Measuring Community Depth

Over the past few decades, it seems there is more and more "community" competing for the Christian's involvement.  Community (at least at some level) is available at nearly every turn.  Where it was once found primarily in the neighborhood, workplace, and the local church, opportunities for community are ever more abundant. Be it professional associations or groups centered around hobbies, gangs of all shapes and sizes, political caucuses, sports teams, outdoor groups, or on-line communities, when connection with others is sought after it can be easily found.  Or at least the group is found, community itself may be another matter. And even more complex is the Christian community.

As more people were seeking and finding community apart from the Church, the local churches responded.  Over the past century the small group Bible Study known as 'Sunday School' became popular.  It then transitioned to some other kind of community group, be it called the small group, community group, home group, gospel gathering, prayer group, home study, life group, missional community, accountability group, house church, power team, mid-week group, koinonia, redeemer family, connect group, spirit team, discipleship community, soma group, or any other variety of nomenclature.  These groups tend to consider them selves as "community" and draw their purpose from biblical reasoning.  The most common argument comes from Acts 2:42-47, which reads,
"And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.  And all who believed where together and had all things in common.  And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.  And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people.  And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved" (ESV).
Interestingly, this text appears to be explaining the entirety of the local church, not a single "community group" but by no means is there anything wrong with a smaller group seeking this kind of community.  But how do we know if we're reaching this level of community?  What's its depth?  Do we have a 1 inch blanket of snow or 35 feet?  It can be difficult to tell when we only examine the surface.

The first thing we need to come to grips with is how we define community.  What is the purpose for our community groups?  What makes Christian community different from all the other communities we find in the world?  This is a hot topic today as evidenced by all the how-to books filling the shelves with all kinds of different ideas. Articles are written arguing that community groups are about studying the Word while other articles say community groups are about being missional and reaching the lost while still other articles will say it's about taking care of one another.  (And they all most always cite portions of Acts 2:42-47.)  Local churches have also registered their ideas by implementing a cornucopia of different kinds of organized small groups.

Once we define our purpose we can better take measurements.  Once we understand why we gather, we can check the depth.  If the purpose for community groups is to reach the lost, then our measurements should reflect how many lost people are being reached.  If our groups are about study and growth, then when we plunge the measuring stick in, we should see how much the participants are growing.  Or maybe we should see if anyone is in need and examine how well we're meeting needs.  Or maybe we just count attendance and commitment level.  But as we examine one aspect of community, we seem to neglect other aspects. 

I would like to propose that Christian community--be it some kind of study, a group that meets in a home, an informal group of believing friends, a formal organized association, or the gathering that meets on Sunday mornings--should reflect gospel community which is much deeper than many of the single purposes proposed by so many articles.  The Christian community should be a shadow of heaven and offer the hope of salvation as well as the better things to come. Christian community should be viewed as the bride of Christ and those in the community should be in a growing, loving relationship with Christ.  We often call this Church, but Church, that is, the Body of Christ, aught to be synonymous with Christian or gospel-centered community. I believe this is what differentiates Christian community from all other forms of community the world offers.

And as we begin to measure depth in our community groups, it becomes a much more complicated matter.  Is there love among the brothers and sisters?  Is there joy and hope in Jesus?  Is there growth?  Is this a community centered around loving God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength and then loving our neighbors as ourselves?  Are we about the Great Commandment and the Great Commission?  Is there grace for one another?  Does our community reflect Jesus and lift him up?  Is the Holy Spirit present among us?  Do we see the Fruit of the Spirit?  Is there real life transformation found within our community?  Is there this much depth or is our community only as shallow as the single issue we've built our community around?  Has Christ build the community or is it a product of our own design?  Is our community about God's kingdom or is our community about fulfilling our selfish, worldly needs?

* Photo of Theo Donk and Eric Kuovolo measuring the snow depth was taken by Washington State Department of Transpiration and is registered under a Creative Commons License.