Three Essentials for Building Strong Community
When I moved home to Rhode Island after closing down my special-effects company, I felt alone. I didn’t know anyone besides my friend Colin, a fellow surfer who was healing up from a shark attack. I needed new friends, so I set out to visit a local church one Sunday.
“Community,” is one of those words we hear a lot in church circles. I’ve heard it other places too. Even business owners talk about building a community within their business. It always sounded nice to me, but I’m not sure I ever really knew what it really meant. When I asked people what makes a community, they all had different definitions.
I wouldn’t discover the meaning of community until one Sunday after church, a group of young adults invited me to watch a big wave surf contest at their house by the water. We had different hobbies, different interests, and I didn’t always get their sense of humor. It was difficult to see myself growing close to them at all.
But then we decided to intentionally host “family dinners” together at each other’s house once a week. Over plates of grilled chicken and burgers, we deliberately get to know each other. Over time, after countless honest conversations (and even some head-butting), we developed true community that brought immense joy to my life. We felt like family; united, invested, and reliable. They were my tribe.
My experience with this group of people taught me that community is so much more than having a “friend group.” An intentional community creates an environment for growth.
Today, we need this more than ever. Our society is becoming increasingly divisive, tempting us to operate only in our “social comfort zones” where we are around people just like us. Even more tempting is the pull of “virtual community,” that we build through our social media accounts. Technology makes it easy to get lost in our online realities yet totally disconnect from the people around us.
We need to go in the opposite direction of society and intentionally put ourselves in awkward, challenging, sometimes-uncomfortable, delightful community.
When we surround ourselves with people who are affirming, yet challenging, who are willing to celebrate our strengths yet also challenge us in love, we are able to grow. Community also helps us discover our selfishness, but also our capacity to love other people.
Second: A strong, loving community propels us towards our goals. It’s hard to take risks when we feel alone and vulnerable. But when we’re surrounded by a strong community, we find the energy, support, and accountability we need to pursue our intentional lives. The feeling of being on a team, being in it "together" enables us to take risks and work harder.
Third? A safe community enables us to be vulnerable. It’s impossible to grow if we’re hiding who we really are from people. A genuine community empowers us to be our true selves...true community is full of people who are willing to celebrate the good, laugh at the silly, and challenge our blind spots.
If those reasons don’t convince you, let’s take a look at some scientific studies. According to the longest study on human happiness, having strong community was the key factor for people experiencing fulfillment in their life. It’s also proven that true community prevents depression and can prove to be a powerful force in breaking unhealthy addictions.
So what does it take to build true community? There’s a lot here, let’s talk about three key principles. The rest you’ll be able to read about in my book, Life to the Full (coming soon!).
Authenticity: Community just doesn’t work if people aren’t being genuine. A true community works because its members are honest about their dreams and aspirations, but also their feelings, their fears and their need for other people. If you feel like you have to put on a front around your friends, that’s probably not real community.
Frequency: Community is more than “let’s get coffee,” it’s rooted in the fact that we don’t just like each other; we need each other. We know our growth depends on regular and honest communication with each other. Planning regular outings, meals, and meet-ups is essential for a community to grow deep roots.
Empathy: Community is more than just talking about our day and enjoying similar interests. Community is about coming alongside each other in our journeys towards an intentional life. This is why empathy is crucial. If we can’t try to understand the feelings and experiences of the people around us, if we don’t assure each other that our feelings are valid.
At Rent Sons, we believe it’s essential that we resist social isolation and the pull of social media, that we plug in to the present moment, to the stories unfolding around us in the lives of people we love.
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