches.” They go by different names, but they are the essence of church. 
 

What to do

Many are leaving the institutional church in order to journey together in new ways. They aren’t giving up on community, just the model of community that seems inauthentic.

What if that’s you? Here are some alternatives:

1. Your networks. People who look like you are probably in your area; talk to them. For example, the 4,000 people who have been on the World Race often return home looking for authentic church. You can find them through our office or online. Facebook is often a big help to those trying to begin the networking process.

2. A small-group focused church. There’s a difference between most churches and those that really do see home groups as the place where connection happens. Look for those. You can find them online and through your friends.

3. Start one. I’m currently part of a church plant. Believing in the local church, but not finding what we were looking for locally, we started a community group. We love diving into one another’s lives. We meet on Wednesday evening so that people can try it out without having to leave the church they may be committed to. There’s a lot to love: We are comfortable with mess, connect deeply and don’t have to support professional clergy with our tithe.

4. Follow Jesus’ example. He walked away from communities focused around buildings and programs. Go on journeys with those who are searching as you are and see what he shows you on the trail. Find others like you and spend time asking the Lord what he would do.

*     *     *     *

And what if you feel called to an institutional church and want to help it find its way? You can be a change agent right where you are. Here are three actions you can take while staying committed to the people there:

Take a look around. Is your community attractive to young people? If the average age is over 40, consider learning from other younger groups.

Empower young people. Let them make decisions. Give them real budgets and see what God does through them.

Share deeply. True community is forged around connection. Life happens around the kitchen table. Trade in the tired symbols of community for something that is real.

God has more for all of us. The model of church you’ve experienced may disappoint you, but that doesn’t change the fact that you were made for community. Maybe you are ready for a change – that can be a righteous thing. Why not take a few steps and see if that’s what God is ready for too?

 

According to this study

**This TIME article

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.



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