- Building a Community



How to Build a LIFEdevelopment Community - by David Cox



The goal here is to connect your pre-Christian friends with some of your Adventist friends. The more Christian friends they come to know; the more they are able to witness the loving relationships in action between Christ's followers; the greater the sense of "belonging" to that friendship network - the more convinced your friends may become that Christianity has something that they need and want.

Four categories of such relationship-building activity are suggested in the diagram below, although others could be added.

Various Ways of Building Relationships

1. The seeker group

Seeker groups are an informal gathering of people who are brought together on the basis of a shared interest, set up by a small group (an Ldi group), an Ldi centre, or a local church, primarily for the benefit of people who are in the early stages of their journey to faith. Seeker groups usually, though not always:

  • Are small in number, consisting of 2-15 people

  • Consist of more pre-Christians than Christians

  • Meet in homes, or a suitably small hall which provides a neutral, non-threatening environment in which seekers can raise questions, express opinions and explore issues

  • Meet weekly, fortnightly, monthly, or occasionally by arrangement

  • Are temporary - they should last for a few weeks (or months at the most), long enough to serve the purpose for which they were created

Seeker group activities are as varied as the interests of seekers themselves. They could include the following:

  • Discussion groups, workshops and seminars on parenting, marriage, relationships, health, stress, self-esteem, work-place ethics, world religions, inter-racial harmony, educational issues, retirement, music, flower-arranging, spirituality, etc.

  • Sport and leisure activities.

  • Short courses which offer an introduction to Christian faith, such as the Alpha Course. Such overtly Christian events, if advertised publicly, can often shorten the seeker's journey to faith. Many non-Christians attend such courses without the personal invitation of a friend, by-passing the "Stage One: Making Friends" period.

A wide range of materials for use in seeker group workshops, seminars and discussion/study activities are available in the form of videos, booklets, CD-Roms, and complete seminar packages. For details see the Resources section of this manual.

2. magazine magazine is a brand-new, bi-monthly Adventist publication designed to relate with the thinking and interests of post-modern people. Probably the only magazine of its kind, it deals directly with life issues, values, questions and concerns from a Christian perspective, yet in an up-to-date way intended to engage the interest of secular, pre-Christian people. if ever there was a cutting-edge, Adventist magazine, relevant to today's culture, this is it! And it is available, at very low cost, for you to share with the friends you would like to help in the spiritual journey.

If you have already seen, you will have noticed a marked absence of "doctrinal" articles - nothing at all, in fact, on the Mark of the Beast, the Investigative Judgement, or the origin of Sunday sacredness. But don't use that as an excuse for not using it. It's that way intentionally. magazine has been created to fill a void: the need for a tool in printed form which can help arouse interest, provoke inquiry, and provide a basis for discussion between Adventists and their pre-Christian friends at the early stages of the friendship-building process. Most people who have no church background, Bible knowledge, or understanding of the Christian faith are not ready for the more meaty topics which earlier generations of seekers thrived on. They need something that is relevant to where they are in their lives now. So, even if you don't find to be as "Adventist" as other "message" magazines, share it as widely as possible for the purpose for which it was created - to serve the needs of your post-modern, pre-Christian friends.

Here are three suggestions as to how you might use magazine (you will no doubt find others):

  • Get permission to distribute five, ten or more of each issue in local doctors' and dentists' waiting rooms. Don't worry about the results: each magazine will contain details of how readers can obtain the magazine on a regular basis. It will also advertise other elements of the project, plus other resources which can aid seekers in their quest for meaning in life.

  • Give each issue of magazine to relatives, neighbours, and friends at work, university or college, and regularly ask for their opinion of specific articles and features. Use this feedback as a basis for non-judgemental discussion, and as a basis to learn about your friends' particular interests. Later, you can use these discussions as a reason to invite them to workshops and other events relevant to their interests.

  • If you belong to a small group, or are a LIFEdevelopment Centre team member, make the magazine a group project. Consider the possibility of sponsoring a magazine rack at a railway station or supermarket, thus making it available free to members of the public.

3. Community service

Serving the community in the neighbourhood of your church or small group is another way of connecting your pre-Christian friends with some of your Adventist friends, especially if your Adventist friends are also members of your small group or LIFEdevelopment Centre team.

The aim here is simply to get Adventists and pre-Adventists working together for the good of the wider community. Those who are already doing this are finding that this is not as difficult as they expected, because post-modern people especially have a strong social conscience. Many want to make the world a better place just as much as Christians do, and their pluralistic view of life makes it easy for them to work alongside people who have different religious beliefs but share a common concern for the good of those less fortunate than themselves.

Everyone benefits when Adventists work alongside others not of their faith in serving the wider community, because:

  • prejudices rooted in ignorance break down when people associate closely to serve a higher good together. Adventists come to understand better the real world in which their post-modern, pre-Christian friends live, learn to speak their language, and understand their spiritual needs; and pre-Adventists come to understand us better: that we have a heart, that we are interested in the larger world, and that we're not just out to make converts.

  • the principle of "belonging before believing" means that people can and do come to faith in Jesus simply by being closely associated with a fellowship of Christ's followers.

  • people who are on the receiving end of loving ministry obviously benefit from the services which we provide.

In the past we have tended to feel that we should have an Adventist version of everything. If there was a meals-on-wheels service in town, we had to start our own; if there was a field and forest walking club, we had to start one for Adventists.

How much better it would be in so many instances if we just got involved with what was already up and running well, instead of creating Adventist duplicates and giving people the impression that we're some kind of superior or exclusive race! That way we show acceptance of others, that we really do want to be friends and work together (not just on our terms), and that we're willing to learn and receive from their expertise and experience. Remember, we're not trying to prove anything: we're just trying to help, and we want to be friends.

Of course, if there is an un-met need in the community and your church or small group senses God's call and equipping to begin to meet that need, go ahead and start a new ministry, and wherever possible, invite your pre-Adventist friends to work with you, and make them part of the team. Involving them in every part of the process: visioning, planning, talking through the values which will keep the ministry's activities on track, and leading and managing where appropriate, can only make them feel needed, valued and appreciated, and more open to the Gospel.

4. Social events

Positive relationships often develop quickly among people who simply take time to enjoy each other's company, to relax and to have fun together. In fact it's now an established fact that there is a link between the amount of laughter there is when members of a church are together, and the growth of the church. We are, after all, social beings, so our development includes the development of our social nature - our ability to enjoy simply being together. How crucial it is, then, that we plan sufficient social activities, that will enable our new, pre-Christian friends to interact and build social relationships with our Adventist friends.

The options available are unlimited! The important thing is that social activities are planned with the following principles in mind:

  1. They provide opportunity for genuine social interaction, in which people can talk to each other, and get to know each other. Watching a film or video together is not really a social activity, but talking about it afterwards, or sharing a meal together beforehand, is.

  2. They are inclusive. The church is a cross-cultural, cross-generational community, therefore social activities designed to introduce pre-Christian friends to that community should to some extent aim to create connections between people who are different to each other. Social activities which appeal to only a small minority may be suitable at the initial "making friends" stage, or within the context of the seeker group referred to above, but in the wider context are best when they enable real social mixing to take place.

  3. Variety. Different people prefer different forms of social activity. Physical activities such as walking, cycling, "physical" games, etc., are not everybody's idea of a good time, just as eating out, going to an art gallery or concert, or "intellectual" games are not first choice for others.

  4. They happen "outside the box" as well as inside. Social activities don't all have to happen in the safety of the church hall. Just as community services can create the greatest amount of goodwill when Adventists support others in what they are doing, so social activities can have maximum social impact when they take place within a environment that is not "Adventist."

Therefore, if a new found friend loves cars and belongs to a car-rally club, and it just so happens that you and three others from your small group love cars too, then do the obvious thing and join his club. Your church, with fifty-five members and already more departments and ministries than it knows how to handle, can do without starting another one and putting the S.D.A. car-rally club chairman (you) on the board. You're already on it anyway, three times over.

Social activities can take so many forms that there's no point in listing suggestions here. Apart from anything else, part of the fun is planning together with friends what to do together. So what you do socially is up to you. Just enjoy it!






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2002 British Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists