Six ways to create community when you don't live near each other

On July 20, I posted about how commuting to church isn't a bad thing. Commuting to many activities, church included, is increasingly the norm in our cities. But what can you do to create and strengthen community with people when you don't live near each other? Here are some thoughts based partly on personal experience and partly on what I see other innovative church leaders doing.

(Disclaimer: I'm not saying I'm a ninja at all these things. Some of them are aspirations I have for me and/or Sanctuary, our little church of commuters.)

1. Burst the bubble. When we are distributed around the city, we don't shop at the same neighborhood grocery store as our church friends. But we do shop at the same grocery store as other people -- namely the people in our neighborhood. Being distributed around town helps us stay out of the "Christian bubble" that would find us talking to each other but to no one else. Why not allow God to use that to his missional advantage?

2. Show up. When we are distributed around the city, it becomes even more important that we show up when our faith community meets. You won't run into the other members of your faith community while you're at the elementary school or the bank. But your community will hold meetings, and you have to be intentional to show up so you can see and serve the members of your community in person. You have to do it as a discipline. When you skip the times your brothers and sisters meet, you take yourself out of community in a more radically isolating way.

3. Go big and go small. In Acts 2:42-47, the new believers showed up in two places: the temple (the big meeting) and each other's houses (the small meeting). The biblical pattern is to do both. If fact, big and small community mutually reinforce one another. Each does things the other doesn't. Make it a discipline to attend church and small community (like a Life Group). Seeing each other in both of these settings generates important conversations that can be carried out through phone calls, emails, texts or social media.

4. Plan get-togethers. We have had lots of friends over the years who have only lived a mile or two from us, but we didn't see them unless we planned a get-together ahead of time. So in the world of commuting, it often doesn't make any difference whether you live close to each other or not. Plan shared meals or a visit to the park or something. But again, this requires proactive intentionality.

5. Share common patterns. It creates community when you share a common purpose with the other people in your church. If you live in your neighborhood with a specific pattern of life and you know your church friends across town are doing the same thing, you share a bond with one another. For instance, last Sunday at Sanctuary I ended the service by asking where people were going to be cultivating trust through truth-telling and word-keeping. People responded by shouting out the part of Sacramento where they would be. We left with a common mission being carried out in many places.

Also, we can share common devotional practices. Reading the Bible in a solitary devotional time can be a shared activity if you know your friend across town is doing the same thing. As one monastic community puts it, "‘We eat together, even if it isn’t at one table’ – ‘We live together, even if it isn’t in one house’ – ‘We pray together, even if it isn’t in one chapel.'"

6. Create a virtual neighborhood. Sharing a common pattern of life creates bonds, but it's even better if you talk about what you are doing. If you're cultivating trust through truth-telling and word-keeping, talk about what you're doing and ask how your friends are doing. Create a virtual neighborhood. Isn't this why God gave us social media? :-)

Finally, being a church commuter may or may not be the best thing for you. Who knows whether it is? God. He knows what you (and your family, if you have one) need right now. Do yourself and the rest of the body of Christ a solid by making this choice prayerfully and in submission to God rather than to the consumeristic motives that pull at us all.

Whatever choice you make, proactive consistency will make or break your experience of community. Good spiritual community is less a matter of living near each other than it is a matter of being intentional, consistent and committed. Now that I think about it, some of the strongest spiritual community I enjoy is with people who live hundreds of miles away.


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