We all want to belong, and our world offers many opportunities for belonging. We take our infant children to playgroups so they can be around other children and learn how to play well. As our children get older, we may register them for scouting, recreational athletics, dancing, music. Then, in junior and senior high, we encourage our children to try out for band, athletics, clubs. Even as adults, we look for groups where we may fit in and where there are people that like the same things that we like. After all, that is where we are most comfortable: where people understand us and where it’s not hard work to relate with others.
There will always be people that we like to be with more than others. It could be because we share the same ethnicity and culture; it could be because we like the same music; it could be because we are the same age; it could be because we are in the same stage of life; it could be that we are in the same line of work or have the same hobby. There may be a thousand different reasons why we like “these” people and find it easy to hang out with “them.” It just seems so natural.
So strong is the power of commonality in drawing people together that churches have adopted this same strategy as a way to reach the unchurched. The technical name for this principle is called the homogeneous unit principle: like attracts like. But should a church be marked by what attracts people naturally? Or should a church be marked by what attracts people supernaturally? In their book, The Compelling Community: Where God’s Power Makes a Church Attractive, Mark Dever and Jamie Dunlop argue that there is a difference between community that is built around what is merely natural and community that grows out of what is supernatural. To be sure, we will always be attracted to people like ourselves, and in many ways there is nothing wrong with having friends that like the same or similar things as we do. But what do you think is a more powerful witness to the gospel—a bunch of college students getting together just because they like each other and have a lot in common or college students hanging out with senior adults because the gospel has drawn them together. I think you know the answer?
The gospel brings together both Jew and Gentile (Ephesians 2) into one new man—the body of Christ. Together, this unified diversity displays the power of the gospel and the wisdom of God (Ephesians 3:9-10). As a result, Christians are to fight to maintain the “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-6). We do not create or build gospel unity; the Spirit of God creates gospel unity. It is our duty to maintain this Spirit-given unity as we share a life in common (Ephesians 4:3); that is true commUNITY.
So, how may we begin cultivating supernatural community, Christ-rooted, Spirit-given, gospel-shaped community? Obviously, we need to work at getting to know the Christian brothers and sisters in our church, especially those who are different than we are: different age, stage, ethnicity, etc.?
If you don’t know where to begin, let me encourage you. First of all, greet people before and after the Sunday gatherings. Get to know people you presently do not know. If your church has a membership directory, begin studying it, and use it to pray for the members of the church. As you get to know new brothers and sisters in Christ, ask each other questions about your life and history. Tell one another your stories of coming to faith in Christ. Then be hospitable. Go out for coffee or a meal together. Invite people over to your home. I pray that the Lord would allow our SBTC churches to be attractive witnesses to unbelievers because when they’re around us, they observe a genuine community that is not of this world, a gospel-shaped community that displays the gospel to all those around us who presently do not know Christ.
—Juan R. Sanchez is senior pastor of High Pointe Baptist Church in Austin.