The Quest for Genuine Community

The Quest for Genuine Community


Friends, the insanely popular television show, will celebrate its 30th anniversary this coming September. Two-hundred-thirty-six episodes aired between 1994 and 2004, and the show amazingly remains a favorite of viewers. Each episode warms us with thirty minutes of escape and entertains us and promises us what we all are created to enjoy—close relationships.

The show has endured, in fact, because it makes viewers care about its characters who were fully developed. Viewers got to know the entire life history of each character. Even the actors on the show became friends and remain largely so to this day!
A vital key to genuine “spiritual” community
I do wonder why so many people are such good friends with Friends. And have you ever wished for the type of church community that you watch on sitcoms like Friends? If so, the reasons will lie deeper than the relational laughs and love portrayed by the six characters there.

There are indeed elements within the show that help us to build genuine relationships. Transparency comes to mind. Episodes show us a willingness to broach sensitive topics. Furthermore, the characters certainly shared their differences, but they developed a trust in one another that sustained their relationships. They were able to depend upon one another through crises. These qualities, by the way, are important for forming a genuine moral bond. However, in my mind, the show lacks one important element I believe is necessary for genuine lasting community: transcendence.

Michael W. Smith, the Christian recording artist, sang “Friends are friends forever if the Lord’s the Lord of them . . .” The words have truth in them because Jesus calls His disciples “friends” in John 15:14. The Lord communicates to His followers all that He had learned from the Father (15:15). This channel of connectivity represents a vital transcendent relationship with God in and through Jesus Christ.

God creates meaningful life and relationships (Genesis 1:27-28; 2:18, 22-24). This relationship with us means that we are not servants without knowledge of our master’s goal. Get it? God cares for us enough to share His will (cf. Genesis 1, “And God said”; Exodus 3:4, “God called to him”; Luke 3:33, “this is my beloved Son”; 9:35, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to Him!”). The unity demonstrated in the Trinity is to be evident in our relationships. Jesus makes community possible and trusts us to abide in this relationship. He is the pathway to meaningful connectivity.
The reality and the opportunity
Sadly, we read and hear much in current church life about the lack of strong community, and this situation should not be the case. There are suggestions to remedy the lack of fellowship. For example, there has been a recent call to retrieve the historical catechetical framework of “belonging, believing, then behaving” as a means to making disciples (Curtis Freeman). There is a similar case to be made for the same from a Free Church/Evangelical perspective of "believing, behaving, and belonging." Many churches in this tradition sense a deep bond of fellowship that comes from a mutual confession of Jesus Christ as Lord, believer’s baptism, and taking up the life of a disciple. The Acts account, for example, demonstrates the strength and witness of this type of Spirit-generated koinonia (Acts 2:42-44; 4:32-34). Unfortunately, the beauty of mutual love for one another and service together has currently hit a snag.
A current hunger for community outside of the church
Multiple generations of people in America are looking elsewhere for connectivity. A surprising twenty percent of Americans claim to be “nones,” meaning they have no desire for institutional/church involvement. They have come to believe that there is a disconnect between the organized church and their goal for connectivity. Diversity exists among this number, but many approach church like they would shopping for a coat or washing machine. Others do not like organized religion (many have had negative encounters). Still others say they are spiritual, but not religious. People have turned away from Christianity in growing numbers for these and other reasons.
Some churches are missing the target
It is not unusual to read of churches where the initial goal is attraction. They attract attendees with slogans like, “No perfect people allowed.” Those who attend are not expected to behave a certain way before they enjoy community. I understand the moral message; however, this rubric is “Friend-sy,” to coin a word, because while people are welcomed as they are, which is a part of loving the sinner, they represent a large number of lives that lack the transformational characteristics evident in genuine Christian communities. Here is my challenge.


Abiding in Christ is the fruit of obedience to Jesus’ commands, and it is what shapes our relationship with Him. By keeping His commands, we will abide in His love. This example of obedience and love is based on the relationship Jesus has with His Heavenly Father. The close relationship Jesus has with us provides the source of the “community” we have with one another.

At the risk of oversimplification, we have no lasting and fulfilling horizontal relationships without the vertical relationship God has reached into our world to make possible (cf. John 1:14). I believe that the goal should be transformation that results from a spiritual union with Christ that is encouraged in an atmosphere of trust and transparency. Jesus modeled this type of community connectivity, and we do well to practice it.

Prayerfully yours,
Larry C. Ashlock