Gospel tracts, street preachers with bullhorns and sidewalk witnessing — these things seem like evangelistic efforts of yesteryear. In all of our innovative efforts to engage culture, have evangelical Christians left evangelism behind?
The church does not have the option of sitting idly by while the world continues to shape, transform and influence culture and the way young adults live. The church needs a way to address the relational voids that exist in our communities by using Jesus’ model of storytelling, connectivity and access. The challenge lies in finding effective ways to grow emotionally and numerically, instill a sense of belonging within congregational life, and provide safe and meaningful space for connections to occur and develop.
What allows a church community to flourish and instill a sense of belonging? The church is commissioned to develop a proverbial village to raise up (figurative and literal) children. Within this village, a person experiences a sense of belonging, the space to relate at different depths with different people, the strength of a resilient community of support, and the reassurance of multiple people who are invested in that person.
Becoming a Christian is life-changing. After that initial change, however, many people don’t seem to grow much, if at all. They think becoming a Christian was all they needed to do, and now they have reached the goal and are done growing. This travesty fails to understand the true goal of Christian life and the necessity of continuously growing and learning. The greatest travesty is when Christians are not becoming what God designed them to be. The heart of the body of Christ requires continuous learning and intentionality in relationships. The church must connect hurting people with people offering love and support.
The church needs to capitalize on a network of relationships that develop people. We need to empower our congregations and cultivate their resources to relate with others. Stories of transformative lives have the ability to fill the voids of community and connection. They provide easy and accessible channels for connections between people who are ready to hear the good news.
The challenge of discipleship is to search for the ways that your story is wrapped up in God’s story. A reason church communities work — and a selling point to get people to invest in them — is a shared interest in a person’s story. “Do I belong in your space?” “Do you know my story?” “How does my story become our story?” These are the ongoing questions of belonging.
In the quest of faith, God’s story should become integral to our story. We validate our belonging when we acknowledge stories where God is winning in us. It is a spiritual discipline to celebrate what God is doing in us, with us and around us.
Encouragement comes through real-life stories of triumph over sin. Intergenerational church growth occurs through connections and relationships in an environment of
belonging. The corporate world refers to “evangelism marketing” and “product evangelists.” This trend should encourage faith leaders about the value of sharing stories of triumph over sin.
In communal belonging, external influences draw people together to share a common experience. Think of fans at a football game, members of the PTO and shoppers at a specialty store. You may not know the person beside you, but you know the rituals and the social structures enough to elicit a sense of belonging.
Evangelism requires the exploration of relationships to determine if the potential to go deeper exists. This requires people to explore one another for deeper connection. Before evangelism may happen, people need to connect through sharing integral parts of who they are. They must work together to create a healthy sense of belonging.
Healthy community is achieved when we hold harmonious connections. The general culture is not as communal as Jesus calls the church to be. This provides the church with an amazing opportunity to fill the void of community in a way that may resonate deeply with those who thirst to belong somewhere. All belonging is significant.
Church members are called to care for people beyond their membership, welcome those who are not among the rest, and meet the needs of all who are in need — not just of those within the walls of the building. If the church does not embody this sense of community, it turns Jesus into a moral teacher who is ignored. In this sense of community, transformative stories are key components weaved into the body of Christ.
We are created in the image of God and built for community. This community is formed and founded in the communion of the Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Our DNA, imprinted with the image of God, necessitates and facilitates community. In the words of Augustine, “‘Built’ is the very word the Scripture uses in connection with Eve: ‘He built the rib into a woman.’ … Paul speaks of ‘building up the body of Christ.’”
God has engineered humans for community — for communion with Him and with each other. Community is built into Christians on a personal level, yet they are called to live faithfully to the communal identity that is placed within them. The church is called to be in community.
Today, community looks different than it has in the past. Regardless of their faith, Millennials actively take up the cause of the poor, the oppressed, the orphan and the widow. As the triumph of the Internet and the explosion of social networking sites continue, the locations where communities gather are more fluid. Connections form wherever people find belonging, fill emotional needs and connect with other people.
As church groups have established a dependency on an institution, we have failed to develop a communal narrative. Understanding faith includes exploring our own community: both its potentials and its shortcomings. Ultimately, our individual faith and our membership in the body of Christ can mitigate the relationship voids that exist in life, instill a sense of belonging in people as they relate, and strengthen community. For God to do something through us, He first does something in us. In a generation defined by religious indifference, evangelicals can stand in stark contrast.