Community - its something my church focuses on developing and its something you hear or see in a lot of discussions on church and church programs. There is no doubt that we as a society have become less communal in many ways and so there is definitely a need to focus on developing a sense of community in any group, particularly one that is supposed to be as interconnected as the church.
Our main avenue for developing community is various types of small groups. Some are solely for getting together and having fun, some are Bible studies that meet for a short period and focus on a specific topic (right now we have a Passion of the Christ study among others), and others are groups that have been meeting for quite a while and do Bible studies, fellowship times & other activities. Some have been successful in their explicit purpose, ie, a Bible study and some have been successful in their implicit purpose of developing community. A few have been truly successful in both regards. Which leaves me with a few questions:
1) Is "community" something that can be planned? - It seems that many feel there is a formula for developing strong connections in a group, but I'm not so sure. When it has happened in my experience, it was never being done intentionally; no one got together and said "lets develop community!" It just happened because the people involved just clicked or were focused on some other goal. Can this be planned for most/all groups, or is it a movement of the Spirit that cannot be controlled?
2) Is there a better way of developing community? - Those small groups that have successfully connected their members are discrete sets with a fixed number. They do not typically involve others outside the group on a regular basis and as such, are not spreading community. They are cultivating their own, and for their members, I'm sure it is a very good experience, but what about the outsider, the newcomer? Is there a better way to create community aside from starting small groups that form separate pockets of connections? Is there a way to develop community throughout the entire congregation?
3) (Since I'm a youth pastor) Where do the youth fit in? - I am very big on not wanting to wall off the youth into their own little enclave within the church. Can youth be fit into adult small groups? I don't really envision a mentoring program because that puts a lot of responsibilty on the mentor and a lot of responsibility on me to make sure the mentor is up to the task, trained and resourced - no small feat. A group might function better in this regard if the adults are willing - less pressure on an individual and more diversity of experience/opinions to help mold and shape the kids.