There is a fantastic article/column in an Australian paper by Hugh Mackay about community. Backyard Missionary wrote about it over on his blog. The word community has made a comeback in some church circles in the past 10 years, and our church actively seeks to develop biblical community in our small group ministry. We also seek as a church to impact our overall community through involvement, prayer, service, and ministry.
Mackay says this in his article:
Doing something with your friends is great. Singing in a choir with people like you is therapeutic. Turning up for events at your child’s school can give you a wonderful sense of being part of a community.
But “community” is a tricky word; it can be used to make us feel good about the herds and tribes we belong to, while blinding us to the needs of the neighbors who surround us.
I think too often churches today tend toward isolationism, creating tight-knit “communities” that actually become somewhat exclusive religious organizations. They do not create or send a Welcome! message to the people of their town or city. Rather, it seems that most folks on the “outside” view churches as closed, or “planned” communities. If you didn’t get in on things early, it’s too hard to jump through hoops to fit in now.
How can any given church affirm a message of not only “you are welcome here” but “you are wanted here?”