Home > Church, Discipleship, Leadership > Community: Why People Often Belong Before They Believe

Community: Why People Often Belong Before They Believe

Living Hope, the church I pastor, is filled with young, post-moderns who are genuinely interested in spiritual things, but are incredibly skeptical of the church.  The Christian message of a benevolent and compassionate God is attractive to them, but it seems to contradict their experience with the church.  How can a message that is really good news come from an institution that can be so hypocritical?

We have another crop of people who have been so disenfranchised by their church upbringing that their faith is stunted by resentment and fear.  They know with certainty that there’s more to the God of the Bible than the cheesy, isolationist Christianity they grew up with, but they can’t seem to find an authentic expression of the church described in the New Testament.  Where are the people who actually live what they believe?

Unexpected Grace

About two years ago, a few church members and I met an athlete from the local university at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting on campus.  This athlete was from another part of the country.  She grew up with a distorted view of God because her parents both practiced different religions.  Her childhood was less than stellar, her family dynamics were a mess and her only experience with Christianity came through polarized media exposure.

This young lady thought that Christians were nothing more than upper-class, conservative, homophobes who looked down on everyone and always voted republican. She had little interest in Christianity, but she was fascinated by Christ. To her, his people were a bunch of uptight Bible busybodies, but he was a mystery.

On a whim, she went with a group of friends to the FCA meeting I mentioned.  She was hesitant, not knowing what to expect and fearing criticism from these Christians.  To her surprise, everyone was fairly welcoming.  They greeted her, genuinely tried to get to know her and enthusiastically thanked her for coming.

Refreshed by the unexpected hospitality, she stayed after the meeting to ask a few questions.  I shared the gospel with her and she left intrigued but personally offended.  The message of God’s grace had both angered and astounded her, but the community had whole-heartedly embraced her.  She grew hungry for more.

belong

Belonging and Believing

A few weeks later she started asking about more opportunities to get to know the Lord. We invited her to Community Group and she loved it.

She was still offended by the message, but she was attracted to the community.  This was the first time she had been among a group of people she didn’t have to prove herself to in order to belong, even if she didn’t yet believe.  It was the first time she felt like she could be herself, confess her doubts and hesitations, share her past and be honest about her non-Christian worldview without being criticized or outcast. It was the first time someone “religious” said they could identify with her doubts, fears, hesitations and disagreements.

Over time, this gal found herself believing that Jesus is Lord and Savior. One day during discussion she confessed to the group that she became a Christian.  She wasn’t sure how, she didn’t know why and she couldn’t say when, but she knew without a doubt that she belonged to Jesus, his sacrifice meant her forgiveness and she was ready to live the rest of her life for God.

Jesus With Skin On

When asked about her journey, she often attributes her belief in Christ to the fact that she could first belong to Christian community without being forced to believe the Christian message. For her, the members of the group embodied the message they were teaching.

There wasn’t anything cheesy or isolated about these people.  They actually lived what they believed.  It was belonging to the community that changed her heart, not a change of heart that made it possible to belong.

She came to faith in Jesus, in part, because she could see Jesus reflected in the lives of the people she spent time with.  Their example made the truth of Jesus Christ come alive for her.  Why? because she got to experience Jesus first hand and not just hear about him from a distance. 

If we want our churches to be effective at reaching those far from God, we must make them places where those who don’t yet know him feel like they can belong.  This doesn’t mean you affirm all of their beliefs, but it does mean that you affirm their dignity as a person.  As they belong, they hear, see and experience the truth of Jesus Christ and often find themselves believing without even realizing it.  When believers and unbelievers do life together in authentic community the church grows just like it did in Acts. (Acts 2:42-47)

What effect has authentic Christian community had on the unbelievers in your circle of friends?  You can leave a comment below.

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  1. April 10, 2014 at 10:26 AM

    A close, intimate, surrendered walk with Jesus makes us humble and real. This makes us attractive to those who are searching. Being like Christ. Thanks for sharing.

  2. April 28, 2014 at 12:59 PM

    If you want to increase your know-how simply keep visiting
    this site and be updated with the newest gossip posted here.

  3. April 30, 2014 at 9:10 AM

    Yes! We must, as Paul admonished us, “be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Ephesians 5:1 (NIV) – it is all about LOVE, not judgement. As you so wonderfully put, be Jesus. He didn’t turn His back on on people. I

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