We never arrive at community because community is a journey not a destination. Community is something we experience along the way. It’s something we get a glimpse of, but never quite grab a hold of entirely. It is a quest to conquer our fears and insecurities, a continual desire that calls us to go intimately deeper with others. Community building is an ongoing process that perfects God’s purposes in our life and others.
If you’ve been walking with people for any amount of time you’ve probably noticed this ongoing process of community building at work in your life. You’ve also probably been frustrated with this process, and even wanted to quit the journey. Here are the phases of community building you need to know to better understand the ongoing process.
- Honeymoon Phase – When starting something new to gather people together, there is always an enthusiasm and excitement about the potential and possibilities. You will find fresh commitments, common goals, an openness and willingness to build trust, and people that have fair expectations. This gathering looks forward to coming together and can’t wait for the next meeting time. Everyone loves the honeymoon phase. It is the beginning of the journey towards deeper relationships and stronger friendships. What happens though when the excitement and enthusiasm wear off? This is where another transition in the process takes place.
- Testing Phase – Someone once said, “wherever there are people there will be problems.’ Another person stated, “whatever can be trusted must be tested.” The process of community includes “tests” that come packaged as “problems.” I remember the initial excitement of leaders in a church I helped transition into small groups. It was such a great thing until about week 6. One of the leaders came to our leadership and asked if he could leave the small group he started because he didn’t enjoy the people. Like a naive couple getting married on a whim, he had unrealistic expectations. At the same time we had all these marriage problems that seemed to pop up out of nowhere. Well, we found out that the marriage problems always existed, but they were just hidden because people were isolated. When they joined a small group they felt there was a safe place to share their marital struggles. Pressing through the problems people have is a part of life and passing relational tests is included in the ongoing process of community. There is no way to avoid it.
- Bonding Phase – On the other side of tests and problems greater bonds are formed. This is when better relationships are built and great friendships are made. This isn’t what I describe as “Kumbayah Community” in a previous post, but it is actually where the hard work begins and the rewards of healthy relationships are seen. The bonding phase usually include the people that stuck it out through the testing phase and became better people because of it. They are all in at this point and relationally are very supportive and even involved facilitating and navigating the group. This is where also life transactions start happening between group meetings. Coffee, play dates, and family outings are planned without obligation. People start doing things above and beyond the norm because it is adding value to their life. You can stay in this phase for a long time, but I have observed that healthy communities are always open to inviting and including new people into their space. So there is one more phase before ongoing process continues.
- Invitation Phase – It is common for communities that are not open to new people to slowly get the life sucked out of them. Even the best of friends can become somewhat bored and disinterested with their relationship because it becomes predictable. Inviting and including new people will keep your community fresh and creative. It will cause your community to keep learning and growing. New people challenge the status quo and can awaken things in your community keeping it alive and vibrant.
And so the honeymoon phase kicks in again, because new people bring new enthusiasm and excitement as and the ongoing process of community building continues in our life.