Authentic community is a function of relationships. A room full of strangers doesn’t cut it.
It’s not enough for the leader to know everyone in the room (though this might feel like community to the leader).
It’s not enough for everyone in the room to know the leader (though this might feel like community to the individuals sitting in the seats).
You’re beginning to have a community when a large portion of the room knows a large portion of the room.
Realistically, in many churches, you have a gathering of virtual strangers wherein the leader doesn’t know most of the people. The people may feel like they know the leader–especially if that leader is deeply sharing their life through the sermon week after week. But those are only half-relationships.
What does it take for that congregation to deeply experience community and all the mutual benefits that go with it? Relationships. Lots of them. Not only between the pastors and the people, but between the people.
This takes time. Lots of it. It also takes opportunity. It takes intentionality. If a large portion of the community is committed to never resting until they know a large portion of the group you will achieve a much higher degree of community than if folks rest content after they know one or two other people.
If a church doesn’t feel like a family–it may be because there’s a high level of anonymity. Leaders need to foster a culture of connection. Constant introductions. Systems that make it easier to remember names and faces. Gentle prodding toward less passive involvement.
If you’re new to a church–don’t wait on the leaders. Anyone can reach out to anyone. Make yourself known. Work to know names. Establish consistent patterns that people will recognize and appreciate. Work the room until you know it and are known by it.