Do people really connnect with each other in your congregation? How do you build relationships that matter?
Imagine running a survey in your Christian community. Two question:
- First, list the relationships you have that matter deeply to you — soul mates, heart friends, Starbucks buddies.
We’re only counting the handful of people with whom you share life. Which are the friendships where you hold each other up and help each other move forward in life?
- Second, how many of that handful of people are in your congregation?
If a good number of those solid relationships are part of your Christian community, I suspect you are doing something right.
I suspect, though, that a lot of Christians would find that not many of their deeply supportive relationships are in their churches.
For many faithful Christians it is easier to find deep soul-nourishing connections outside their churches than in them.
This is actually a very important little survey. It points to one of the very basic, elemental components of Christian community.
Over the last few weeks (here, and here) I’ve beek looking at the four commitments, or priorities, that the early Christian community in Acts committed themselves to. After that first Christian Pentecost, when 3000 were converted,
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Acts 2:42, NRSV)
It is a bit misleading in some translations, like the NRSV, since “apostles’ teaching and fellowship” makes it look like they devoted themselves to “the Apostles’ … fellowship.” You can translate the Greek more straightforwardly by giving each the four commitments its own little “to the.”
Like this: They committed themselves
to the teaching of the Apostles’
and to the fellowship
to the breaking of the bread
and to the prayers
They committed themselves to the “fellowship,” or in Greek to “koinonia.” What does that mean?
The word has to do with sharing in something–it has the same root as the word used a few verses later to say they “had all things in common.”
But koinonia, or fellowship, is not primarily about material goods. It is about the connection we have with each other because each of us is connected to Christ. We share in Christ. We share in life together. Our lives are interwoven.
The Status Quo
I tend to spend most of my time in and around mainline Protestant ministries. If a congregation is happy about any possible marker of their health as a Christian community, they are most likely to say they are really good at fellowship.
But sometimes, at least to an outside observer, it looks like we are setting the bar fairly low.
Is the fellowship at our coffee hours and potlucks creating a sense that we are sharing life together? Are we building relationships that matter?
More Than the Culture
There is more than one way to look at it. What that outside observer needs to do first is compare the quality of relationships in the Christian community with relationships in society at large.
We live in a culture where countless people are isolated and lonely, without anyone who knows, or loves, or cares for them. People often fear their neighbors. We may not even know the people next door by name. If we died in our apartments no one would find us for days.
So, if our church at least prompts some to know our names, to expect us to show up, then we are moving in the right direction.
And if the kind Christian people there will bring by a hot meal when we are sick, we are doing something pretty amazing.
Less Than the Call
I think, though, that the biblical faith calls us to keep moving toward richer kind of fellowship. We can start by measuring success as “koinonia,” the sharing of life that comes from sharing in Christ.
Sharing life requires knowing more than each other’s names. It is the kind of thing Paul described when he said
Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ. (Gal. 6:2, NRSV)
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. (Rom. 12:15, NRSV)
That kind of thing takes time. And effort. If we are going to devote ourselves to fellowship as they did in Acts, then our game plan has to include spending time with people from our Christian community.
We have to consciously try to open up and share our lives with others in the community. We have to take up the practice of listening, and sharing other people’s burdens and joys.
Devoting Ourselves to Fellowship Means Building Relationships that Matter
A lot of thriving churches (and a lot of amazing movements in the history of Christianity) have devoted themselves to fellowship through small groups: prayer groups, bible studies, accountabilty circles. The possibilities are endless.
Small groups provide a community smaller than when all are together at worship. There is more opportunity to speak and listen. We are expected to care. That’s a great way to share life.
One Simple Suggestion
But it doesn’t have to be small groups. The point is not a program. The point is relationships.
Here’s one simple suggestion that is hinted at in the same text from Acts just a couple verses from where we started.
Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts (Acts 2:46, NRSV)
The first Christian community shared meals together.
What if your whole congregation was given a challenge: Every member must have one meal with one other member every month.
Pot lucks don’t count. Family meals do.
What might happen if people actually spent time, regular time, at table together? It might be in a restaurant or at home. But the purpose is to share life. To tell our own stories, past and present. To listen, to make room for each other, to celebrate and grow our connection in Christ.
The point is to build relationships that matter.
That is devoting ourselves to fellowship.
In Acts they did it “day by day.” Could you and I do it once a month?
I’d love to hear from you in the comments. What have you seen as signs of “koinonia” in your Christian community?