The desire to build community is inherently hard-wired into who we are. As I’ve said before, God never intended us to create success on an island. Life becomes shallow without people intricately involved with our process. Building community sounds great in concept, but you can probably identify people that have lived somewhere for years and haven’t found their people yet.
Full disclosure: Several of the points I breakdown in this post comes from observing how my wife does relationships. She has a unique ability to manage all the intricate details that it takes to become a trusted person. She has a gift for building community, unlike anyone I know… not just because she’s my wife. It’s what is commonly said about her from people that know her well.
With that said, let me start by clarifying something. When I refer to “community” I’m talking about a group of people that you feel connected to, encouraged by and challenges you. Ultimately, it’s people you can point to that are in the trenches of your day to day life. They’re the people you can call on if you need help. A simple starting point would be to think of the people that would show up to help you move.
This list is only a starting point if you find yourself longing for a community but feel stuck when it comes to the practical steps it takes to build it. You may be surprised how quickly you start to see a change if you take one or two principles and intentionally apply them to your relationships.
1. Be Intentional and Invest
For a moment treat building your community like you would a business. Now I’m not saying that you should treat your relationships as you would run a business. What I’m referring to is the initial investment it takes to build a successful business by investing your emotions, time, and money. Anyone who has tasted entrepreneurship knows what I’m talking about.
The same principle applies to building your community if you are new to an area or need a place to start, when it comes to building your community, it will take an investment to jumpstart momentum in those relationships. You’re not buying your friends, but you are choosing to be intentional with the group of people that you want to become close with. It’s ignorant at best to think that people will just open their arms without you leaning in at first.
2. Let it Cost You Something
The cost ties into your initial investment. If you want relationships that have depth, it will often be inconvenient at first. It may mean you go out of your way to get someone coffee or being available to help them pick up a couch. The point is that you are purposefully giving of yourself. Believe it or not, time is the most expensive asset you possess when it comes to relationships. You can always make more money or buy new things…but you will never get your time back. People will take notice when you are willing to use that time for their sake.
3. Get Uncomfortable
This can obviously be applied to any area of life… Do you want to grow? Then be willing to get uncomfortable. Nobody likes this point but I don’t know of a way around it. It’s never comfortable to go to a party when you only know one or two people, but the people that have an active community have been willing to push through the discomfort and meet new people.
Do you feel alone or misunderstood? You can sulk in that reality or get out of your comfort zone and try to find people that you can relate with. This only comes with a willingness to be uncomfortable for a short period of time.
4. Remember Names
This sounds simple, but it’s actually an important point on this list. This is an area that my wife is far better than I am. She can meet 15 new people and remember all their names. I’m still working on the ability to do that. 😉 How does this tie into building your community? A person’s name is the most important word in their life. It’s the one consistent thing that is being repeated over them since the day they were born. When you remember someone’s name, you instantly stand out in their mind as someone who “knows” them.
If you want to learn more about this point, my father-in-law wrote an excellent post on the value of remembering names and a few tips that help.
5. Schedule Times Together
I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “if it doesn’t get in the calendar then it won’t happen.” This is never more true than when you’re first building community. At first, it’s up to you to make sure you’re connecting. The best way to do this is by scheduling times with the people you want to get to know. You may have to re-schedule several times, but at least you’re on their radar. This is often what it takes until your relationship becomes more organic in nature.
6. Group Gatherings
There are two sides of this point. The first is your willingness to go to group gatherings, which ties into several points above. The second comes with choosing to initiate group gatherings. Now you may say “I’m an introvert. I don’t do group gatherings.” A valid point, but that’s where getting uncomfortable is necessary for building the relationships you long to have. You don’t have to go to group gatherings regularly… but you may need to at first until you find a few people that you gravitate to.
Sub point: One-on-One Time
The natural progression of relationships leads to connecting one-on-one. Maybe it’s grabbing a coffee, dinner, or going for a walk. What you do is less important than how you utilize that time for relationship building. This leads to my next point.
7. Ask Good Questions
Learning how to ask good questions is like exercising a muscle. The more you do it, the better you’ll become. The goal is to ask more questions than you answer. If you ask genuine questions, then shut-up…you’ll be surprised how much you can learn from people. Most people are wanting to share their desires, passions, etc. They just need someone to listen. Here’re a few great questions you can use to get to know someone at first.
- What do you do for a living?
- What makes you come alive?
- What do you do for fun?
- What would you do if you couldn’t fail?
- Where are you from?
- Did you grow up there?
- What are some of your favorite things to do in “City X.” (Your city, the city they grew up in, or one you’re visiting)
- What are some of your favorite books?
- How did they impact you?
- How long have you been married?
- Where did you meet your spouse?
- How did you guys fall in love?
- What is your favorite hobby?
- How long have you done it?
- Why do you enjoy it so much?
- What advice would you give your younger self? (20 yr old, etc) (This would change depending on how old they are)
8. Notice the Little Things
Along with remembering names, this point will make you stand out from the crowd. This is another area that my wife gets full credit. It goes a layer deeper than just noticing the idiosyncrasies people have. If you apply intentionality to your community, then you’ll begin to remember the small things…like what someone’s favorite food is, their birthday, what provokes them, or the answers to the list of questions above. You will naturally create strong relationships when you remember the little things the next time you see them.
9. Risk Being Vulnerable
This is by far the hardest point to implement, but it’s also the key to every point above. This is also the point that comes with time. Obviously, you don’t want to break down crying while in the fetal position if you’re at a party with strangers. That said, you will slowly build trust with people you meet. If you want to build a community of people that intimately know you, then you have to be willing to risk vulnerability. It requires you to be proactive with letting people into the parts of your heart that you want to hide. You may need to have a healthy confrontation because they trigger a painful memory or emotion. That’s a good indicator that you have successfully built community. It means you’ve let them into a place of your heart that allows them to impact you… which also means they are beginning to know the real you.
10. Make it Fun
I thought it would only be fair to add this after talking about the intensity of vulnerability. Building community doesn’t have to be high stakes. You can make it fun. Look for people that have interests in common with you. When you schedule your time together (whether in a group or one-on-one), make it around something you both enjoy. Maybe even spice things up and go on an unplanned adventure with someone you know well enough to explore with, but want to get to know at a deeper level.
You have to keep in mind that building community is usually a slow process. Time is one of the biggest factors in when building community. Sure there’s exceptions to the rule… but the majority of people build trust and intimacy over time. There’s no shortcut to this reality. I remember it took almost two years for my wife and I to really feel like we had found and established our community. Now that we have “our people” we wouldn’t trade it for anything, but we wouldn’t have gotten to the point we are at without applying all of the principles above.
Try to identify one or two areas that you can intentionally incorporate into your relationships. When you do, commit to doing them for a minimum of 30 days. Say to yourself “This month I’m only going to work on “X”. Making a commitment will help you actually integrate it into the DNA of who you are as a person.