IN PRISM'S BOOK BAG: Randy Frazee's THE CONNECTING CHURCH (Zondervan)
When I started a new small group composed of people who lived in the same geographic area but without much else in common, I was a bit nervous. Since we were diverse in age and interests, how would we develop into a community? To help us make the necessary adjustment, we studied THE CONNECTING CHURCH: BEYOND SMALL GROUPS TO AUTHENTIC COMMUNITY by Randy Frazee.
Frazee explains that authentic community is rare in American churches due to the alienating forces of individualism, isolation, and consumerism. As a result, churches are often filled with lonely people who don't have time for connecting. Yet, as Frazee points out, the cultivation of meaningful relationships is an essential characteristic of the church. To overcome the forces that create loneliness, Frazee presents three building blocks that can help a small group find authentic community: a common purpose, a common place, and common possessions.
THE CONNECTING CHURCH helped us discern that authentic community is based not on people being "like each other" in age and interests, but on a "common purpose." This common purpose is composed of distinctly Christian beliefs, practices, and virtues. We spent eight weeks on THE CONNECTING CHURCH (concentrating on the first half of the book) and then, to implement our common purpose, we turned to THE CHRISTIAN LIFE PROFILE, a workbook from Frazee's church (available through www.connectingchurch.org). The workbook helps readers develop a strategy for growth in the beliefs, practices, and virtues that form the common purpose.
The other two building blocks, a common place and common possessions, were more challenging to implement, since the forces of individualism and isolation are so ingrained. Nevertheless, Frazee's book gave our small group a vision for how a community can share time and resources. We are taking steps toward spending more time together by having one another over for dinner and taking walks in the neighborhood. Since our geographic model means our small-group members live in proximity, it's easy and natural to hang out spontaneously. We are also exploring ways to share common possessions. For instance, another small-group member and I decided that, since we live next door to each other, there was no reason we couldn't share lawn equipment.
And that's the power of this book, that in taking such simple steps as these, a group of Christians can cultivate fulfilling, sustainable, and authentic community. Our small-group members still interact a bit awkwardly at times due to our diversity, but we all agree that Christian community is much richer when based upon unhurried spontaneity and sharing.