Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Sharing Stories Builds Community

Community is a key factor in reaching people for Christ. Few people come to faith without first encountering some form of Christian community. So what is it that builds a sense of community?

The article (cited below) gives five elements that research from Howard Thorsheim and Bruce Roberts shows helps people feel a part of a community. The article writer applies this to creating a sense of community at family reunions. Here is what the article says were the five most important elements in creating a sense of community:

- Knowing names. "That was the most powerful predictor" of happiness and well-being within a community, Thorsheim said. And it's simple to promote at a reunion. "Name tags are important, with big, bold letters."

- A sense of belonging. Name tags can include additional information, such as the person's hometown, home state and parents' names, to help people make connections. Before the Solingers' family reunion, members were invited to contribute material for a family history; the book was a great conversation starter, Donna Solinger said.

- A sense of caring. Before the Solingers' reunion, every family member received a call seeking their input, Donna Solinger said. The reunion opened with a ceremony at which candles were lit to honor each family member who had died in the four years since the last reunion. "The candles and bonfire stayed lit all weekend," she said.

- Linking. A meaningful reunion requires "some way to make a connection with others," Howard Thorsheim said. Asking people to bring something to share, whether it's food, music or a story, helps facilitate that.

- Helping - both asking others to help and being asked to help. But when you're the one doing the asking, make sure it's a real job that contributes something to the event.

As we seek to reach people for Christ, let us remember these elements that go towards creating a sense of community. Potential converts need to know members of the church community by name, and they need to feel that they belong amongst the members. A sense of caring should go without saying. Linking, however, could easily be forgotten. Potential converts need to have opportunities to share with the community and to provide assistance, which helps bind them to the community. So we should send potential converts out on workdays and invite them to serve even before they are baptized.

The postmodern truism, "They must belong before they believe" is true for a reason.

How do you think that we can create a greater sense of community for people who whom we are seeking to share Christ with?