Reboot-13: Building Community

From XFamily - Children of God
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Building Community

The Reboot Series - Part 13 of 20; May 2010

As mentioned in the document regarding TFI member works, one type of work could be building a community. This document will expound on the concept of community. Some overall principles of community will be presented, and the main focus will be a general idea of how our "brand" of mission-friendly community could be developed.

Building community can be an avenue for sharing our faith, furthering the mission, and facilitating the mission.

Building and participating in communities is fairly popular in society today, in both religious and secular circles. The Family itself could be described as an international faith-based community. By developing smaller communities as one means of fulfilling the mission, we would expand our community spirit in a way that involves others who are interested in doing something to improve society and the world around them.

In a sense the concept of building mission-related community is an outgrowth of our existing community of faith. As you read the descriptions of community in this document, some of you might conclude that you have been building community already, even though you may not have called it that.

There are many ways and means to reach the goals of our mission, and one of the Family's mission-related strengths lies in our diversity. Community is a concept that seems worth exploring and developing as one of the means by which Family members can fulfill our core purpose. Of course, each member or team of members should seek the Lord and find His plan for the best way to reach people in their part of the world. Community is being looked at as a method that can be successfully employed in some situations; it isn't necessarily something that everyone in the Family "should do." It's an option.

This presentation focuses specifically on building communities that connect to the mission. There are many other types of communities in the world, and TFI is not placing limits on Family members' involvement in, or creation of, any types of communities. There are also many ways in which community can be built between Family members, including living communally—but those won't be discussed here. The premise for discussing the concept of community in this document is to explore it as a method that can be employed toward reaching and benefiting others in society.

This document won't present a set model for building community. There are many ways to go about building community, and there could be great diversity in the types of communities that could come into being. If the Lord leads you to develop a community, there is plenty of room for the Lord's Spirit to flow and guide as to what will work best in each situation.

What is community?

Some definitions and features of community include:

  • "A self-organized network of people with common agenda, cause, or interest, who collaborate by sharing ideas, information, and other resources."
  • "A group of people who form relationships over time by interacting regularly around shared experiences, which are of interest to all of them for varying individual reasons."
  • "A social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests."
  • "A group who share equal responsibility for and commitment to maintaining [the community's] spirit."
  • "Community involves learning to live in terms of an interconnected 'we' more than an isolated 'I.' It involves making choices which reinforce the experience of relatedness and foster the sense of belonging and interdependence."
  • "A community is best defined as a group of people who, regardless of the diversity of their backgrounds, have been able to accept and transcend their differences, enabling them to communicate effectively and openly and to work together toward goals identified as being for their common good."
  • "Community is inclusive. Individual differences and a wide range of gifts and talents are celebrated."
  • "Community building can use a wide variety of practices, ranging from simple events such as potlucks and small book clubs to larger-scale efforts such as mass festivals and construction projects."

Some of the words often used to define "community" are:

  • Common interests, possession, or enjoyment
  • Similarity
  • Sharing
  • Participation
  • Fellowship
  • Friendly association
  • Ownership
  • Collective goals
  • Shared passion
  • Active support

Why community?

Building community is one way to create an environment where opportunity to fulfill the mission exists. Community can provide a venue for sharing your faith in ways that are relatable and appreciated.

Building community could be looked at as creating a setting or "habitat" where people feel they belong, where they connect with others with shared interests, where they have ownership in projects or endeavors of the community. It's a platform for like-minded people to fellowship together, work together, or network toward common purposes.

Developing such an atmosphere is conducive to growth in the sense of involving more people in pursuing and achieving the goals described in TFI's mission statement.

Mission-related communities can provide situations where Family members can interact with others, get to know them, accomplish some good in the community, and share their faith. It is a tool that can assist in living out the principles and core purpose that the Family is built upon, including feeding people spiritually, assisting those who want to grow in faith and discipleship, and/or in doing good for others.

Community can provide a way to help those who want to do their bit to change the world, but can't or don't know how to do it on their own. It's a setting that can draw on their potential, and help them in doing something worthwhile, giving, and fulfilling—as well as benefiting them personally and spiritually. There are people who want to do more for others, but with limited time or ideas, what they might be able to do can seem so little to them that they feel it wouldn't make a difference. But when they combine efforts with others who are like-minded, they have a chance to be part of something valuable, something through which they can expand their influence and abilities for the good of others. As we find and work together with more people like that, we can all help each other to take our vision and efforts further.

Building community can serve as a means toward fulfilling the mission. The intended result of mission-centered community is growth—getting more people involved in spreading God's love and helping others.

Community participants

Within this explanation, sometimes the term "community participants" will be used to describe those who would become a part of a community organized by TFI members, but who are not Family members. "Community participants" is not a Family membership category or an official title. It's just a handle for the purpose of discussing the community concept and one way to refer to those who might want to be a part of it.

Community participants could be at a variety of levels spiritually, or they might not even be saved, though the hope is that most would eventually receive the Lord and grow spiritually through their participation in the community.

If your community decides that you'd like to use a particular term for your community participants—for example, associates, partners, members of the community—or even switch between a number of handles, that would be for your community to determine. Of course, you can invite people to be part of your community without giving them a title or using a handle. (And, as in any community in society, the community reserves the right to not accept someone into their community.)

Community relationships and the mission

Building mission-centered community is different from having a network of friends, contacts, supporters, etc. It might start with that, but community takes it to a new level. Community creates an environment in which all participants develop interconnected relationships. It's different from a situation where you are in the position of the "shepherd" or pastor and those whom you're ministering to are the "sheep" or flock, and that arrangement forms the sole basis of your relationship.

In community, all participants are invested and a part, and that can be a powerful drawing card to generate involvement in the mission. There would be community organizers, those who play a coordinating role, and, if Family members are the ones who started building the community, that role might naturally fall to those members, at least initially. That may not always be the case, though, and, especially with time, other community participants might take on the role of organizing and coordinating community events or projects.

An element of most TFI communities would be spiritual input, possibly in the form of teaching and guidance, and that aspect would likely be headed up by Family members. However, in community there is also the element of everyone being welcome to participate in the plans and activities of the community. Participants could both give and receive spiritual input and have an opportunity to determine the community's focus and goals and participate actively in fulfilling them. Communities are, essentially, circles of peers.

In some areas of the world, and/or for some people whom TFI members are ministering to, the "sheep and shepherd" relationship works and adequately meets the need. Some people like to have a spiritual leader, guide, or pastor who they are mentored or shepherded by. However, for many other people in today's world, that concept is not appealing, and it can even be demeaning.

There are situations where individuals appreciate personal teaching or shepherding, but also want to do more than just receive spiritual input from us, especially as they grow in their spiritual life and understanding of the Word. They want to give to others too; they want to take an active role in doing something for society alongside you or with your assistance; or they want to spiritually minister to others. They might want to feel a certain ownership of the projects they take part in. They might even want to head up the projects. Community is likely a good setting in which to work together with such people.

Community may not be the method of choice in all situations or parts of the world, but there are scenarios in which community has potential to play a significant role in developing and strengthening relationships which help the participants personally and/or assist them in doing things for the good of the greater community of their city or country.

Community has purpose

A community is a fellowship of like-minded individuals with shared interests. So each community would have its particular purpose and focus, depending on the interests and passions of that community's participants. All should feel that they are both contributing and benefiting to some degree.

Community in relation to the mission is about finding what others would most appreciate, need, and benefit from, rather than looking at things from the angle of what works for or benefits us as Family members. When we build community, we're relating to others, not asking them to relate to us or our lifestyle. Of course, the spiritual input that Family members have had over the years, coupled with each member's gifts and strengths, will benefit community participants, while you also benefit from what they have to offer, including assistance in furthering the mission.

Community isn't about expecting others to "come and see" what we have to offer, and then to acclimatize and adjust to us, but it's about seeking out what we can offer to others that is most meaningful to them and best meets their needs. It's about discovering what others want and would consider of value or benefit, through talking with people and finding out what their interests are, as well as hearing from the Lord. And from there, building a community that fits the needs or interest. Building a community isn't a task for one person; it's about individuals coming together on common ground and for a shared purpose.

A community's purpose could be almost anything, though for our Family "brand," the one criterion would be that its activities and purpose should be in harmony with the guiding principles of TFI (our core purpose, core values, and core beliefs)—which leaves room for a wide range of options.

A community founded by TFI members could be a TFI member work, and in such a case, the TFI member(s) could list the community, its work, and its purpose, on the TFI member works site.

A community is "born" when a couple of people decide to begin building the community. A TFI member might invite one or more individuals (whether Family members or not) to start a community. A group of Family members who are already working together (whether in a communal home or not) could decide to form a community, agree on what the purpose and focus of the community will be, and begin asking their friends and associates if they would like to become participants in their community.

If the Lord shows you that building community is one of the methods of choice for you toward fulfilling the mission, and you explore this method, or if you're already building community, please share your experiences and tips. If others in your country or area are doing the same, we encourage you to support and assist one another in this endeavor.

Hypothetical scenarios for launching communities

Here are a few descriptions of possible types of communities and ways in which they might develop. There is no "mold" for what a community would be, but here are a few concepts to give some ideas of how they might be formed, their potential to help fulfill the mission, and the variety there could be as far as types of community and what communities do.

Businessmen's breakfast

You've been in a city for several years and have a number of personal friends in the business community. You visit with them individually somewhat regularly for fellowship, spiritual feeding, prayer, etc. Many of them don't yet know each other, however.

One of your friends comes up with an idea for a project he'd like to get rolling, involving seminars for his employees. He knows that in your circle of friends there are a number of other businessmen like him who have been growing spiritually and whose lives have benefited as a result. He would like some of them to be the ones presenting the seminars. He wants to start with his own employees, and, if it goes well, expand and offer the same seminar package to other corporations.

He and you each tell a few other friends about the idea, and a group of ten decide that they'd like to get involved. You start the project by holding a meeting over coffee or breakfast on a Friday morning, at a hotel conference room in the part of town where most of the businessmen work. You begin with all the participants getting acquainted, you read a brief devotional, and then get into your planning meeting.

Everyone likes the project proposed by your friend, and all commit to getting involved in some way. It's an excellent opportunity for several of them to share their faith. Others prefer not to be involved in presenting, but are happy to help with some funding and/or have ideas to contribute. All of them gain through expanding their personal network.

The participants also feel they benefited from the devotional portion of the event, and the group decides to meet every other week for half an hour. During that biweekly slot you read a short devotional and pray for each other.

Once the initial project is rolling, you continue to act as a community, holding the breakfast events, as well as going on to tackle other projects that provide an avenue to reach others in the business community, to help them spiritually and practically.

Prayer and potluck

There is a group of five or six people you've met and started witnessing to, who are very interested in the Word and in spiritual growth. You all agree to meet once a week for an inspirational meeting. You start with a potluck meal. You read together, pray together, talk about deep subjects, and follow and support each other's spiritual journeys.

As you meet more people, and as participants start to bring in their friends, the community grows. The community also undertakes monthly charitable projects, providing assistance in the city in various ways—based on the interests, and the networks, of the people in the community. In the course of the different social assistance projects that are carried out, more new people become interested in your community and join.

Two other teams of Family members in the same city have a similar group of people they're working together with. You all have weekly events and monthly projects within your smaller communities, and in addition, the smaller groups all unite for a larger event of a bimonthly barbecue for all community participants in the city.

Perhaps at such an event there are also brainstorm/planning sessions for upcoming projects (to be done by the smaller communities, or even ones involving the citywide community). There might be Sunday school-type activities for the children of the participants (including TFI members' children). Through these larger gatherings, more spiritual and practical partnerships are formed, more new mission projects are born, and many friendships are made.

Healthy living

Say you enjoy biking as an individual or a couple. Or maybe your passion is running. A number of people in your neighborhood are obviously also enthusiasts of the same form of recreation/exercise. You greet them while you're out and about, you connect with a few of them, and maybe you go for a ride or run together every so often. You develop friendships, and maybe you bring together a small group of friends.

That group decides to start a community, something with a health or fitness club feel to support and spur each other on. Everyone in the community cares about health and fitness, and that naturally forms a focal point of your relationships. Those in the group bring in family and friends to share in your collective passion.

Your activities as a community might involve group rides or runs, as well as other activities where you get together attired in something other than your day-glo sports clothes. Perhaps you meet up in one of your homes, or at a café, for discussions about life-enriching topics such as how individuals have personally benefited from a healthier lifestyle, or how they combat stress.

You might incorporate classes on meditation or reflection, and even group exercises where one or two of the members of the community teach some of what you've learned from our publications/writings about meditating, and together you grow in the realm of meditating on Jesus.

Your community might decide to host events, such as a cycling race or a "fun run," as a fundraiser for mission projects that some members of the community are involved in.

Early learning enthusiasts

There's a couple with two young children, TFI members who are new in a city and hardly know anybody there. The husband has a job and the wife is educating their children at home. She wants to get to know other moms in the neighborhood, to make friends herself and for her kids, and to reach out to others and encourage them. She's a pro at early learning—her three-year-old can read and her one-year-old knows the difference between a German shepherd and a poodle. She also enriches her young children's learning through fun Bible and character-building stories. She feels she has something to share with other moms.

Soon she meets other mothers at the park and they start talking. One weekend she invites three of her new friends over for tea and they get to talking more in depth about their lives and families. Their afternoon tea turns into a weekly event, the friends bring in more friends, and everyone involved is benefiting from the friendship and closeness. Some of them are interested in learning her methods for teaching their toddlers and preschoolers. Some of them are experienced mothers whom she realizes she can learn from.

Tea time becomes a forum for sharing parenting and early learning tips, and it evolves into a prayer group as well. Over time, a couple of the women become particularly close friends with our original early learning mom and also become interested in her faith. They start reading Family publications and find them spiritually feeding and beneficial, and in time become Family members.

These hypothetical scenarios are meant to give a feel for what community could look like, some ideas of what community could involve. These examples only scratch the surface of community. There are unlimited options and means by which community can develop, depending on the culture where you live, the need, the interest, and the way in which the Lord leads you to reach out to others. Explore. Pioneer.

Different types of community

There are many possible focuses or themes around which a community might be built. Some options would be fellowship, Bible studies, charitable projects, special interest groups (such as ones related to youth, mothers, special needs children, music, cooking, or art), support (such as a cancer support group, support for parents of children with disabilities), etc.

Community activities could range from those geared toward benefiting the participants (classes, discussion groups, spiritual support, and so on) to outward-focused events that benefit society. Communities can have a combination of both types, of course. The direction and activities of the community would be developed according to the talents and vision of those participating in the community.

Taking the example of a cancer support group: perhaps the community coordinators and community participants are all battling against cancer or recovering from it, or have someone in their family who is, and one of their activities is to meet together at a monthly event and pray for each other or their loved ones, as well as share spiritual and practical things that have encouraged and helped them. Perhaps one of their other activities is personally visiting others whom they know, or hospital patients, who are also struggling with cancer, and encouraging and helping them in some way.

In some cases, a community may have a number of purposes, such as fellowship, charitable projects, and providing events for the children of the community.

A group of members could also be involved in several communities, built around different concepts or catering to different demographics. For example, a group of members in a communal home might be involved in a community for university students that is built around spiritual growth through studying the Bible or the 12FS, and that also includes fellowships and witnessing events.

That same group of members might also develop a community for businessmen that's built around a particular type of social assistance, and also features a weekly "business breakfast" with some spiritual feeding. Or a community of homeschooling moms that features weekly devotions/discussion and that organizes events for the women's children—which TFI members' children also participate in.

The underlying concepts in each case are that a) what a community undertakes is commonly agreed upon by all those who are a part of the community; and b) that the community's goals and activities are in some way benefiting people as per our core purpose.

Community and faith

Community can provide an appealing platform for people to become acquainted with Family members personally, to benefit spiritually from our fellowship, to become aware of and familiar with our international organization, our beliefs and values, and/or to join us in helping others.

Community is an inclusive environment that invites people to grow spiritually at their own pace. Some community participants may become TFI members over time, and building community can be a means to achieve growth in the form of new members. However, many participants might never be Family members. They might want to be your friend, work with you toward common goals, and/or grow spiritually to some degree, but never have an interest in being TFI members, and that's fine.

Community can generate growth, whether or not it results in new members, if it is involving more people in the mission of the Family, doing good toward others and spreading the Lord's love and message.

A community wouldn't have to be "religious" in nature, and its stated purpose wouldn't necessarily have to focus on spiritual aspects, but it should serve as a platform for the spiritual development of its participants in some way. There are many ways this could be accomplished.

Consider one of the examples used earlier of a community of mothers. In one situation, one of the primary community events might be weekly devotions on parenting and a prayer meeting for your families. In another situation, a support group for mothers might discuss tips and ideas on practical matters, not specifically based around spiritual things. Maybe there is also a Bible study/prayer group, but only a few of the community participants join in that activity at first. Or maybe spiritual feeding and prayer aren't even part of the planned community activities, but because these women are in community with you, you form close bonds and friendships, and that provides opportunities to talk with them personally apart from community events, and in those times you share what you've learned about the Lord and prayer with them.

Our goal as TFI members is to fulfill the mission, to share Jesus' love and truth with others, to enrich people's lives spiritually, to be a force for good in our part of the world. That should be the underlying reason at the heart of the endeavors we pursue. But some people aren't attracted, especially initially, to something that is religious or faith-based. Maybe they're not religious themselves, or they espouse another faith, or they're more interested in our good works than our faith, yet they like the Family or are attracted to the Lord's Spirit in us, and want to fellowship with us or work together with us for a common cause. Community allows for and encourages positive relationships to be built and nurtured with such people—of whom there are many in the world.

Another angle is that not everyone who is within your sphere of influence or who you are spiritually feeding or networking with would become part of your community, if you choose to build one. For example, you might have some friends who prefer to fellowship with you and/or be ministered to in a one-on-one fashion. They like for you to come over to their house once a week to talk about their lives and have you pray for them and share spiritual truths with them, but they're not interested in being a part of your community or participating in community events. Perhaps they're loners, or they're shy, or very busy, or you're in a country that has a highly class-conscious system, or their personalities are such that they don't tend to be very active in a community environment. There could be any number of reasons why some people might not want to be a part of your community, yet they want to grow spiritually, draw closer to the Lord, collaborate with you on charitable projects, or simply stay in touch with you as their mentor or friend.

The idea behind community is that it can provide friends or associates who would like to be part of a community with an option to do so. It could also be a means of meeting yet more people, as those who are part of your community can be encouraged to invite friends, relatives, and acquaintances to participate, which can broaden the community's circle of influence.

Potential ripple effects of community

Besides the primary purpose for and intended results of community—fulfilling the mission and facilitating growth—there might be other positive secondary effects of engaging in community.

As you build community and use it as a vehicle to meet other people's needs, you may find it to be a means of meeting some of your own needs as well—such as for an expanded circle of fellowship and friendship and spiritual support, for events and training or mission or fellowship opportunities for your children and/or teens, etc.

This is a long-term benefit that could come into play over the years as communities grow and develop. Since the board structure will no longer be in place, and communal living will no longer be required for any members, it's our hope that, in addition to the services and assistance that are available in society at large, TFI members and community participants will help to supply some of one another's needs within their community, according to their means and abilities. Of course, whether communities choose to make this a part of their plans and focus is up to them, but it's possible that some communities could provide an opportunity for such needs to be met.

Building communities could also serve as a platform for TFI members working together cooperatively with members beyond their immediate family, team, or home. Members from different Family homes, or individuals, or families might join together in community, along with others that they're ministering to, in order to develop community and/or fulfill other mission projects. There may be times when, in order to carry out a project to the degree you need to or aim to, it will prove beneficial to link up with other Family members in your city and join together in a community that can achieve more than what you could do personally or as a small team.

Some former members may be interested in being a part of Family members' communities in the future, in order to be involved in some way with the good works and/or fellowship present in these communities, without committing to TFI membership. They may also wish to invite friends and acquaintances to be a part of the community. This could help foster a greater inclusiveness and good relations between current and former members.

Community on several levels

City/national community
It's possible that community will develop on a city, state, or national level over time, and maybe sooner than later in some places. If TFI members build communities and it works well and bears fruit, then it could be advantageous that, if there are several communities in a city or country, they connect or network, giving those in smaller communities a greater sense of belonging.
This "greater community" may then be able to provide needs that the smaller community circles would not be able to provide, such as more diverse fellowship, or youth events, spiritual retreats, collaboration on large-scale projects, etc.
Creating some structure right away that local communities could hook into was considered, to help facilitate the concept of the greater community. But it was deemed better to not box things in at the onset, since for the most part many people will only be beginning to explore the community concept. It was decided to not build a specific structure for this reason, but if and as things blossom, we can work together to determine whether and what sort of structure, support, or assistance is needed to facilitate the sense of greater TFI community.
International community
In addition, if communities take off and are successful, there might be merit to developing a means to draw community participants around the world (the international TFI community) together, such as an international TFI community website, whereby community participants could receive TFI-related news and additional spiritual feeding. The site could provide a means for networking with other communities around the world. (It could also provide a means for people to become a part of the international TFI community online, even if they've never met a Family member.)

Again, rather than making a plan for this right now, it seemed prudent to wait and see how communities develop, so that if and when this international community site comes into play, it can meet the need.

Values for communities

These are elements that should be included in communities of the mission-related brand:

There should be something about a community that makes people want to be a part of it. It should be relatable, culturally friendly, and with clear benefits for those whom the community is aiming to reach and help.
Community should provide an opportunity for participants to make a positive difference in society.
Team spirit
Those in the community are a part of a team and share in the community's direction and activities.
Platform for spiritual growth
The intent and hope is that the community will spiritually enrich the lives of its participants in some way.
Over time, community has potential to become an avenue through which both TFI members and community participants can have some of their personal, spiritual, and life-related needs met—spiritual needs such as fellowship and support from other people of faith, and personal/family needs such as those related to their children and youth.

The overarching purpose of communities

Here is a brief description of intent for mission-related communities developed by TFI members:

Community brings together like-minded individuals with a common interest in spiritual values and/or the betterment of humankind.

Community provides an environment that fosters spiritual development and facilitates positive contributions to society.

Copyright © 2010 by The Family International