I remember the base director telling me his vision for my role in the hospitality department at YWAM Brisbane. "Lisa, I want you to build family," he said very matter-of-factly one day in June 2011.
Righto. Piece of cake.
That was more than three years ago. In that time I've learned a lot of lessons (sometimes the hard way) in how to build a community. This is by no means a step-to-step guide. Instead these are things I've tried to do while forming a family out of once-complete-strangers. They're also some of the markers of what I think a healthy community looks like once it's developing.
5. People want to belong.
So what is a community? Simply, it's a group of people who are joined together in some sort of "common unity." There's something that links the people together. It might be something as general as living on the same street. In the sense of a biological family, it's genetics. At a YWAM ministry centre the common bond is Jesus, worship and missions.
But I believe this desire to belong is evident in all areas of society. From Cross Fit gyms, to people who frequent the same coffee shop, to office or school lunch tables we have a human desire to want to fit in. I'm sure there's some prehistoric reason - being in a group might mean survival against sabre-toothed tigers. But I believe there is a deep-down, spiritual reason as well; we were made to be relational with God and with each other.
4. It requires trust. And unity.
It's easy to co-exist with other people. But to build a community requires being intentional in getting to know one another, and this takes time. There isn't a quick way to build trust with others; you just need to start. If you're the one trying to build the community group, it usually means you have to set the tone by being the first one to open up about yourself – both the good and the not so good.
There have been plenty of occasions in which I've shared some of the raw areas of my life with a group of people because I knew it would get the ball rolling for them to open up as well. Unity is so much more than simply not fighting. It's one thing to steer clear of people with whom you might not along. It's another thing to go out of your way to be kind, pleasant and do something nice for those same people. Unity requires actively loving other people even if you don't naturally get along.
3. Sometimes it really sucks.
The saying "familiarity breeds contempt" is nowhere truer than when you live in a close-knit community. It's both a blessing and burden to work, eat, brush your teeth, or holiday with the same people day-in-and-day-out. In such a community you can turn to almost anybody when you need a hand or a prayer. Yet it also means that everybody knows (or assumes they should know) every detail of your life. In the short term it can be easy to grit our teeth and bare the frustrations.
Yet, in the end what will happen is that the very thing we crave – belonging – becomes the very thing we reject. We might assume that it's easier to avoid community than to try to deal with its inevitable annoyances. It takes time, but those troubles or frustrations – once resolved – can result in a tighter bond between community members.
2. Celebrate together.
Who doesn't love a good party; it'll usually involve food and music! Being part of a community means taking time to celebrate milestones in one another's lives such as birthdays, graduations, arrivals or departures. As a Christ-centred community it's hugely important to celebrate God too. Spending time in musical worship is a great way to honour and celebrate Him and His faithfulness. It can be heaps of fun to sing and have a dance party just because God is awesome.
A few months ago, YWAM Brisbane got some long-awaited (and prayed for) approval from council. To celebrate, I bought end-of-day donuts from the shops, party poppers and had some people set out table runners on the carpeted floor of our meeting room. It was super simple, yet memorable. We had a donut banquet to celebrate God's faithfulness in our community, and also took time to share stories in ways we'd recently seen God provide in the lives of people we knew.
1. You've got to pray.
It might seem obvious that as Christians we would pray. But sometimes it's not our default action. I would like to suggest that in community building it also goes beyond praying for one another when we're together. It needs to include praying before anything ever gets off the ground. We can spend time chasing our tails and using our own efforts to see a community start from the ground up – or we can get God, the most capable community builder, involved from the get go.
I spent nearly two years praying for specific feelings to be present when people came onto the YWAM centre; feelings such as being welcomed, valued and a sense of rest. About two years into this prayer pattern, I asked a group of new students their impressions of the centre since their arrival. To my surprise they echoed back to me, word for word, some of my prayers.
There was no way these newcomers would know the things I had fought for in my prayer time. Yet, God had been working to create the environment and group of people that so wonderfully express His massive, generous and welcoming heart.
Lisa Goetze is a 30-something-woman endeavouring to love Jesus and love people with reckless abandon. She's a former Canadian journalist who now calls Brisbane home. She's a full-time volunteer at Youth With A Mission.
Lisa Goetze's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/lisa-goetze.html