One of the Christian buzzwords over the past few years is community. I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard young adults talk about “doing life with my community.” For the most part, the emphasis on the importance of community has been toward single men and women. With marriage being delayed (sometimes indefinitely), single adults need a place to belong and journey together. What is often overlooked is the need for married couples to have community as well.
Take my husband and me for example. One of our New Year’s Resolutions for 2015 was to develop community (even though we didn’t use those words). With three busy teenagers and two careers, Mike and I realized that we had not been intentional about developing friendships together. We moved from Ohio to Colorado Springs about seven years ago and hit the ground running. We found a church, floated in and out of a few Bible studies, developed relationships at work and in the soccer stands, but we really hadn’t worked toward meaningful friendships as a married couple. Having community as a married couple is not a luxury, but a necessity—one that we were living without for too long.
What Is Community?
Although there is some overlap, community is different than friendship. It involves a group of people who intentionally invest in each other for a common purpose. You can find running communities, homeschooling communities, and artistic communities that are rallied around a common interest. A marriage community exists primarily to encourage and strengthen the members’ marriages. It doesn’t have to be formal, but it will always be intentional.
A marriage community is also different from church. A church congregation is a body that gathers to learn, worship, and serve. Most churches, large and small, have recognized the importance of developing small groups apart from worship. Community invites people into your life and your marriage. It asks you to both give and receive far more personally than attending church.
Why Community Is Important for Your Marriage
If someone was reading this article 100 years ago, they might think it strange to encourage community. For most of human existence, community was embedded in the fabric of life. Generations of families lived in the same small town or village, depending upon each other for economic, emotional, and physical survival. Whether you wanted it or not, you had community. Other women passed on marriage and parenting advice and were probably quite involved in everyone else’s personal business.
We live in a strange time in which you can live your entire adult life without community. You don’t have to meet your neighbors or introduce yourself to anyone at church. Chances are you live hundreds of miles away from relatives and have moved away from childhood and college friends. You and your husband can live life on your own little “island,” inviting the occasional friend for a visit.
I believe this lack of community is one of the greatest threats to marriage today. Community accomplishes three important safeguards for your marriage:
1. Community helps define normal. When you interact with other married couples, you can get some feel for what is normal and what is outside of the boundaries. Is it normal for your mother-in-law to stop by unannounced? Is it normal that you and your husband have weekly shouting matches? Do all couples deal with the same things you do, or is it a sign of something wrong? You may not ask these questions outright, but spending intentional time with other couples can help you gauge the health of your marriage.
2. Community provides accountability. Every couple goes through “danger zones” throughout the journey of marriage. There are circumstances and relational patterns that trigger conflict and make the marriage vulnerable to extramarital affairs and other impulsive decisions. A healthy marriage community can be a sounding board and guardrail for your marriage during these vulnerable times. When you can’t reach your husband, the guys in your marriage community may be able to.
3. Community provides encouragement. The old saying “misery loves company” is true. Marriage usually isn’t miserable, but it sure can be messy. In the picture-perfect Pinterest world we live in, it’s encouraging to realize that everyone experiences struggles in marriage. We are all growing, learning, and needing prayer.
How to Develop Community
When it comes to creating community, it’s definitely not “one size fits all.” Some groups start through a formal church structure, and others begin very informally. Often the best marriage communities are formed by gathering together people you already know. You might even start a “supper club” with a handful of couples. Every other week, meet at another person’s house for dinner, so the burden doesn’t fall on one couple.
The biggest challenge is not finding the people but finding the time. You will invest in a marriage community when you understand how helpful it can be for your marriage and how refreshing it can be for you personally.
In January of 2015, Mike and I started a little marriage community. Once a week, we meet with five other couples for study, prayer, and just getting to know each other. Almost every Tuesday afternoon, I feel too tired to go. But every Tuesday night, I’m so glad for the time spent. Over the course of a year, we’ve grown to care about each other and challenge one another in our marriages and our commitment to God.
As you enter the new year, pray about what God might be calling you and your spouse to do in relation to community. Commit to building strong, lasting friendships with people who will spur both of you on to a deeper relationship with Jesus and one another.