The past two years have been times of tremendous growth for us. Not financially or spiritually or professionally. But in community building.
Up until our move in 2011, we had always attended traditional churches complete with a zillion programs and ways for people to meet others and get involved. And we did them all.
My husband played in the church orchestras, we helped teach a newlywed Sunday School class, we hosted lots of socials, got together for sporting events and birthdays and baby showers and bible studies. In an average week, we saw our Sunday School class three days a week.
Community came easily.
Then we moved. And the church God called us to had far fewer programs. There were weekly worship services and our first small group met once a week but that was it. At least for us. There wasn’t a mom group or even groups set up around specific life stages. And, Y’all, I felt incredibly lost.
What began in childhood where neighborhood kids and classrooms made for easy and convenient friendships continued through college with dorms and suitemates and sorority sisters and organizations introducing life-long relationships. And then Sunday School classes, women’s programs, professional associations, co-workers sitting in nearby cubicles handed us relationships with familiar struggles and life-stages and needs.
What I realized in those years at our amazing church with limited programs was how reliant I had become on someone else creating opportunities for community.
No pastor or work environment or organization can ever build true community. They can facilitate, organize, create programs, but real, authentic relationships grow much more organically.
And I never learned how to build relationships without those outside forces building a framework.
My entire life my community had been carefully created and provided with little to no effort on my part. People handed to me on a silver platter.
But I knew nothing about doing it on my own.
Do you ever feel that way?
But what happens when all those carefully created circles and silver platters are gone?
How can we build community when maybe we’ve never had to do it on our own?
Look Left, Look Right…
Several months ago, I listened to a podcast with Jackie Hooks where she talked about building community. She kept repeating the same phrase over and over. “Look to the left and look to the right.” Stop waiting around for people when you are already literally surrounded by people.
Five years ago, I would have heard her say those words and rolled my eyes. Claimed that type of community wasn’t what I was looking for. Not interested in just ANYBODY. I wanted my SOMEBODY. More importantly, I wanted to be someone’s somebody. And I was not concerned with wasting my time with people I felt certain had zero in common with me.
But there’s nothing like going through a season of loneliness and isolation for the Lord to do a hefty overhaul of your heart for community.
Because now, I would look to my left and to my right to find relationships FIRST.
So that’s the first step in building community when you don’t know how.
Look to your left and look to your right.
Your neighbors, PTA moms, the parents sitting in the waiting room at the dance studio. Your co-workers, the women who work-out at the same time you do every day, the colleague you coordinate with at that other company. The parents at your kid’s friend’s birthday parties. Soccer moms, baseball dads, swim team parents.
The truth is we ARE so very literally surrounded by people.
But we either ignore them because we don’t think we have anything in common or we do so out of exhaustion, opting to stare at our phones instead of engaging. And sometimes we really don’t have anything in common and sometimes we really are too stinkin’ tired to talk with people.
But sometimes, those are the excuses we use because we don’t know what else to do.
Decide to Say Yes…
The year my son started two-year-old preschool, I made a conscious decision to say Yes. The small group we had been a part of dissolved and since that was our only real community we had, it was time to start building a new one.
And by accident, I looked left and then right and found myself building some of my most cherished friendships.
Stay after school to let the kids run off some energy and visit with the other moms – YES.
Visit a new small group starting up even though we only sort of knew one couple attending – YES.
Plan lunch dates with friends I wanted to get to know better while the kids were at school – YES.
Girls’ night outs with the ladies in my small group – YES.
Bible studies with friends and book clubs at Starbucks – YES.
Attending birthday parties for the kids’ classmates and small group kids – YES.
I spent almost an entire year in our car, which is completely anti-introvert, and I loved every second of it.
Every time someone invites or even when someone simply suggests, let your answer always be YES.
Hear my heart when I say, if you are overscheduled and under-Sabbathed, then you might want to approach this with the Holy Spirit and His discernment. But for us, we had spent the previous four years being “monumentally unbusy.” I had felt called to that. Prayed the Lord would shut my mouth so I could listen and learn. And it was so incredibly hard.
But that year, I felt a release from that season and I chose to embrace it. And if you are feeling that restlessness and pull towards building relationships, then a season of YES might be just what you need.
Next week, we’ll look at two more methods for your community building but this week, spend some time looking left and looking right. Make a list of the people around you and how you can invest in them. Maybe that’s a conversation where you ask about them or maybe that’s saying YES to an invitation.
Don’t wait for a season of loneliness to decide the work of community building is worth it. And don’t wait because you feel like you might not know how to build community without programs and frameworks. Decide community is worth it right now and start exactly where you are.