The Power of Community

By Dan Vis
June 29, 2020
Comments: 14

In these increasingly polarized and divided times, it's more important than ever to understand the power of community for ministry. In this week's memo, I share a number of key reasons community is important. It's also a key concept behind our all new Launch Accelerator program...

Several friends sitting side by side on a wall.

In my many years of ministry, I've settled on a handful of essential concepts. That internalizing Scripture truly changes lives. That God operates on the plan of multiplication, not addition. And that revival is our greatest and most urgent need. And if I were to take the time to think about it, I'm sure I could come up with a few more.

But one of the principles that stands out in my mind right now is the power of community. As I think back over the various lessons I've learned in some 30 years of front line service, I keep coming back to this simple observation: God created us to live and learn in community. In fact, it twists like a vein of gold through most of the key things we emphasize here at FAST.

Models of Community

My experience with the power of community goes right back to the beginning of my Christian journey. I was just barely into my twenties, and a brand new Christian with little religious background, when I was invited to join a discipleship group at the university I attended. There, I met week by week with a small team of fellow college students to study prayer, witnessing, the devotional life, memorization and much more. And in that environment of rich encouragement and support I found myself growing rapidly. The community I experienced was simply, life-changing.

Later, as I began to tiptoe out into the work of discipling others, I used that same approach--forming small group with high levels of exhortation and accountability. I did everything I could to reproduce that same kind of intense fellowship in the groups I led, and soon confirmed it had the same effect on others that it had on me. It quickly became a core part of our disciple-making philosophy.

If Jesus trained His men in teams (Mark 3:14And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach,), it simply made sense to follow His example. And everywhere I've seen real community created in a discipleship team, centered on the study and application of God's Word, lives were changed.

Some time later, God gave me the amazing privilege of traveling to Australia to visit the Gateway church in the city of Melbourne, where I ended up becoming good friends with Johnny Wong. They invited me out several times to teach on discipleship, but I'm sure God sent me there to learn. It was the first church I had ever visited where the average member was consistently winning souls. In fact, most of the young people I had talked with, were just two or three years into their faith, before they started seeing their first friends come to Christ. I began tracking what was happening in that church and saw it grow rapidly and multiply to multiple congregations across the city in a matter of just a few short years. It was inspiring.

The secret to their evangelistic success was again community. They made a conscientious decision to organize every facet of their church life around the concept of Care Groups. These were small home-based fellowships that focused on building genuine relationships with seekers. On creating true community. And it had a nearly irresistible drawing power on those who participated in these groups. It wasn't the only key to their success, but there was no question--it was the engine that made everything else work.

The more I studied the New Testament church, the more convinced I became small home-based fellowships were the backbone of its success too (Acts 5:42And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.). I concluded what worked for them would work for us today--and I have been an enthusiastic advocate of small groups ever since.

Whether we are talking about discipleship or evangelism, the key to truly changing lives is community.

Community is Everywhere

But if you stop to think about it, community is everywhere. God designed us to operate within families, which is where we first learn to live in community. Then God established the Christian church, on that same model, paralleling our relationship with Christ to the intimacy of the husband-wife relationship. And our ties to one another to that of brother and sister in Christ.

The whole concept of spiritual gifts revolves around this idea of intentional interdependence--that God created each of us with a unique but limited set of gifts, requiring us to work together to achieve success. It is this coming together of different members that lies at the heart of what the Bible teaches about the body of Christ. We need one another.

The church itself is a community. A fellowship of believers. The Old Testament refers to the "assembly" of the saints scores of times, and to the "congregation" of Israel scores more. Clearly there is an implied sense of community in these many verses. The New Testament is similar, full of "one another" verses describing the strong, vibrant bonds that should connect us to each other. And we're told to not forsake the "assembling of ourselves together" (Hebrews 10:24-2524 And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: 25 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.) that makes those bonds possible.

When churches are loving and united, they grow. When there is coldness and contention, churches shrivel and die.

And it makes sense. Jesus made it crystal clear, the key identifying mark of true believers, would be the love they had for one another (John 13:34-3534 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. 35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.). And His great apostolic prayer for those who followed Him, was that they might be one, in the same way He was one with the Father (John 17:21That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.). Clearly love and unity are important.

In a word, we need community.

The FAST Community

It wasn't really until I applied this concept to our online school, that our FAST ministry began to grow. I had been sharing our FAST lessons for years, with a modest amount of success. But I never saw the impact I hoped.

Eventually, I turned to a more careful study of Christ's method of teaching and realized how much it centered upon relationships: mingling with men, showing sympathy, ministering to their needs, winning their confidence. Essentially, it was an interactive process, intentionally aimed at building a sense of community.

I was also actively doing research on online education, only to discover that the most effective educational programs tended to incorporate a strong social component. Humans, it seems, learn best when they interact with the content they are learning in the context of dialoguing and interacting with fellow students. The data was pretty clear: humans learn best in community.

Eventually, I began to formulate what we now call our unleashed ministry model, and applied those principles to our own online school--making the learning experience far more engaging, and interactive. And a thriving community quickly gathered. And now today, that's a common refrain in the comments I read: that our community is the very best part of FAST.

Now we're taking the things we've learned and trying to package it up for pastors, ministries, and churches, who want to build their own online ministries. To build not just a website, but a real community. In fact, this afternoon, I'll be sharing our very first webinar ever on this exact topic: how to build an online ministry that is engaging and interactive. Our desire is to see many other ministries tap into that same power of community. To help them begin building their own expanding circle of influence, reaching hundreds and even thousands of people, we would never reach ourselves through FAST.

It's exciting, because I know community works...

In fact, that's probably why the devil is working so hard right now to create disunity and contention. And at a time we need it more than ever before! Whether it's through polarizing rhetoric and open hostility, or social distancing and isolation, it seems there is an all out attack against community. And unfortunately, some Christians seem quite content to help advance the enemy's plans!

I encourage you, to actively seek out and cultivate and affirm true community. In your home, your church, and in society at large. Make building community a fundamental principle of your life work.

Community changes lives. It's true. Whether in a discipleship team, an evangelistic small group, or an online school.


What about you? Have you had experiences of genuine Christian community? Or perhaps experiences of isolation and loneliness? How did these impact your Christian life? How important are relationships in reaching people? Share a thought or two below...

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Posted by Dan Vis on 07/03/20  
We love having you here. :)
Posted by Nan Rice on 07/02/20  
You are so welcome Dan. I love being part of the FAST family.   
Posted by Dan Vis on 07/02/20  
Thank you Nan for your kind words! We're very happy to have you here as part of our FAST family. And thanks for sharing with others in your church as God gives you opportunity. Much appreciated! :)
Posted by Nan Rice on 07/02/20  
I have never experienced this type of Christian community. It sounds like what we should be all about. In my early years, I probably would not have looked for this, but as the years have gone by I feel and see the need for it more and more. I do feel isolated and a bit lonely in my Christian walk, and I thank God that he is always near. However, Fast has made a difference in my understanding and my outlook. I am trying not to be pushy or forceful but I do think my group could use FAST training. I will continue to pray and share with my church family how good Fast Training and the community within Fast is. God can reach hearts and minds better than I can, and as our new Quarterly is teaching us, we need to learn to work in cooperation with God to reach souls who are waiting for a message of hope.   
Posted by Dan Vis on 07/02/20  
Yes, good observation John. The enemy can definitely use our need for connection--from mild peer pressure, all the way down to the worst of violent and criminal gangs.

As for churches, my experience is the ones that are most dysfunctional have the least community, and vice versa. It's only part of the solution (there needs to be solid discipleship, a strong biblical foundation, and active ministry), but as an agency of change, strong community is pretty powerful.

That certainly seems to be suggested in the brief description of the church at Pentecost. It was only when they had come into one accord that revival could break out. This probably needs to be a part of our plans to pursue revival too, to incorporate plans for cultivating a strong sense of community.

Good post!
Posted by John Gilmore on 07/02/20  
Dan, I appreciate your observation that community is all around us. I see it is sometimes for good and sometimes for bad. As we have been blessed with experiences in wonderfully vibrant spiritual communities, we also at least know of dysfunctional church communities with members who spiritually flounder. I think also of other socially important groups, like social media, or like the regulars at bars or gyms or other places of amusement, communities with at best mixed spiritual influence. If we don't have strong social support in a well functioning church, how much more pull will the world's groups have on us?

Yes, the devil throws multiple challenges at the communion God wants among His people, old challenges from the evil side of general society and from the sinful nature of church members, along with new challenges like medically appropriate social distancing related to the coronavirus. May God help us to promote strong communities of high spiritual standards, truly reflecting the love and community of the Godhead.
Posted by Dan Vis on 07/01/20  
Posted by Anita Huffman on 07/01/20  
That is my heart's desire.
Posted by Dan Vis on 07/01/20  
Well, we're working towards that. You can be the agent to help someone in your church Anita! :)
Posted by Anita Huffman on 07/01/20  
I wish every new member could have that. I guess that is the ultimate goal, of course.
Posted by Dan Vis on 07/01/20  
Yes, it was a great blessing Anita, and I thank God for that experience. It did set the whole direction of my life and ministry. Without a doubt!

It was an interdenominational campus ministry program at the university I attended. It was a large public state university. The ministry had some 400 students participating!
Posted by Anita Huffman on 06/30/20  
Dan, I have been intrigued with your story of the group of fellow students that taught you how to study the Bible, memorize Scripture, pray, etc. I think that's wonderful! I am curious who taught those students to do that? Where did they learn that? I became a Christian at age 14 and joined the Seventh-day Adventist church at age 16 back in 1969. I don't ever recall knowing about any groups who taught new members that way. I think you were fortunate! God had a plan for your life for sure!
Posted by Dan Vis on 06/29/20  
Yes, I think you are right Valerie. Those of us who group up with "community" took it for granted. It seemed normal. Now that it's more rare, we can appreciate it more. And be more intentional about cultivating it.

Unfortunately, much of that is gone today, and we live in a time when there is widespread loneliness and alienation. This makes true Christian community incredibly attractive and compelling! But it won't happen by accident. It has to be built, very deliberately...

Good post!
Posted by Valerie Wise Burrell on 06/29/20  
Your topic of community really strikes at the core of what has changed in our current culture from the time that I grew up. I grew up in a neighborhood or community that knew the families, the individuals in the families and we interacted with each other.   I went to school with the children in the neighborhood and remain friends with many of those same people to this very time.
It is only after becoming an adult that I have realized the value of a neighborhood, a community. I thank God that I had that experience.

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