Authentic Community: the transition from familiar strangers to a family of faith

For Baptists Today
09/01/11

Authentic Community: the transition from familiar strangers to a family of faith

By Beth Kennett

Authentic Community

The phrase Authentic Community creates an image of people living and working together, being honest and approachable, kind, compassionate, trustworthy, and open to healthy communication. This description offers a beautiful picture of positive attributes. However, this picture is not easy to paint. In order to be an Authentic Community, people must be willing to acknowledge reality, to be honest about likes and dislikes, and to confront difficult truths. Authentic Community is about relationships with depth, relationships that move beyond the surface of pleasantries, relationships that allow people to know something of others’ experiences and passions. Authentic Community allows people to be who they are, who God called them to be, and to nurture whom God is calling them to become as individuals and as a community of faithful people.

Congregations have an opportunity to create Authentic Community that will enhance and strengthen the lives of individuals as well as to create an impact on society that will make a difference for our current generations and generations to come.

Familiar Strangers

Unfortunately, individuals today are becoming more and more isolated. We work alone, we play alone, and we even make decisions alone — without thinking of the impact on others. We have been duped into believing that life is easier if we do not involve others. In his book, Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam states, “The single most common finding from a half century’s research on the correlates of life satisfaction, not only in the United States but around the world, is that happiness is best predicted by the breadth and depth of one’s social connections.” (p. 332) He goes on to say, “Where once we could fall back on social capital — families, churches, friends — these no longer are strong enough to cushion our fall. In our personal lives as well as in our collective life. . .  we are paying a significant price for a quarter century’s disengagement from one another.” (p.335) There is scientific evidence to prove that we are damaging our health through a lack of relationships and personal contact with others.

Every week, churches offer opportunities for individuals to connect through worship services, prayer times, Bible studies, programs and ministry — meaningful life experiences. Yet participation in these particular opportunities has been declining for 50 years. Every week fewer and fewer people, who really barely know each other, are gathering with the intent of making a difference in their lives and in the lives of others. Those who do gather, sit side by side with people they barely know or know only on the surface. Every week buildings are half-full of people who believe that they do not have the time to get to know each other as anything more than acquaintances. Every week church buildings contain groups of familiar strangers who are trying to function as congregations. Authentic community is nowhere in sight.

 

Transitioning to a Family of Faith

The apostle Paul understood the concept of Authentic Community. Throughout his letters to the early churches, Paul repeatedly shares ways congregations can live better as a group, as a church. He speaks of belonging and connecting, of communicating and accepting, of being a place where no one is an outsider. Paul encourages the church to focus on the teachings and actions of Jesus in order to develop into healthy communities of faith. Jesus, before his death, gives a new command to his disciples; he impresses on them the importance of living lives of love. It is in living love — incorporating love into every aspect of our individual lives and the life of our community — that we begin to understand what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. It is through relationship with God and living the teachings of Jesus Christ that we can establish Authentic Community within the church. It is through nurturing communities that we experience healthier living.

 

Building Community

Congregations have many opportunities to build community and nurture relationships among individuals. But congregations must recognize and embrace these opportunities. It is easy to reduce the time necessary for shared prayer joys and concerns, planned fellowship activities, ice-breakers and other ways for individuals to learn more about each other. It is imperative in all of the programming that congregations do, to include opportunities for healthy relationships to develop.

I am part of a small congregation — 102 confirmed members and 36 active children. Two years ago, we intentionally began planning opportunities for individuals to connect other than on Sundays and we encourage people to connect through social media, email and texting. Our church is experiencing a stronger sense of community across generational lines. This summer, we have experienced more regular attendance than ever before during the summer months. This is a positive transition toward becoming an Authentic Community.

Through the natural process of congregational life, Authentic Community can be nurtured. If a congregation is purposeful in the day-to-day life of planning, implementing, serving and worshiping, familiar strangers will develop deeper and more meaningful relationships that will lead our congregations to being families of faithful people.

Source: Putnam, Robert. Bowling Alone.New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000

Beth Kennett is network coordinator for healthy faith communities for the Center for Congregational Health (www.healthychurch.org) based in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Please site Beth Kennett, Baptists Today and the Center for Congregational Health if this article is reprinted or quoted.

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Resources for Conflict

The Center is available to help with community. We can provide consultation, coaching, and leadership development.

Learn more at www.healthychurch.org. If we can help you in any way, please contact us!

We are also on Facebook and Twitter.

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