Doing ‘Community’ Well

So I was visiting a church the other Sunday.  It wasn’t one of “ours”.  I went with a family member to their church.  What I didn’t know was that I was going to be there on Grad Sunday.  The Grade 12’s were honored and celebrated, and it was a good reminder for me.  Let me explain.

There were 3 kids graduating in attendance.  So the grad moments started with a slide show of each kid complete with standard Christian music behind it.  It was ok up to the part where one song just ended in the middle of a word and another started while the screen was blank. I groaned a little inside.  They then had the kids join the pastor on stage where he proceeded to do a mini-sermon for them (his words not mine, although he was right).  It went on for a bit (a bit too long I was thinking).  Then the pastor called the elders up and they circled the kids and prayed for them.

So here was what I was expecting.  I was expecting to see the kids roll their eyes.  I expected to see them be all fidgety during the prayer and getting ready to bolt when “Amen” got said because this was long and not good from a technical standpoint.  And kind of boring really.  I thought, “I bet they can’t wait for this to be over with”.  And I started to think of all kinds of ways these moments could be made better.

That’s what I was expecting.  Here is what I got.  While they were being prayed for I noticed that all the kids were very moved.  2 of the 3 even started crying a little and I stopped what I was doing (thinking of ways to make these moments better) and I watched some very good moments unfold before me.  It meant something to these kids that their church loved and cared for them.  It meant something to them that the leaders of their church would pray for them.

I was reminded of the power found in being a part of a loving community that cares for you and prays for you.  We tend to downplay that, but it really does mean something when it is done well. I say we downplay these things because of how people talk to me about their churches.  I hear all the time about the things “we don’t have” – musicians, lighting, sound, programs, people, good leaders and on and on.

When I have bring up what they do have – love, mature Christ followers who can disciple and mentor, fellowship, prayer and so on,  I get looked at like I have two heads, but the truth is we need to work on these things.  We need to practice them, because if we don’t get them right the rest doesn’t matter.  “Even if I have the best worship band and preacher but I don’t love the folks God has put me in community with its all just noise”.  The Bible says something like that.

Now, don’t hear me saying we shouldn’t do our best when it comes to what happens on Sunday and the programs we run and all of that.  We should, but that should never come at the expense of building and maintaining deep, God honoring relationships in the church where people are known, loved, forgiven, encouraged, mentored, discipled and prayed for.  If you want the “young people” in your church to stick around, try caring for them and about them.  Love them.  Pray for them.  Encourage them.  Don’t just harp on their music and style preferences, don’t make snide comments about their tattoos and please don’t just leave them alone.  Get to know them.  Take an interest in them.  Love them.  Pray for them.

It will matter if we get this right.  It will make a difference.  It’s funny, when the grad moments started I was prepared to say “Man I hope we can do better than that in the FMCIC”, but my focus was on stuff that matters a little more than it should some days.  I left saying “Man I hope we can be that good in the FMCIC”.  I hope we can, in all the right ways.






Marc McAlister
Leadership Development Director, the Free Methodist Church in Canada.