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How to Create Real Life Communities of Faith

  • Whitney Hopler Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • Updated Jun 09, 2010
How to Create Real Life Communities of Faith

Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Mike Tatlock's new book, Faith in Real Life: Creating Community in the Park, Coffee Shop, and Living Room(Zondervan, 2010).

God has given all people an innate desire to live for something greater than themselves. But many people don't yet realize that the best way they can fulfill that desire is by joining a church. They probably won't just walk into your church looking for community. If you build relationships with them wherever you meet in your everyday lives, however, you can generate momentum that will help them eventually connect with God and other believers.

Here's how you can create community in real life:

Focus on people rather than programs. People don't fit into nicely organized boxes. Ask God to help you see people as unique individuals instead of as products. Understand that even the best programs won't have nearly as much power to get people to visit your church as personal relationships will. So don't waste time and energy trying to use gimmicks to entice people to attend your church. Invest in developing friendships with people instead; then personally invite them to church when the time is right. Keep in mind that people are at different stages of their spiritual journeys, and tend to connect in different ways (such as around shared needs, shared experiences, or shared questions).

Align your goals. Your church will reach unchurched people best if people there are working toward goals that are all aligned with God's vision for your church. So pray and reflect carefully about what God wants your church to be like, and why. Ask God to help your congregation align its calling, purpose, mission, culture, leadership, people, and strategic process in unity with His will for your church.

Meet people in the "park." The park is the relational environment where people usually meet and interact for the first time. At church, the park can be represented by activities like a weekend worship service, neighborhood event, or community service project in which church members first encounter people who don't yet attend church. Be intentional about associating with other people as often as possible. Once you've made initial contact with them, demonstrate consistency so you can build trust and open conversations that can lead to deeper relationships. Pray for each unchurched person you meet to be able to see Jesus at work in your life in some way. Market your character rather than your church, shifting the focus from what your church does to who the people in your church are. Instead of sending out postcards giving people information about when your church holds worship services or what types of programs you offer, focus on serving the people in your community so they can see your character and be drawn to your church because of the kind of person you are. Make first impressions that last by: creating an environment at your church that is welcoming and including for visitors, creating an atmosphere of sincerity that empowers people to trust each other, validating people by showing them that you genuinely care about them, listening well to people, respecting their views and seeking to understand them, expressing affection for people in appropriate ways (such as through handshakes and hugs), laughing with them, giving them the freedom to explore and experiment with faith without fear of judgment or criticism, inspiring them by showing them how compelling faith in action looks so they can imagine their own lives being transformed if they engage more with the church, communicating well through visual images as well as the spoken word, demonstrating a passion for Jesus, and creating worship services that point beyond entertainment to truly encountering God's presence in your church.

Meet people in the "coffee shop." The coffee shop is the relational environment where people forge new friendships. At church, the coffee shop can be represented by activities such as retreats, social events, or mission trips where people get to know each other better. Help people see that spending time with you and others from your church is much more than just one more activity to cross off their "to-do" lists. Rather than letting people hide in the crowds at weekend worship services, start conversations with them about topics they're interested in, and listen well so you can respond well to what they share with you. Keep in mind that people usually need to experience a sense of belonging before they'll begin to believe. Give people plenty of opportunities to connect, belong, and engage at their own pace, without any pressure. Host social events, invite people to join service projects, and create church groups around people's shared interests that new people can plug into if they're interested. Communicate clear and simple next steps for people to move forward from wherever they are. But give people all the time they need to build trust in their new relationships, and make sure they understand that you're not calling them to a program, event, or project - you're calling them to Jesus.

Meet people in the "living room." The living room is the relational environment where people develop deep and lasting friendships. At church, the living room is usually represented by home groups, where people openly and honestly share their thoughts and feelings with each other and ask tough questions together while making commitments to God and each other that help them grow. Share your stories of how God has worked and is working in your life, and encourage people to share their own stories with you. Work together to discover, develop, and use your talents in the world and spiritual gifts in the church. Support and encourage each other as you each grow closer to Jesus. Accept your friends for who they really are. Love them unconditionally. Listen well to them. Allow them to share their desires and fears without criticism. Discuss the struggles of everyday life together. Confess your sins to each other without judgment. Celebrate your victories together. Work together for a common cause: to fulfill the missions God calls you to fulfill.

Adapted from Faith in Real Life: Creating Community in the Park, Coffee Shop, and Living Room, copyright 2010 by Mike Tatlock.  Published by Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Mich., www.zondervan.com
Mike Tatlock is the lead pastor at Grace Chapel in Portland, Oregon. He has been one of the youngest teaching professors at Prairie Bible College and Multnomah Bible College. A frequent teacher at workshops, seminars, seminaries, and churches around the world, his pastoral experience includes leading within urban, inner-city, and suburban churches.

Original publication date: June 9, 2010