As we’ve seen, the Lord views real community among us believers as critical to our spiritual health and of those yet to enter our community. Despite wanting vital interaction with others, we stumble when it comes to execution. How do our churches forge real community?
Today, I want to discuss a simple way we can build a better community of faith. I’ll focus on one common item already found in most churches.
#5 – Leverage your church directory.
- Even now I can hear the faint mouse clicks as hundreds flee this site for greener Web pastures. Stick with me, though.
I believe our church directories are one of the most underutilized resources we have for building community. While nothing beats face to face interaction, our church directories are a database for community growth and blessing if done correctly. I acknowledge up front that it would be better for us to learn about other people in our church through sharing meals with them in our homes, but we need a babystep back toward that reality. Expanding our vision for what a church directory affords us can get us to that better place. Then when we’re doing our community life better we can use the directory as a fallback in the future, not a primary means of accomplishing community.
Before we begin exploring this more, I’d like to share a few verses. Much of what follows depends on our understanding a painful truth about dying to self and being raised into a community of faith:
You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.
—1 Corinthians 6:19b-20a ESV
For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ.
—1 Corinthians 7:22 ESV
If I am not my own, if I am a slave of Christ, then what rights do I have as a Christian? None that have anything to do with personal privacy.
A dead man doesn’t have any privacy. We saw our right to privacy die at the foot of the cross. If we were free before, we’re slaves to Christ now. We don’t get to call the shots, Jesus does. And as part of being born into Him and the Church He died to create, we don’t get a say about our own privacy. Just as the clay can’t talk back to the potter, we can’t tell God we don’t want to be a part of community. Nor can we tell Him we’re not happy about losing our so-called right to privacy.
The Christian isn’t a private creature. The Christian lives and dies to a Lord who lived and died for others. Again, our focus is outside ourselves. For that reason, a true Christian gives up any pretenses to privacy.
Now this doesn’t mean a Christian can’t rent a cabin in the deep woods for a week and get away for an occasional break. What it does mean is that our lives are now lived openly, with a servant heart toward others, even if those others infringe on our privacy from time to time.
You won’t hear that message from too many pulpits because if we truly believed that (as opposed to believing the American civil religion we tend to bow to), our lives would be drastically altered by living it out. Radically counterculture, eh?
A church directory is not a private thing. I’ve heard anecdotal reports that more and more Christians are opting out of having their personal info included in their church directories because of privacy issues. I know for a fact that fewer churches are attempting church directories in the first place, either because they’re megachurch-sized (I’ll speak to this issue in a future post in this series) or they’re getting a big ho-hum from their congregation.
Tough. A church directory is essential. Trust me on this one. My first explanation says it all:
a. We’re praying through our church directories, right?
- If we want one reason why our churches are ineffective, it starts here. The people who make up our churches are not praying for each other. If we truly believe that prayer matters, how can we not being praying over every person in our church? Good grief, whenever I hear someone like John Eldredge spouting off about how men in our churches are bored, I’ve got to ask if those men are praying over every person who walks through the doors of their church! Who has time to be bored when we’ve got such an enormous task ahead of us covering each other in prayer? I’d go so far as to say that we should have praying over the church directory inserted into the everyday service we perform when we become members of a church. A-1 priority. Church leaders, I implore you to consider this if you’re not already doing it at your church.
Here’s a way to start. Break up the alphabet into sections, A-E, F-J, K-N, O-S, T-Z. If a family’s last name is Edelen, the Edelen family would pray for other families in the section that corresponds to their last name, in this case A-E. Do that for a set period of time, then have the families move onto the next section. Edelens would then pray for those in F-J. Every day, pray for three families in that section, praying for each individual within each family.
That kind of covering prayer can be tweaked, so a million options exist. But church leaders should let their congregants know that praying through the church directory is one of the ways the church functions, and therefore it’s expected of everyone.
Praying through the church directory opens up myriad possibilities for community growth and bonding. I know that I would want to know more about the people I’m praying for, wouldn’t you? I might even pick up the phone and call those families to find our how I can pray more specifically. I’d also like to know how those prayers I’m praying with others are coming out. What a blessing it is to hear of prayers answered. But if you’re like me, you hear about answered prayer far too infrequently for it to have any impact on your own faith for big requests. Think how blessed we would be if our entire church were soliciting prayer requests, praying for those requests, then actually hearing those prayers answered!
It can start with praying through the church directory.
b. Faces matter. So do names.
- We humans are visual. Any anxiety we have about interacting with others is dramatically reduced when we can routinely match a name in a church directory with a face. For that reason, spend whatever it costs to get pictures in your church directory. Pictures make praying through the church directory even more effective.
When you go for a visual directory, make certain that the names of individuals within families are correctly noted in captions below the pictures. If a family has five teenage sons (God have mercy on them!), we should know which teen face matches which teen name. While Dale Carnegie isn’t a spiritual mentor in the slightest, he was right about one thing: a person loves to hear his own name. Our names matter in community. We need to get them right as practical proof that we care about the people in our church.
c. Tell us everything.
- Here’s where the privacy pushback comes in.
In order to have a community that seeks the best for every person within that community, we need to be open. We can’t hold back information that can be helpful to other members of the community.
Long ago, we used to know what others did for a living. Chances were that Millers operated the town mill, Smiths manned the blacksmithing duties, while the Taylors made the clothes.
Today, our work lives are far more complex than they once were, nor do they align with the rest of our life experiences, even our college majors. But as believers in community, our work matters not only to our employers, but to each other. Community necessitates that I know what your job is at your company. That helps me to give you business; your financial health matters to me because you’re part of our community.
It extends beyond work, too. Knowing your hobbies and talents can better allow me to join in those hobbies with you or leverage those talents to the betterment of not only myself, but the entire community.
We need to go beyond a name, address, and phone number. Knowing what teens have completed childcare courses can better help me choose a babysitter. Knowing who in the church speaks Spanish can help my child when he or she’s learning the language. Knowing who lived in Silicon Valley for ten years can help me should I need to move there.
Options abound. Put the directory on the Web and give church members a special login to access the info. Given that most people have computer access, a church can keep the info up to date with an online list of the talented people within the church.
Only your church community can decide how much info is too much. Personally, I think a church directory should move beyond a name, address, and telephone number to encompass full biographies of the people who attend our churches. If we want to better unite our people in community, that kind of information is priceless.
Communities of long ago knew this kind of detailed information, but today we barely know the names of people in our churches. We need to attempt this kind of transparency. God intended us to network with each other and those outside the church proper, yet when I look around, too many of us know hardly anything about the person sitting next to us in the pew. A more robust church directory would go a long way to fixing that problem.
Can we consider doing more with our church directories? If the world is hard to navigate as a community, how much harder is it to handle as individuals cut off from each other? Yet that kind of disconnection typifies our lives in America 2006. We don’t know anyone beyond a handful of people, and what we know is so shallow as to not help us or others when times are tough.
More community-building ideas to come…
Posts in this series:
- Being the Body: The Necessity of Community in the American Church
- Being the Body: How to Forge Real Community, Part 1
- Being the Body: How to Forge Real Community, Part 2
- Being the Body: How to Forge Real Community, Part 3
- Being the Body: How to Forge Real Community, Part 4
- Being the Body: How to Forge Real Community, Part 5 (Conclusion)