Winter is upon us in Alaska already, but this year I’m counting my blessings, even on the chilly mornings, because I’m for sure warmer in Anchorage than I was last year, three hundred and fifty miles north in the sub-arctic of Fairbanks, Alaska.
As I’ve been thinking about winter’s typical early arrival in Fairbanks from down here in the “tropics,” as Fairbanksians call Anchorage, I’ve found myself also reflecting on the challenges we faced there in the realm of community last winter.
During our last year in Fairbanks we lived on the military base, which was a blessing in many ways. But what did make it so challenging (something to keep in mind if you’re not military but have military friends) is that, when you live on base, there is an inherent barrier to welcoming people into your home and life.
While it’s not too difficult right now to get a non-military person on base, it’s still not super convenient. During that year when I was newly postpartum, my friends wanted to visit, bring meals, and help, but it felt like more of an ordeal to meet them at the gate or get a visitor pass, than it did to just make dinner myself. And forget opening my home for any kind of small group, unless the people were exclusively military.
That year challenged some of my favorite methods of doing community in some really hard ways, so when we moved, one of the things I was most looking forward to was being able to freely say to anyone, come on over. And as we set up our living room, I found myself counting spots people could sit, finally free again to welcome people into my home.
We all have an opportunity to not just consume community, but to also make space for others to experience it like we have. Now, I know that eagerly counting bum spots in your living room, hosting, and leading groups isn’t everyone’s vibe. That’s okay! BUT, that doesn’t mean you can’t make space for others to experience community. The call is the same for us all, but how we are uniquely equipped by the Spirit to make space for others to experience community can be so beautifully diverse.
Let’s look at five ways to make space for others to experience community, no matter whether you’re a super-hostess or have nightmares about the door bell ringing.
1. Serve at church.
This is such a simple starting place! Do you realize that, when you serve at church, you are making space for community to happen for others? You are! When you hold a baby, you’re letting her mom connect with a friend upstairs. When you welcome someone with a smile at the door, you’re giving a simple reminder that they belong there. When you serve, anywhere, you are helping to make the community of the church able to gather and glorify God. What an incredible place to start your journey toward making space for others to experience community! If this whole idea I’m talking about feels so out of your league, start here and see how God grows your heart for community through it.
2. Set a standing “date” with a friend.
Community often gets assumed to mean “groups,” but the reality is that community is just two or more people sharing life together! If you’re better with one-on-one relationships, lean into that gifting! Instead of eating lunch in your separate cubicles, walk with a coworker at your lunch break around the block, building, or to a coffee shop. For that friend who is really wrapped up in a demanding job right now, but you know is craving community, make plans to grab dinner together just once a month to catch up and pray for each other. Or, instead of heading to the park just you and the kids, invite your friend. And when she can’t come this time, invite her again next time anyway. The Lord made some of us to thrive in creating community for groups of people and some of us for doing the same, but with just one other person. Both are equally valuable calls to community and essential to the Kingdom.
3. Step into leadership within an existing group.
If you’re like, I would love to make space for community to happen, but leading a group sounds scary, I want to remind you that you do not have to do this alone! The best group leaders know that calling up others to use their gifts in a group is essential to healthy group life. If you want to help make space for your existing group to continue to be in community, ask your leader how you can help serve the group! They will likely leap at this offer. Think about what your unique skills and gifts are, and ask God how you might be able to use them to serve your community. Maybe you take coordinating meals off your life group leader’s plate, because while leading a discussion sounds super scary, organizing a dinner schedule feels simple to you. Maybe you offer to initiate a mid-week check-in via text for your Bible study each week, just so the leader can fully focus on study prep. By serving in these kind of ways, you are helping make community happen just as much as the standard “leader” roles are!
4. Lead a Bible study or small group outside of your home.
I love having people over, but I fully recognize that’s not reality for all. If having people to your house feels like the hang-up when it comes to making space for community to happen, consider what other options might be available to you! Often churches will offer space for groups to meet, or consider a favorite coffee shop, indoor or outdoor play spaces, or even virtual gathering options. Even better, take the hint from #3 and find a co-leader who is willing to host, but doesn’t want to lead. Lean on each other’s giftings and make space for community together. In the next idea I’ll talk about the power of opening your home, but if that’s not where you’re at, yet you’re feeling God’s call on your heart to make space for community, don’t let the house thing be an excuse.
5. Welcome people into your home.
In my experience, there is something so powerful about opening your home to others. I grew up with just my mom, and we were often “adopted” into other families who had full and busy homes. I loved the feeling of a full house as a kid, and I still do today.
The best part of making space in this way is that you are using resources that God has already given you. The flour in my pantry can turn into an easy skillet bread, and my $12 coffee pot makes it just as good as the local spot (close at least!). Bring your crazy kids – mine’s crazy too. Leave the mascara off and messy bun in – my hair’s up too. Don’t stress about the spills – I’ve made a few too. When you make space for others to experience community from the messy epicenter of your life – the home – you are inviting them into your most authentic space, and I think that can make welcoming them into your messy, authentic heart feel just a bit more natural.
I hope, when I welcome people into my home, that their experience of community is accompanied by the feeling of being at home. And really, this is the heart behind all five of these ways we can make room for community to happen for others. When you help someone find a seat at church, you are reminding them there is space for them, just like when you tell someone to take the comfiest armchair in your living room. When you make a standing monthly date with a busy friend, that space you guys create together can feel, in a small way, like the comfort of home, a landing spot of sorts. And when you start to look for ways to serve in your existing groups, you’re taking a step away from simple attendance and toward the way a family pitches in and shows up for each other. The heart of community is creating a feeling of home, no matter what unique way it looks like for you.
Because yeah, home is a place. But mostly, I think it’s a feeling.
And that feeling is rooted in the community of our God. We’re made in the image of a God who lives in perfect community – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and yet, he wanted to make room for more community – us! His heart had enough space, and when our hearts are being renewed in his image day after day as we press into Jesus, our hearts can grow in their capacity for this too. Making space for community in our lives always starts with making more room for Jesus in our hearts. When we make our communion with Jesus of first importance, our source, our well from which we do community, I think we’ll see the overflow eventually flood these other spaces in our lives too.
Love ya, friend.
Your Sister, Kimber
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