How do you create community amongst those you lead?
Joe is in year 8 and has been part of our youth group, Limitless Malvern, for about 18 months. He is very intelligent and extremely articulate, always adding value to our conversations, which on this particular occasion were around the theme of influence. We had asked the young people to consider, ‘who are, or have been, the three most influential people in your life?’
Joe began to explain how his mum and his brother have had a significant impact on him, before adding, “and the third one is a bit of a cheat answer, because it’s not one person, it’s my Limitless family.” I had a tear in my eye.
What might appear on the surface to be little more than a nice moment, I would actually go so far as to describe as one of the most moving moments in my youth ministry to date. Why? Because one of the things I intentionally go hard after as a leader is creating a sense of community among those I am privileged to lead both locally and nationally, and this was one of those special occasions where it felt like the hard work was paying off!
I believe that so much of leadership is about creating community, engendering a sense of “we’re in this together.” Because when a community of people are in it together great things can happen!
I am convinced of this: leadership at its very best looks much more like family than hierarchy.
Following a Limitless youth event at the end of last year, I was encouraged by some of the comments young people left on our Instagram post asking what they enjoyed most:
“Just being surrounded by family”
"Being surrounded by a massive family all worshipping together”
“Our guys felt so much part of a family this time"
“It was just such an amazing atmosphere, so proud to be part of this amazing Limitless family”
And following our Limitless Leaders event in January for youth & children’s ministry leaders:
“I had an amazing time with my limitless family”
“I love being part of Limitless, my heart is full”
“For me, Limitless is like coming home.”
“Limitless is a place where I feel like I am accepted and that we are all family coming together.”
“I love Limitless because its family, we have fun, and everyone is valued.”
I share these comments to demonstrate that community doesn’t just happen, but neither is it restricted to geography. Community is much more about common purpose than common location!
Leadership is about change, and change is not born out of division but of unity. We have to be a church who is deeply committed to loving each other before we can be committed to changing the world. Because this kind of community is deeply counter-cultural. And I can’t help but wonder, in an age where we are apparently more entrenched and divided than ever, if our most powerful witness is to demonstrate what it means to be one.
So how do we create community amongst those we lead?
The starting place for any community bond is a clear and common purpose. Tod Bolsinger writes, “There is perhaps no greater responsibility and no greater gift that leadership can give a group of people on a mission than to have the clearest, most defined mission possible.” Clarity of purpose is a gift to a community of people, because it acts as an anchoring point to an otherwise disparate group.
The language we use precedes the cultures we create. So if you want have a group that feels like family you must first talk about the group using the language of family. The quotes I shared above were not manufactured, but they are reflective of the sort of language our team has been using for years. Phrases like ‘Limitless family’ and ‘family is our heart,’ along with words like, ‘together,’ ‘unity,’ and ‘community,’ are commonplace in our lexicon, and, over time, that language has shaped our culture. So in your communication always use the language of ‘we’ and ‘us,’ rather than ‘you,’ and ‘them’.
With that said, you can’t use that kind of language if you don’t really mean it! That’s just leadership spin, and people (especially young people) will sniff that artifice from miles away. Leadership that develops community requires that you genuinely care about those you lead. It requires that you care more about what God is doing through them than what they can do for you. Only when people believe that you are for them, not expecting them to be for you, will you begin to see authentic community being formed.
Part of valuing people is about listening deeply and acting on what you hear. The nature of groups means being intentional about creating spaces to hear the voice of those you lead through sessions, Q&A’s, feedback forms, surveys, one to ones and so on. But this only helps to create community when the people you have taken the time to listen to can see their thoughts and ideas shaping the community they are part of. For example, we have never had an event where the feedback we have received hasn’t impacted the delivery of that same event the following year. We must listen authentically and respond with integrity to those we lead.
Gil Bailie once said, “Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” I believe we must take seriously the leadership responsibility of creating community, because battles are not won by heroes, but by armies!
So all together now….
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