Connecting in a community

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It’s been 2 months since we’ve moved into AUEA. A lot has happened since we moved in!
But today when I saw Chris (our lovely building manager who helps open up and set up the place for us… he’s usually sat in reception ready to help when most people come for service! yes that guy!) I said to him animatedly “You were in my dream recently!” “Oh, I hope it was good!”and I proceeded to explain to him, I was just walking into church on Sunday, and I saw him and a few others having a board-room style meeting in their reception area, and he laughed. I said “It’s official. If it’s in my subconscious now, that we’re here for church each week… It’s official! We’ve moved in!” and then we both laughed and went off our merry ways to do the tasks we were meant to do.

In such a large venue it’s been interesting. One thing people have noticed is that “it’s so much more spacious!”
In our old building, you would have to dodge people, duck under crowds to get to the kitchen (well I had to, after all, I’m slightly shorter than average!) Constantly apologise because you might accidentally brush past them because you want to reach the snack table… if you could get there that is…
But since moving, I can now stick my arms out without whacking anyone in worship; not have to worry about bags blocking the aisles; or put out more chairs in the lobby area for late comers to sit on. It’s been sooo good!

The only struggle so far, if I’m going to be honest, is that it’s harder to talk to people.
“I haven’t spoken to so and so in a while”
“You didn’t? I saw her today at church!”
“Oh I must have missed her” is a common conversation I’ve been having a lot recently, because I’ve been missing out on speaking to certain people. It’s hard to see who has come. Unless we’re intentionally looking out.

And that’s what I wanted to share in today’s blog post. And echoing what David shared during his interview on stage, and what Bert shared today during the start of his sermon. We need to be intentional in getting to know people, talking to people, other people in different generations. We’re growing in size, yes. There’s space to grow, yes. But in my view, what good is a church if you don’t talk to people or don’t know anyone? How can we be connected and grow together in Christ, as a body of believers, if you don’t even know people other than the ones you sit near by on a regular basis? Answer this question for me please, how many people do you know at church, percentage wise?

During my time reading up on church planting/church growth, I came across some interesting findings on how a christian community can go from a social space (church congregational level) to personal space (life group setting). Don’t get me wrong, church congregational time is great! But in my book findings, and I have observed it too… (let me paraphrase what I read….)
Sometimes congregation social space may not go any deeper than “small talk” relationships. People may not open up about their personal lives, or intimate goings on in their lives, or may not be comfortable sharing their struggles or fears in this space. Sure, people may support one another during times of celebration (like marriage or birth) or during crisis times (like sickness and death), but they may not necessarily get involved with one another in the mundane daily stuff of life. (paraphrased, reference at end of post!)
But I’ve also found that if you’ve gone off the radar, will people in our church notice? Social relationships are important but it sometimes isn’t enough for us human beings. We need to go deeper. That’s why we need to go from social space to personal space — through life groups.

And in my random ramblings one time in the car with Bert as we were en route to our staff meeting, I summarised what I learnt from this book. He kind of mentioned it a bit during today’s (really epically good) sermon. But let me share the excerpt with you below… I can’t plagiarise it and take credit for it (I’ve left the reference at the end). However, I hope you like what you read… It’s regarding small groups and integrating, and growing together in a personal space, or how to get there by going through three stages. and when you get through it…. it’s all good stuff 😀

 


Connecting people in the personal space

Small groups are the most logical place for people to move into personal connections with others. However, the reality is that most small group members will only connect socially, especially during group formation. Group members will gather each week looking to make friends. They want neighbours and they are checking out the other group members to determine if they want to open up their lives to one another and become more personal. Some groups remain at the social level because the group members, for whatever reason, do not want to move into the personal space with one another.

At the same time, as people are given the freedom to connect socially with others in a small group, some — if not many –will enter into the personal space and become family for one another. For a group to move from the social space to the personal space, the group members must move through the stages of group development. No group will immediately jump into the personal space of community. At first, it will need to form as a group. It will go through a process where the group members get to know one another. During the forming stage, people assume that they like each other because they have not spent enough time together to reveal any faults.

Then comes the storming stage, or as M. Scott Peck calls it, chaos. After a group has been together for six to eight weeks, the group members will start rubbing each other the wrong way. Jim will tell an offensive joke or Tom will show up late to the meeting repeatedly. Cathy will whine and complain repeatedly about the same issue while Tammie is just “too happy” all the time. When people rub up against one another, they will rub the wrong way. Group members have a choice. They can ignore what they feel and stuff their feelings. This is the only option for many Christians in small groups. They ignore the personal issue at hand and the group cannot enter into the personal space. Or they can be offended and hold a grudge against the offender, This only heightens the chaos, and many times it leads to gossip and slander. The best solution is for the group members to deal with the issue, to talk it out, and to forgive one another.

When the group members choose to work through the chaos of the storm, it will enter into the norming stage, which is a period of community. This is the time a group becomes family for one another. Members become comfortable and lower their defensive postures. They share more openly and reveal their needs. Transparency that is found in community feels good, but it does not come naturally. Therefore, the group leader must model the kind of transparency that he or she wants the group to experience. Group members will rarely become more transparent than the leader.

M. Scott Boren, (2010) Chapter 7: “Connect Relationships on Four Levels”,
The Relational Way, TOUCH Outreach Ministries, p188-189

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