How to Start a Community

How to Start a Community May 25, 2012

Every week, I hear from people throughout the U.S., Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand who are longing for genuine Christian community. They’ve heard a story or read a book about the new monasticism, and they want to know where it’s happening, what it looks like in practice, and how they might be part of it. Several years ago, we launched an online directory to help folks connect to communities close to them. Our School for Conversion hosts weekend visits for interested people to come and see what’s happening in a community, living alongside its members while taking a course we call “Intro to Christianity as a Way of Life.” For the past couple of years, we’ve had a “Nurturing Communities Project” to help young communities connect with older ones, cross-pollinating passion and wisdom, energy and experience.

It’s been a gift to be part of all of these things, and we’ve seen some great fruit these programs. But the single piece of advice I find myself repeating most often is this:

You can learn about community elsewhere. But you can only make it happen–you can only ever have it–where you are. So find 3 to 5 people who will commit to share life together for six months or a year. Sit down and make a plan. Find an outside mentor for the group if you can. And schedule a time to evaluate your experiment after the initial commitment is over.

It’s simple, I know. It may not seem like much. But I don’t think any community ever gets started without doing something like this. And without a start, there’s little chance for much else to happen.

So I wanted to share one little “rule” that some folks who’ve gotten together in England shared with me this week. They call it their “heart beat,” and it’s a great example of the kind of thing people can give themselves to as an experiment toward community. After six months, they may have seen enough to know more specific practices they can commit to. They may know more about who can stay and who can’t. They may be able to invite others in, to commit for another year or two, to start a business or a ministry or a community garden. The Lord only knows what might happen. But it all depends on getting started. So, here’s one place to start: