It’s always a little work to clear a space in my home, the boys’ toys and our paper piles always on the dining room table. Today I moved the piles and straightened out the blue table cloth. I moved the pink bouquet of flowers there and set the table. The sink was full of dishes, but we had our friends over any way while the boys watched a movie. We served leftover soup. Ten years older than they are, we’re privileged to hear as their story unfolds. We are community, so that’s what we do: we tell the running story, and we don’t want each other to miss a thing.
I’ve written several times about our community (here, here, here, and here), and often those posts solicit questions about how our community group came to be. How do we remain in such consistent fellowship and take care of each others’ needs so well? Often people even want to know the logistics: where? how often? with children? format?
The thing that’s hardest to share is how it got started, because obviously the Spirit doesn’t leave much room for formulas. How ours began isn’t how yours will because “the wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with every [community] who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).
I’m not sure I can properly explain how we started with so little, nearly at zero. Another couple came to our house for dinner, and we were long-lost friends. They had just moved home from overseas, and they had experienced too much to bear, and we met and it quickly came to tears, so we prayed.
When we lifted our heads and gave the hugs, we said let’s do this again next week, and so we did, and then the next week we invited another couple to come. One of our friends wasn’t even sure what she believed anymore. Again we just said, “let’s pray,” so we did. And we loved each other in the zero, how little any of us felt we had to give.
That was two years ago, and I do look back and see such a willingness to be awkward, a desperateness to hear from God, to know He was there in our little. So that’s how it started: tears, knees, quietness, then sharing. Once a week was hardly enough then, so we often made a way to get together in our tiny apartment for drinks and eating, our kids running wild in the yard. We played music and games. We sing, always; always we sing, breaking through the awkward every time.
Laying it all bare became pretty easy, so as others joined us, they followed suit. That’s the best part, the growing, the quirks of humanness, the loud kids, the way one disliked us at first, but he just kept coming, and we loved him into shape. We studied together and tried to work out the “one anothers.” We share food, time, and money with one another. We never stop telling the story, speaking the truth, to one another.
Oh and we have misunderstood one another and forgiven, and we have loved.
Last night we gathered for a birthday, and the house rattled with competitive story-telling and children and clanking cups. I walked with my camera around, quiet in my skin, recording glory. The other night one hugged my neck and whispered “you are a child of God,” so I take these photos and tears well up. My community group is my family, a line that will indeed be going on generations from now.
Who? We call ourselves church, the body of Christ, hoping for a microcosm of what happens in the broader community of our town, in buildings with signs out front, and also in secret places on a global scale. Our children do come in and out. They see us pray, then go watch a movie. If they come in the room, sometimes we shoo them away. If the conversation isn’t too mature, we invite them to sit. In the early days, we led the children in song and taught them a little two-minute lesson. Often we give them stern looks and just tell them to be quiet, so obviously we have room for improvement.
What? We eat. We pray. We sing a lot. We encourage one another with Scripture. We spend a season taking turns telling our own stories, too, so we know the context of other lives, why someone might understand things a different way. We always put our hands on each other and speak blessing and make requests of God. We often end with Doxology.
When? At the very least, we meet once a week after working hours.
Where? We always cram into our homes or apartments.We feel like a secret place, but we also worship together every Sunday morning on about the 2nd row back in the right isle at “big church.”
How? Often ragged and tired. Always needy. Usually hungry.
Why? Because we fellowship with the crucified and risen Christ there. How could I not attend a gathering like that?
Tune back in this Monday, October 1st for Part 2 On Making Community.
Post and Images by Amber C Haines
When it comes to practical ways to build community, won’t you share some of your experiences?
(in)RL GIVEAWAY: Won’t you share in the comments or link up your stories below? We’d love to hear your stories as we “check-in” on how we’re doing with this whole bravely connecting with community thing.
And we’d love to give one of you who shares our beautiful set of (in)courage Postcards from God’s Beach House – the Friendship edition with quotes from (in)RL.
—>you can snag a set over here and check out some of our other (in)RL “in real life” resources too.
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Until fairly recently, talking to people was incredibly difficult for me, but I still craved community. To add people to my community my main tool was facebook messaging someone right after I met them to say something encouraging or ask a question. That usually led to at least a little back and forth that ended in something resembling a relationship. I can talk a little more now though it is still difficult, but now I have been creating community by following around my one very close friend because she is very outgoing so by being with her I automatically at least have contact with a lot of people, and she will talk for me.
Amber Haines says
VA, I’m so glad you shared this. I wonder if there’s a study on different personality types in the context of community.
Brittnie (A Joy Renewed) says
I am a natural homebody. I have to have alone time to recharge and de-stress. Yet, I have learned that saying yes, even when I would prefer to say no, can (eventually) lead to beautiful friendships.
Natasha d says
I share in community with other ladies in bible/book studies! Usually from our home church but this fall we are doing a study in our country neighbourhood with other ladies! “Crazy Love” is our discussion book! Love the DVD that goes with it! I think your idea of families coming together EVERY week is amazing! I hope we can do that soon too!
Your heart is so beautiful, Amber, and it really shines when you write about your home group. We started a small group in our home last summer because we were desperate for REAL in our church life. Our small group is in the process of helping our church leaders take this concept church wide–something that is sorely needed in our little family here. We’ve been praying it through, following the Leading. Thank you for the way you have encouraged this process for me–with your words here and over at your place. You bless.
Kaitlin Curtice says
Pictures bring tears, and the sweetness of your friendship pours hope into me, even on a quiet Friday morning…not so quiet with Eliot’s screams, but my heart is listening. 🙂
You’re a jewel-sister, a treasure that I look at often and hold dear.
I love you!!!!!
Amber Haines says
I love you, Kait!
My Heart » House On Oak Street says
[…] read this post this morning over at InCourage and my heart […]
I LOVE these pictures of the farm being used in the way we knew God intended!! It always reminds me to be listening to His whisperings and mindful of His stirrings; He knows the plans He has for us, and the farm was certainly part of His great and wonderful plan. Thank you for loving on our family; it is comfort to my “mother’s heart”!
Amber Haines says
Mrs. Pam, I really love your family so much. Thank you so much for sharing with us. We feel a part of you.
This is beautiful … and illustrates the type of community that I long for, but that God has withheld for His own reasons during this season of our ministry. I continue to pray that He will bring friends into our lives that we can share with in this way, and until He does, my prayer is that I can continue to reach out to others, even when they don’t respond in the way that I would like.
Amber Haines says
Beth, some of the most revealing moments have been when I thought I was serving God, but then I was hurt that I didn’t get the response I wanted. Community has matured me in ways that hurt because often it’s such a sanctifying process that I didn’t mean to sign up for. Ha! Always always it’s good, though – once I let go of myself.
“I walked with my camera around, quiet in my skin, recording glory.” Amber I do this as well, but sometimes without a camera. Our little community convenes in the back couple pews during first service. I love that my community is real skin like yours:)
i don’t think i believe in community anymore. it is magical and far away and i’m not allowed to participate in it anymore. i don’t know if reading this and other blogs gives me hope or makes me sadder.
I’ve been without it before and it hurts. I’m so sorry Deb.
For me when I didn’t have it, it was because no one around me had it. It was like it had to take a complete shift in worldview to create it. Why do you say you’re not allowed to participate in it anymore?
Sadness is the beginning part of hope, especially when you are brave enough to say how sad you feel. My heart aches for all the people who no longer bother to read these sorts of things and no longer bother to tell someone how deep their sadness is. Thank you Deb, I have hope for healing, yours and mine too.
Amber Haines says
I agree with this so much.
Anytime you move from one town to another.. the longing for community is with you because you move away from a “Community” of before to a “community” that is new… and so to begin one must be friendly and open….. and in doing so vulnerable too… this can be harder as we get older but indeed a blessing as well…. It is GOD who brings people together and we cultivate friendships…. I’m blessed with friends that although I don’t see too often, we pick up where we left off each time… and the times spent together is priceless…. because we are there for each other… even if we can be together physically…. the bond is there….
Lori Harris says
No words were needed this morning. Pictures tell the story and it’s beautiful and messy and has Jesus all over it. We have a home church and we are still new and clothed before one another and we have more kids that adults right now (17 kids, 13 adults). Chaos and communion and singing and praying and lots of story telling. Story telling really is beautiful and always shows God’s fingerprints. Love this post-one of my favorites, Amber. Really-my favorite. Oh, and we give lots of the stink eye around here, too.=)
Amber Haines says
Oh yeah, girl, I’ve given and received the stink eye. 🙂
marina bromley says
OH, how beautiful a story. I have walked this road. Lived in this community before. I long for it, miss it so much.
But it’s early. Just moved. New church. New life. New schedule. I don’t know anyone my age. I don’t know anyone at church at all (besides kids of friends from long ago, who happen to go there).
I want to force it. Organize it. Be a part of it. And it hasn’t fit. Not yet.
So I’ll put myself out there. And while I’m afraid that this Sunday I’ll again be left longing for more…more of His Word…more fellowship…more kinship… I’ll wait. I’ll hold back tears. It will hurt in my heart and that spot in my throat that WANTS to cry, but I won’t let me. Because I’ve got a group of hungry girls coming over to eat. First time. College students. And it’s not the community I’d choose to replace my girlfriends that would understand because they walk this road with me; but I’ll take them gladly because God has allowed them into my life.
Thanks for sharing…
That’s the thing, Marina; we didn’t even mean to start it. For a long time, we were 10 years older than most in our group, and finally we have co-leaders now, after branching into smaller groups, who are 15 years older than we are.
Thanks for coming here.
Danielle May says
LOVE this because I am right there right now…leaving that door open for God’s timing
Simply Darlene says
That first image? Makes me wanna crawl inside and just hang out for a good while.
Thanks for showing this and telling us that you left the dishes in the sink. Being there for one another isn’t about looking good, it’s about loving right.
Amber Haines says
SO HARD TO REMEMBER, Darlene! I have to preach to myself every single week about my mess.
Wow this post really stepped on my toes. We used to be the ones that had people over every few weeks….. years ago. Now we rarely ever do. And if we do its the same couple, the ones that we hand with when possible. Thinking back, some of the reasons we stopped now sound to me like excuses…. a few couples left our church for sad reasons, we stood our ground on some issues that ended up hurting us. When they left, the friendship just deadend STOPPED! One couple split up, another couple just pulled away and rarely attended church anymore…. and we simply got too busy doing things with our family. Just in the past couple of years we have had our friends over. And this excuse is hard, very hard to admit…..their are some that I would love to invite over…. and when I read that you had dirty dishes in the sink, meeting in tiny apartments, I felt as if I had been punched in the stomach. ……
So many times I don’t because… my house isn’t as neat as theirs, my decorating isn’t what someone Else’s is, we don’t have a lot of room inside, their kids are grown and ours are young and blah blah the excuses just spin in my head. Thinking back to the times that 5-6 couples met in each others homes…. we never once thought about the dishes, the dust, the clutter in others homes. It was always a great time of fellowship. And come to think of it…. I can’t remember what any of their color schemes, or kitchen appliances looked like. I need to get off my pity party, because of me, my family is missing out on learning how to live, love and experience Christian fellowship. Today I am praying that I can overcome all the hurt from the past, the worrying about what someone will think of my domestic skills among the life that is lived in our home and reach out to others and enjoy what God will do among believers. THANK YOU!!
Amber Haines says
Piper, this made me cry. I am praying right now for you. I’m so glad you shared this. You know what the issues are, and I know mine, too, but I have to face them head-on – all the time. I struggle, too.
Have you ever heard of Timothy Willard’s book Veneer? http://www.amazon.com/Veneer-Living-Surface-Society-ebook/dp/B003U4UXW8
I am privileged to be part of a group of eight women, ages 34-82. We meet every other week on a Monday night for Dinner, Dialogue (LOTS of talking) and Devotions (Bible Study). We spread a one week bible study out over two weeks because except for the 82 year old saint, we are all full-time working women. We have slowly built transparency, trust, and giving grace in abundance. It is a “safe place” for all of us. And on terribly busy weeks when we have trouble getting there, it is still a blessing to be part of the group. We rotate at a different home each time and the hostess provides the meals. (and we stole our name from our favorite Food Network show: “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives”!!) God has drawn us from different backgrounds, lifestyles and concerns into a family!
Amber Haines says
Love it, Jeannie!
Most churches think we are weird, but I still love the two hour fellowship we have after church. You learn about everyone week and sometimes you laugh with them and sometimes cry with them,but we always incourage each other each week.
Our church is so small — about 80 people on a big Sunday — that it feels like a small group. Still, we need to do a better job of having about smaller small groups. It does happen organically — not on a schedule. Tonight, for instance, several of the church guys are coming over to play poker in our garage. (Can I talk about poker games here at incourage? ~wink~) … And I shared a fun story, up in your linky about a recent gathering in the yard of a friend. … Still, we’ve been talking about how to be more intentional and regular with these gatherings. Your post really has me pondering what that might look like for us. Thank you, Amber. Your community is beautiful.
Amber Haines says
Oh Jennifer, I think the organic gatherings are the best.
You always encourage my socks off.
PS: I’m praying for your trip already.
We used to have that kind of community. But over the past year or two it seems like we’ve all grown apart. Which makes me sad. So my husband and I are kind of in this weird in-between place right now. But we’re trying. 🙂
Amber Haines says
Melissa, our group has had some strange transitions. We know something needs to change when we don’t sam to be maturing spiritually. I kind of feel like there’s always some element of uncomfortableness, though. 🙂 The in-between can be exciting, maybe?
Well I think to start the best thing to do is reach out. Sometimes it’s difficult to do I know but the secret of fellowship is always the reward. I just texted a friend from college today to see if we could meet next week for dinner. She said YES and said twice she was glad I texted her today. Not sure what’s going on but I’m glad I texted her too. I know when I’m having a low day or going through something it always brightens my day to hear from a friend or make plans to do something together. It never hurts to reach out. I’m glad I did today. Thanks for this post.
Amber Haines says
“It never hurts to reach out. ”
This is beautiful and makes me sad at the same time. Hubs and I were in an organic group that happened just like yours. We gathered every week sometimes once a month and shared our dreams and desires and promised to help one another achieve them. Six years of loving one another fell apart last year due to outside hurts that creeped inside the group and I miss my “family”.
Stay with it though, it is a beautiful thing to cherish and enjoy.
Amber Haines says
From the beginning of our group, we said we wouldn’t have this forever. We feel like we’re in a special time, ourselves. I actually expect a lull. I’ve had very lonely seasons, and I really do believe they’re for a reason.
I hope some lovely young girl catches your eye, and you just meet with her and hear her dreams. I think we’re surrounded by younger ones craving community, just waiting for us to reach out.
I’ve really enjoyed reading all the community posts. I really like this one especially since you shared the practical side of forming a community–they who, where, what, etc. My family used to be a part of a life team at church but two years after it disbanded, we still hadn’t joined another group. My husband and I are finally decided to start a new life team, which means the perfectionist/doer in me has been trying to figure out all the details of how it’s going to work. So, this was just what I needed, and now I need to make time this weekend to read some of the linkups as well.
Kristen Strong says
Amber, the way you tell this, I feel I’m sitting in the room right alongside your community. This is beautiful, magical! And the best part? It’s God’s desires for all of us. You show how it’s doable. Love this a thousand times over.
And I love *you* lovely Amber. So much!
Amber Haines says
Kristen, I wish you were in the room with my community. Mercy.
I just love you, too.
Where 2 or 3 gather, Christ is there; the community does not have to be large. We met someone online once, who lived in a very remote area. Missionaries had come years earlier and gave the gospel message, he believed and accepted Christ. No one else in his village came to that choice, so he met with the Lord alone for years, believing he was the last Christian on earth.
Decades had gone by; when he thought his eyes had gone bad. He thought he saw a man carrying a cross walking towards his village. He was not deceived; his long time prayers were answered. It was a man with a large wooden cross walking towards, his village. The man stayed a few days, told the gospel message and more in his village believed the message this time.
I heard this story on TBN, the faithfulness of this single man, God honored by causing this young man to walk where the Spirit lead him. The faithfulness of this single man, spoke to the heart of this young man, for so many were against his walking “alone” in a foreign country. With no community around either man, God was there. Community helps to encourage, lifting up, but when there is no community, there is God.
We are told we live our lives in a cloud of witnesses, the angels. I have heard stories of people telling of their faithfulness to God and it being rewarded by the appearances of angels, like the ones who appeared to tell the shepherd in their fields on the night Christ was born.
Community is wonderful when you have it, God is good when you do not.
We just moved here 8 weeks ago and still are looking for a new church home. It does hurt to be in-between communities. I’ve been casting my net widely, introducing myself to almost any woman within 30 years of my age who stands still. 🙂
This post inspires, b/c I know that I can be an initiator of a new community for us, though I would rather waltz into one where others already have a strong foundation. So much easier not to have to make it from scratch, though! We’ll see what God has…
We lived this. This family. We were a part of a group for over 10 years … loved each other, agreed, disagreed, grew, learned, helped each other up, had babies together, buried parents and grandparents, fought for marriages, lived in community and prayed. Oh how we prayed. We met without fail once a week, very often more. It felt like the Acts church to me. We had the core folks and many we loved in and out. This group of people, family to each other, we talk often of how precious that time was/is. We moved to another state two years ago. And, I am lonesome always for that connection. We have tried. We are moving again. Starting over again with people feels hard and emotionally vulnerable, particularly given the loneliness of the last two years. Thank you for reminding me it is oh so worth it.
Amber Haines says
It has to be worth it, because I feel like God designed it. I’m wondering about these seasons without close connections. DO you feel like those were meant to be for you and your husband to grow in a different way? I’m super interested because I know we won’t have what we have now forever.
Thanks for the honest piece! We are in transition and jumping into a new group but it is so rich to have those deep, abiding relationships and that precious time to look forward to each week. I’m hopeful the new group ‘sticks’. (I loved the competitive story-telling… if only I wouldn’t always one-up everyone, or try to…)
Amber Haines says
Court, we learn a lot about ourselves in groups like that, huh?
Great post! My best buddy, Deborah, who is a member of our community, or as we call it “care group” sent me this link because she saw “us” in your post. We have been meeting for years . . . I think 9 or 10 years. We have been through everything together . . . we have laughed, cried and prayed together. We have walked through divorce, through loss of a loved one, through incest of a child, through betrayal, pain and everything you can imagine. We help each other move, host funeral dinners for one another’s family and we all know, in a pinch, we will all be there for each other. Over the years, there has been some changes, but much of the core group has remained the same. Our goal is to be holy . . . set apart . . . to serve God, praise God and to be used in any way God desires, both individually and as a group. We meet each Sunday night at our house. Sometimes, I lose sight of what is important and instead stress over if our house is clean enough or if we popped enough popcorn. But ultimately, I know these are my true friends . . . and whether our house is dirty or the popcorn is lacking, really doesn’t matter. When we had a major flood in our basement, while the water was still rushing in, men from our care group helped us rush our belongings out of the water . . . even though the water was freezing cold and over 8 inches deep. They are our family and we are so blessed.
Amber Haines says
Brenda, this makes me smile so much.
Beth Williams says
I share community in a couple of ways. First with a women’s Bible Study at church. We meet weekly and discuss issues, pray for one another.
Secondly I have a good friend–my husband’s ex-mother-in-law and we are very good friends. I can call her anytime and have her pray for me or my circumstances. She feels the same way. We go garage saling together, she cleans my house, we cook for each other & just have a good time together.
I am blessed to have such good friends.
So neat to hear about how others came to be in a home church. I realize you also attend a larger meeting but that is what we call our groups that meet weekly in each others homes. Each has come together differently but it is so beautiful to see what God is doing in these small gatherings. Like you we eat together, pray, sing, read the word, cry, and open our hearts. Our oldest two children have been baptized within these groups and we have all grown tremendously as a result of these meetings. I hope others will read this and it encourages them to ask the father to bring them into such a community. We have been so richly blessed to be a part of two special groups and I would love to see every one of his sheep have the same experience. God bless you.
This sounds incredibly familiar. My husband and I began a similar journey to community nearly eight years ago. Because of our community consisted of predominantly singles [plus us and our kids], we’ve watched people come and go over the years: to university, Bible college, moves to other countries, and more recently marriages. It’s been very organic and flowing, and many of those who’ve moved on are now instigating similar community in their new homes. We have a consistent “open home” policy, social times every Sunday evening, Bible studies together once during the week, and almost every other night of the week is filled with people round for food or coffee or prayer. This has also led to sharing our house with people in need of a home; not easy with four kids and a tiny house but definitely do-able! We know that God is leading us into a time of change [possibly moving countries] but amazingly, because of the community that’s been cultivated in the last eight years, we have friends in so many different places that it won’t be difficult to start again!
Beautiful, Amber. We are longing for this kind of community…and it’s a wonderful thing to catch glimpses of your story. Thank you for sharing.
Struggling to Love Her | itsawonderfilledlife says
[…] been sick again, and I’ve travelled. I’ve fallen in love with Jesus’ people from all over. My brothers and sisters here have had to divide and conquer. I don’t have a group here anymore. On Sunday mornings, I’ve […]