God has wired within each of us a desire to belong to a genuine community. He wants churches to provide those places of belonging where people can experience His love and grow toward Him together.
But too often, churches don't take the risks necessary for them to become true communities. People might attend worship and participate in programs, yet still miss out on life-changing connections with God and each other if their church doesn't take those risks.
Make your church a place where people can be transformed - a place where true community exists. Here's how:
Remember that God is a relational being. Understand that God made us in His image and wants us to enjoy community just as He enjoys community within the Trinity - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Think about the awesome possibilities of people living in an environment that brings glory to God because of its close relationships.
Focus on people first. Set your priorities so that you focus more on helping people than on church organization, more on a creating a caring atmosphere than on accomplishments, more on shepherding than on systems of principles or programs, and more on love than business. Remember that attendance numbers and building programs don't mean nearly as much to God as whether or not your congregation is loving and encouraging each other to grow.
Expect a mess. Accept that life is messy, and know that God wants you to wade through the mess so you can build authentic relationships with sinful, imperfect people. Don't be afraid to get involved in people's lives.
Offer a place of safety to hurting people. Encourage people to be completely open and honest about their lives, sharing their struggles, fears and failures without hiding behind facades. Accept them in all their frailty - just as God does - without judging them. Meet them where they are, no matter what their situation. Let people know clearly that your acceptance of them isn't based on their performance, but on the love that God has for them.
Help people discover God's vision for their lives. Ask God to help you see the potential within each person who comes through your doors. Don't ever give up on people. Believe in them, and encourage them to grow because God has exciting plans for them.
Apply wisdom to your relationships. Ask God to give you the discernment you need to see the obstacles in each person's life that are keeping them from growing in Christ. Nurture the healthy qualities that already exist in each person's life so they can be more fully expressed. Don't look just at external behavior, but consider the condition of people's hearts. Rather than using guilt to try to make people conform to external standards, confidently and passionately encourage people to change by giving them appropriate challenges.
Empower people. Pray for the Holy Spirit to fill everyone in your church with God's power so you all can pour that power into each other's lives. Rather than feeling pressure to try to make people change through your own efforts, place them in God's hands through prayer and commit to pray for them regularly.
Develop lasting, loving friendships. Demonstrate curiosity about other people's lives. Ask questions and get to know people in your congregation. Be aware of your own failures and shortcomings so you can be sensitive to other people's struggles. Be willing to set aside your busy schedule and be available to people when they need you. Depend on the Holy Spirit to guide your friendship.
Don't hide anything. Honestly share whatever is going on in the life of the church - both good and bad. Allow laypeople (not just staff members or leaders) to be full participants and share both joys and burdens. For example, if you have a budget shortfall, tell people and explain why rather than being embarrassed or afraid that people might want to leave if they knew.
Give people opportunities to use their spiritual gifts. Encourage every person to contribute his or her time, energy, and talents to the fullest extent. Help fan the flames of passion in each member.
Be humble. Realize that you're a sinner just like everyone else, remember what Christ has done for you, and focus on other people. Make it a priority to serve people and seek the best for them. Be gentle and meek as you do so.
Be passionate. Love people generously, without holding back. Know that the power of that God-given love will create a community of transformation in your church.
Adapted from Risking Church, copyright © 2003 by Jim Kallam, Jr. Published by WaterBrook Press, Colorado Springs, Co., a division of Random House, Inc., www.randomhouse.com/waterbrook/.
Jim Kallam has been senior pastor of the Church at Charlotte in Charlotte, North Carolina since 1982, and has been part of the ministry staff there since graduating from Northeastern Bible College in Essex Falls, New Jersey in 1976, with a B.A. in Biblical Literature. An ordained minister with the Evangelical Free Church of America, he is a frequent speaker at retreats, seminars, and conferences. Jim and Suzi, his wife of 28 years, are the parents of three adult daughters.