Monday, October 05, 2015

Finding Community in a New Area - Part 1 - Church

Recent dinner discussions and answering friendly questions have caused me to think about what makes community. I may have mentioned some of this in previous blog posts, but I've really been considering the topic of community after moving across the country to a completely new town and completely immersing myself in a way I never had before.

How do you know beforehand if your neighborhood or town has community?

This question is especially applicable to people who have moved, or may be moving to a new area, and it's something I didn't really think about consciously before we bought our house.

We lived in an apartment in "the nicer area of town" for several months before purchasing our house in a less desirable area of town. We had very few friends in the nicer area of town, and had trouble finding community at any of the various churches we visited, even when we already knew people attending those churches.

We were strongly considering several houses, but they just didn't have the right "feeling" for the neighborhood we wanted to spend the next 6+ years of our life in. Then, in what I had originally scoffed at as my husband's old small-town suburb, we found that different feeling.

We suddenly found a church that had a true community feeling to it. People eat together, laugh together, participate in the service, are led by the Spirit, and serve together. We found a neighborhood that had a true community feeling to it. Neighbors hang out on the cul-de-sac, pick up mail packages, and tend each other's gardens while they are on vacation. We even found a town that has community - people say hello as they drive down the street, there are fundraisers at local restaurants, regular community events with a huge turnout, and local charities that truly care about making a change.

So, if you're moving to a new area, how can you determine whether your neighborhood is truly community oriented, or whether you're going to find yourself in a nice, exclusive neighborhood where you enter your garage and exit your garage, and pick up your mail through your car window and never talk to your neighbors? How can you determine whether your church will truly be a community, or just people talking on Sunday and ignoring each other until the following week? How can your determine if your town, suburb, or area of the city will have true community events?

Find the answers, in this three-part blog series. Let's start with a focus on finding community in your local church.

Church Community

I'm not a theologian or church history professor, so please keep in mind that this is only my opinion, and some things to look for so that you "might" find community in a church. This is not an exclusive list, and all these things can be checked off a list by a church without forming true community.

  1. Community or the area of town in the name. Something more specific than Northeast or Southeast, but a church that is truly community focused will either have a very specific area of town (i.e. Stroudwater Christian Church) or the word Community in it's name. Again, this is only an idea that there "may" be community in this church. 
  2. Spirit filled. This may be difficult to tell when you're just visiting, but it's important to determine whether people are participating in the service through God's leading or man's leading. If you're not a Spirit-led Christian yourself, but still looking for this, look at the majority of people's eyes as they worship, and it will quickly become obvious. This is regardless of whether a church claims to be "charismatic" or not. I've been to several charismatic churches where it is very obvious that the majority of the people there are being led by their own desires, and not a true sense of worship, prayer, or community. 
  3. Fellowship time. This may be during the service or before or after, so make sure you find out when all available fellowship times are and check them out. Look for how people greet each other when they already know each other, as well as how people greet you. Look for how people eat together and whether they are open to new faces.
  4. Church size. Anytime you get above 500 or so people, you are going to be losing a sense of community. It's going to be hard to insert yourself into a church that large. You may get to know 10-15% of the people well, but you won't know them personally unless the church does an extremely good job of placing people into smaller communities (whether geographically, through small groups, or even during the service). Large churches certainly have their benefits, but a sense of community is really not one of them.
  5. Church above denomination. A church should be a living, growing entity. A church is made of many parts, and those parts are people, not traditions. A church that focuses only on its denomination, rather than on its body parts (the people in the church) will be unhealthy. If all you hear is what the denomination believes and why they are the best denomination right and votes based on tradition rather than love, it's going to be difficult to find community in that church. I'm not saying that denominational churches don't have community, because I grew up in a Lutheran church that was full of community, but it can't be the only focus of the church. Even non-denominational churches can fall into this trap. We visited a church in our new city, that was so focused on church planting, that they were ignoring the need for community in their current church. Even the story that was told in favor of church planting left me thinking they were missing something (the story was about "lighthouses" that saved people and then ended up eventually turning too inward focused into "clubs" so they had to keep building new "lighthouses" - but my thought is why not stop building lighthouses and focus on fixing all the lighthouses already built?)
  6. Service focus. A church that is in a community and has community will have opportunities to serve both inside and outside the church. If you've never heard of a need to serve inside or outside the church, ask someone. If they don't seem to know what's going on either, you have either found a church that doesn't follow Christ, or doesn't have community.
  7. Small groups. Whether they call these community groups, cell groups, small groups, or even Bible study, find out whether small groups are offered and join one. You have to meet with people more than a few times a month to truly get to know them.
  8. Make your own. If you live in an area of town that doesn't have community, or if you have visited every church you would consider and not found community, consider making your own. As mentioned before, churches are made of people, not buildings. While you can "get to heaven" by not going to church, you won't be fulfilling God's plan for you on Earth if you sit at home every week. In light of God's sacrifice for us, we can surely "sacrifice" some of our time in making an imperfect church better through our own presence. You don't have to be a pastor or teacher at a church to build community. Greet people you don't know, whether they are already "members" of the church or not - there's no rule that visitors can't greet people. Start your own service in the community and invite other church members. Set up a time outside church to meet with other members. Love people as Christ loved, and follow the Spirit's leading in your own life. 
Again, this is certainly not an exhaustive list, and there are churches that don't do everything perfectly that still have community. What makes your church have that feeling of community? If it doesn't, what can you do to make it better?

Friday, October 02, 2015

Fiction Friday - Woodland Creatures - a short story

            Carmen woke early on Saturday morning, breathing a deep, relaxed sigh. Saturdays were the best days of her life. Monday through Friday she articulated, gesticulated, frantically took notes, ran wild missions around town, and slept in her tiny, cramped studio apartment in the city. Reading the dry depositions of a lawyer’s life in addition to all of the physically stressful work kept her up late in the night.
            Nearly every Friday afternoon, however, when she felt the strain, pressure, and emotions of the week wearing down her buoyant soul, she turned her thoughts and plans to the one person that she knew could ease the daily grind. She would leave her cell phone in the desk drawer and pack a small traveling bag to go visit Lexia at their country villa.
            This morning, like most weekend mornings in the country, Carmen gazed out of the brilliantly clear picture window beside her bed.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

How to Never Get a Late Fee

It will happen one day. You'll sit down to pay bills and realize that you've missed one. You'll review your fool-proof plan to never get a late fee and realize that something slipped through the cracks. A change in routine, a delayed or smaller than usual paycheck, or even just a bill that never arrived when it was supposed to. Sometime in your life, believe it or not, you will be charged a late fee.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

To Co-op or Not to Co-op

If you're not a homeschooler, you may have heard of different types of co-ops and wonder what they have to do with homeschooling. If you are a homeschooler you most likely already have or will at some point make a decision either for or against joining a co-op. We are first year homeschoolers, with only a kindergarten and preschooler, and I am already learning a ton about co-ops after joining our first co-op this year.

First, what is a co-op? Technically, a co-op is a group of people working together

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Generational Happiness

There was an article in the newspaper featuring an extremely flawed survey comparing the relative "happiness" of various generations. Since I'm technically in the slightly more unhappy Millennial generation (although towards the older end which identify more with Generation X) it got me thinking. Mostly about how the basic premise of the survey is flawed.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Crisis Point

At one, or multiple points in time, every human being comes to a crisis point. There's at least one point in our lives, where we realize that we can't handle what we thought we could, or that what we thought we believed in was misguided. The main difference in terms of personal growth, is whether our crisis point frame of mind becomes our normal frame of mind in the future, or whether we let the busyness and entertainment of modern life help us forget our problems.

It can be a big problem

Friday, September 25, 2015

Fiction Friday - Contemporaries - Chapter Eight

After relaxing for awhile with Christine, Karen finally worked up the nerve to call the detective. She dialed the number, expecting to get an answering machine of some kind, or even expecting it to just be the main phone line for the police station. She was somewhat surprised when the detective himself answered the phone.
“Hey, this is Pat. What’s up?”
“Umm, I’m looking for Detective Patrick Smith?” Karen hated when she sounded like a child on the phone. She tried to be more professional, “I’m returning your phone call regarding the Miles Tanner case.”
“Eh, alright. Hold on a second.” In the background, Karen heard his talking with a woman, she wondered

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Judgment Free Parenting

There have been a couple of instances when I've been around other parents (or caregivers) and their children and the parent or caregiver has stated something to the effect of, "He isn't normally like this, he must be showing off." or "I'm sure you think we just don't discipline, but we're really trying." I've been told I have a rather standoffish look sometimes, and I do have a big fat J in my personality, but I truly don't use it against people anymore.

I've learned, since being a parent, that we aren't the main person responsible for our child's behavior.

Yes, parents are extremely important, and discipline is extremely important (if used properly). However, controlling a child's behavior hasn't been in vogue since the Victorian times when children should be "seen and not heard" and even then, the parents didn't take responsibility for that.

So, why do we feel that our ability to parent our children is being judged when we go out somewhere or when someone else is watching our kids?

I think part of it comes when non-parents chastise us. For example, in the library, when my children are running (despite the fact that they have 3 library rules that they know by heart and we review every day before going in and I put them in timeout when they disobey). They've gotten reprimanded by the librarians before, and I felt my heart sink. Was I a bad parent because I couldn't get my kids to stop running in the library, because they get so excited by story time? The answer is, that I am not a bad parent. I have rules, I enforce them consistently, and 95% of the time my kids are on the children's side of the library. The librarians were not trying to be mean to my kids, they were genuinely concerned for their safety and wanted to try to help me out by having a third party enforce the rules. It didn't really help much, and we avoided the library for a couple of weeks, but it was genuinely a positive attempt rather than a judgement attempt.

On the other hand, one of my neighbors mentioned to me that they haven't even tried the library with their almost 5 year old boy in over a year because of his behavior. I'm sure that's not what the librarians intend when they try to help enforce the rules.

Sometimes, it may be best to avoid a situation if you know your child will misbehave. I think we've pretty much given up taking our kids out to a restaurant except for a very special occasion (or Chic-fil-a or McDonald's). In general, however, if it's a kid-style location, kids will be loud and active, as they should be, whenever they get excited or overwhelmed. It happens. Even adults can throw a fit or be a little loud in certain situations. A friend of my husbands scared my kids almost to death when we tried to go to their house to watch a basketball game together. I've seen adults have a throw-down match with a cashier or telemarketer before, and it's not pretty.

So, why do we expect our kids to have better behavior than we do? Sure, everyone posts the happy pretty pictures of their supposedly well-behaved children on Facebook, but we've all seen them at times when they were hyped up on sugar or excitement or new friends. Let's not expect our kids to be mini-adults or to be like someone else's kid. They have their own personalities, some of which may be stronger than others, but those same strong personalities are the leaders of tomorrow, whether they look or act like it today or not.

I admit I did wonder briefly about the mini-van that had driven past while my youngest and another friend about the same age had run 5 houses down into our garage when the three adults had their back turned for just a minute. But the beauty of not judging other people as much, is that I can brush off the possible judgment from other people a lot easier than I used to. God has not called us to judge each other. Instead, he's called us to work together in community and extended family. So, rather than expecting to be judged, I assumed that the people in the mini-van were driving cautiously to avoid the children in the cul-de-sac and watching to make sure the adults figured out where they went. Which we did, pretty quickly. And then admired the speed at which those tiny legs can travel.

So, the next time you think that you're being judged for your parenting, assume the best. If you have questions about discipline, ask a fellow parent. And let's all work together to raise our kids in a happy, welcoming, judgment free zone.