Across the nation there are thousands of churches that are only remnants of what they once were. Maybe your church is one of them… or will be one day. The faithful few who are left in these communities have something special—each other. They are tight-knit groups, who know each other well, have walked with one another through thick and thin and have countless hours of life together. Within these small circles there is a deep sense of belonging. So why have their numbers dwindled? Why hasn’t this lifestyle caught on?

The answer is simple. As special as these precious relationships are, they lack a key element of Christian Community; outward focus. At its core, belonging is inclusive. Without an outward focus, belonging loses its power. 

The tricky part about belonging is that if there isn’t a commitment to intentional outward focus, it’s easy to move from belonging to comfortable to threatened by outside influence. Reality is that the gospel isn’t intimidated by the world. It meets people where they are at and loves unconditionally and patiently helps them take their next best step toward Jesus.

3 Essential Elements of Christian Community

3 essential elements of christian community

1. The Right Motivation

The church that is birthed in Acts enjoyed a deep sense of belonging. They studied together, ate together, prayed together, and gave generously. They experienced fellowship, signs and wonders, and exponential growth. Everyone had all things in common because their action was a united response to the resurrection of Jesus. 

Christian community is a response to our experience of the reality of Jesus resurrected and his direct presence in our lives.

The faith of the church in Acts was public. Everyone could see because they met out in the common spaces of the community. They were quite connected with the larger community. And—in part because of that—people were coming to faith.

Experiencing God in community is not confined exclusively to people of faith. We are also living alongside people who are not yet followers of Jesus. Our relationship with each other influences and impacts our relationship with God and with the world.

This means serving and benefiting the community at large. As a pastor of one church in downtown Denver says, 

“We want people in this neighborhood who never walk through these doors to be glad we’re here.”

That means serving not just our own tribe, but others outside the church. Early centuries of the church saw Jesus-followers caring for those with the plague while others ran. They saw Jesus-followers saving newborn girls left out to die of exposure in societies that valued boys more. Those are the kinds of behaviors that will make people sit up and take notice. To paraphrase Jesus, it doesn’t impress anybody if you greet only your own friends and serve the people you know. Even the pagans do that.

2. Breed Belonging

The result of the early church having the right motivation—living in response to what Jesus has done—was that their numbers were added to daily. Churches today who tap into this motivation experience similar growth. 

Christian community breeds belonging. 

People have this need for community and belonging built in. They have a strong drive to feel included and respected. Even at a rock concert, people feel a strong drive to be a part of something bigger than themselves. This is because we can experience God together in ways we cannot experience God alone. 

At the same time, we do things to exclude others. This results in isolation, polarization, and a lack of belonging. Feelings are alienated and people’s sense of belonging is undermined. We all feel a deep need to belong but most of us don’t fully appreciate that need in others. 

One young couple, feeling like they weren’t welcome at church, began going to crossfit on Sunday mornings instead. They found a welcoming, inclusive, helpful community there. At crossfit people asked them questions, helped them, and made them feel like they belonged. 

Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. Hebrews 10:23-25 (NLT) 

When people walk through your doors they are looking for a Christian community where they can belong. If you are coming from a healthy place with the right motivation, you can offer them that. 

3. Welcome the new and different

If your motivation is in response to Jesus and you are intentionally breeding belonging the natural outflow is an outward focus.  

By “performing signs and wonders” (healings) and “giving to everyone as they have need,” the early Christian church was an attractive community to those outside of it. They enjoyed the favor of all the people. And some of those people wanted to join and become a part of it.

Deep Christian community is the result of outward engagement as well as inward.

A sense of belonging and an outward focus are not opposites. They are two sides of the same coin. They are necessary for one another and they produce one another. Real community never stands in opposition to service. This means opening your arms to people in circumstances that are unfamiliar or uncomfortable. It means entering in to new and different relationships because that is how Christ did for you.

This is true for the church as a whole but where it really shines is in small groups where people do life together. The dynamics of the early church are present in the smallest unit. The small group is the church in microcosm. It should include all the essential elements of the larger church: worship, prayer, scripture,  evangelism, fellowship, serving others, etc. Then the larger service—the celebration—is the overflow.


Guide for Discipling– Systematic approaches to discipleship can fail to meet people where they are at and force them to try and grow at the pace of the curricula. Discipleship that works is nonlinear but that doesn’t mean it lacks focus. 

The Guide for Discipling covers 8 areas that Christ guided the twelve disciples in transformation. Begin with the foundations: Experiencing God and Partnering with the Holy Spirit. From there it’s a choose your own adventure to maximize joining God in what he is already doing in the person. 

Photo by Erika Giraud on Unsplash