Wednesday, July 18, 2012

How Long To Go From Acquaintances To Authentic Community?

Authentic community is the foundation for all the other purposes of the church. The more you know each other--really know each other--the easier and more effective all the other ministries of the church, from teaching to giving to evangelism.

Several aspects of the member-driven church model are designed to build this authentic community. I've posted about some of them previously. But I've not talked about how long it usually takes to build.

It usually takes about six months of sustained effort to really get a strong foundation of real relationships.

That's based on some assumptions:

1. You're meeting weekly. The more often you meet, the faster this goes--the less often, the slower.

2. You don't have any preexisting hostilities or competitions when you begin. If you do, this can take much, much longer. Normal human insecurities are challenging enough.

3. You are doing something to build community every single week. I'm talking about six months of constant community building, not a big event every four to six weeks. Regularity is more important than infrequent events--even if they're grand events.

4. You don't radically change the members of the group, especially having lots of new members join. This isn't an abstract timeline. It takes that long for specific people to build trusting relationships with other, specific people. Change those people and you have start from scratch with the new people.

(Side note: once it's established, it's much easier to graft someone into a strong community. But while you're building it for the first time, new people dramatically slow it down. I'm not saying you should avoid new people, but you do need to know they impact this process.)

5. My experience is only with Americans. It may move faster--or slower--in other cultures. Can anyone with international community building experience share how it works in the other cultures you know?

Remember, this is only a generic prediction. Don't make too big a deal out of it being exactly six months with your group. I just wanted to give you something of a realistic expectation, based on my experience in several different settings for many, many years. It's not a hard, precise rule.

In fact, my final statement trumps everything I've just said: Relationship building is never efficient or predictable.

(More posts on the implications will come later.)

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