Guest Column: A Personal Note to My Generation About Community
Barna Group recently partnered with Benjamin Windle—pastor, speaker and author—to publish his latest work titled Digital Church in a Lonely World. In this release, Windle explores the seven ingredients necessary to build a healthy church community in an increasingly lonely and digital world.
This post shares Windle’s letter to Millennials, a personal note in which he offers practical suggestions and biblical direction to his peers who are seeking community. To read an excerpt from Windle’s latest work, check out this article. The full release is available both on Barna Access Plus and in Barna’s online store.
I’m a Millennial. I can attest that our generation greatly values community. This doesn’t mean we are good at achieving it. Ironically, we are statistically much poorer at doing this than previous generations.
In some ways, we are the guinea pigs of the first digital civilization. We have reaped the enormous benefits of online tools, but we have also suffered the downside of social media, information overload and an “always-on” work life.
We are wrestling with a clash of two competing ideals in our worldview. Yes, we want community. We long for rich and meaningful friendships. But we are also ensnared by consumerism, a transactional approach to life that puts our individual needs, desires and pleasure at the center of our lives.
The desire for community is a yearning for a value that is largely unfulfilled. Instead, there is an ache of loneliness and isolation. Technology has not solved this. Arguably, it has contributed to the problem.
This creates an interesting tension for us. On the one hand, we desire community and friendship. On the other hand, the path we have chosen to take us there has left us lonely, divided and disconnected. To change this, we must simultaneously celebrate our yearning for community, while confronting the faulty playbook we are operating from.
We want community—great! However, the way we think it happens is flawed and dysfunctional. It has broken the relational fabric of our generation. We are lonelier and more isolated than previous generations. The way out will require us to make some real-life changes. The kind of community we are searching for is harder, more costly and more time-intensive than we realize—and there are no shortcuts. It is also so much more beautiful, enriching and fulfilling than we could imagine. If we truly want our local church to be a life-giving spiritual community, we must entangle ourselves with the people around us.
There is this myth out there of “finding the right church.” It’s kind of like spotting a unicorn in the wild. It is this mythical place, this beautiful community, that one day we will find.
Obviously, we need to find a church we resonate with. Yet the reality is that genuine community is created, not stumbled upon.
In Acts 2, it says they devoted themselves to fellowship and the Apostles’ teaching. The commitment to share life with others in Christian community must come from the individual. We can’t have someone else devote themselves on our behalf and we reap the benefits. I like to say it this way: “Family is built, not discovered.” In other words, if you are looking for community and friendship, no number of programs, events or conferences can ever substitute for each person’s responsibility to build a family. We need to be a part of the solution.
Here are a few practical suggestions I give to people in my local church to help them build community:
- Put down long-term roots and invest at least 12 months to building new friendships.
- Organically meet the needs of people within that church community, while praying for them.
- Find a team to volunteer in. Most churches are in need of more volunteer help.
- When you attend church in person, arrive a few minutes early and stay a bit longer after the service to connect with others.
- Try to be consistent with your attendance. It builds relational momentum with people.
- Engage in some kind of social connection beyond weekend church services.
- Value important moments in other people’s lives—birthday parties, weddings, funerals, backyard barbecues, graduations.
- At church, make sure you are always building a new friendship with someone.
- Look for ways to draw the circle wider and bring people outside of church into your community.
Galatians 6:10 says, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.”
“Household of faith” is the language of family. Christian living in the New Testament was seen within the context of Christian community. The investment you make in fostering community will be worth it.