All those who had believed were together and had all things in common. They were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved~ Acts 2:44a, 46b, and 47 NIV
Connecting people is a passion of mine.
I have worked at churches doing Connections and 1st Impressions ministry. But long before all that, I noticed the people most likely to stick around a Church or a group in a church were those who felt deeply connected to the people in the church or church group.
The high school kids who had friends in the Sunday school class I taught were the ones who showed up week after week regardless of what I was teaching. I learned early on that if I could help a woman make a friend in the Bible study I was leading, the chances were pretty good that woman would come back and sometimes she would even bring a friend.
Legitimate research has backed up my observations.
Research done by Thom Ranier reveals that roughly half (49%) of all people stay in their current church because they have a deep connection to the people in the church. According to some of my own less-than-legitimate research (asking a bunch of nosy questions about why people stayed in or left their church) the number two reason people gave for leaving a church (number one was weak or shady leadership) was lack of connection to people.
Even the most introverted of human beings were created to connect with one another. It’s a fundamental part of who we are and a reflection of God’s image in us (Genesis 1:26-27). Most adults who convert to Christianity do so within the context of friendship. Many who began attending church looking for friendships have found Jesus in the process.
Hospitality and developing healthy relationships is a basic and often overlooked aspect of evangelism and we all bear some responsibility for the task. We build healthy groups churches by doing five simple things consistently.
Sadly, in my experience many of the same people who attend services once or twice a month also grumble about not feeling a sense of belonging in their church. No one in the history of forever has ever grown spiritually, made a friend or become a functioning part of a church body without first committing to consistently attending a weekly church service (Hebrews 10:25).
Join a small group-
The group can be an adult Sunday school class, weekday Bible study or a small group that meets in a home. Go and do more than just show-up. Show-up early, stay late, participate in the discussions and invite people in the group into your home, your heart, and your inner circle (John 13:34-35). Do everything you can to make the group you’re a part of into a family and then encourage new people to become a part of the family (1st Corinthians 12:28).
God only made one you. Being authentic about who you are and what you’ve experienced (without being excessively detailed or graphic) is honoring to God and can be useful (if it’s done right) to those who are struggling on their spiritual journey (2nd Corinthians 1:3-4).
Don’t judge others for being real-
Just don’t. Judgment destroys community (Romans 12:10, Matthew 7:1-3). Our role as Christians is to encourage, cheer-lead and occasionally correct or redirect in love and with grace (Galatians 6:1, Hebrews 3:13, 2nd Timothy 2:24-26). We must leave judgments to God. He knows more than we ever could. However, it’s equally critical we don’t buy into the lie that correction or redirection is the same thing as judgment. Lovingly correcting sinful or spiritually dubious behavior is NOT the same as judging. Correction is biblical AND necessary in a healthy Christian community (James 1:21, James 5:20).
Use the gifts you have-
My fondest wish for every Christian on earth would be for them to know and use their gifts to grow their local church (Ephesians 2:10, Romans 12:6-11). Sadly, many Christians have all but stopped serving and churches are dying as a result of our disobedience. Volunteering to teach a class, hosting a group in your home, baking cookies for VBS or serving on the greeting team or in the food pantry is about more than filling a spot. It’s about bonding with other believers, building community and being the hands and feet of Jesus in our broken and hurting world (Matthew 25:44-46).
And finally don’t close your circle. Building connections with people is both horribly complex and enormously rewarding. Keeping our hearts open to people and finding creative ways to meet their needs is one of the most significant and basic ways we serve God (1st Peter 4:9). It’s also the only way to build and be a part of a healthy Christian community.