Could “Authentic Community” Kill Your Church?

Vantage Point
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Authentic. Starbucks uses this word as bait to entice new baristas. That’s no surprise, since “authenticity” is a sexy part of our cultural architecture.

Not surprisingly, authentic is an oft-used adjective in churches too. Mostly we hear it coupled with the word community. These days it’s hard to turn around in church without hearing a sermon, a conference, or a hundred small groups talking about “authentic community” as though it’s the stuff of church utopia.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s wonderful for everyone to experience that deep sense of belonging. But it makes me wonder: Should churches ever set out to build “authentic community?”

With mild apologies for the angst small-group leaders are feeling, let’s think about this. In my neighborhood I discovered dozens of places creating varying levels of community. My local YMCA has 9,000 people walk through its doors every week. They laugh, talk, sweat, and accomplish goals together. My local Starbucks allows moms and tots to laugh and enjoy community while discussing Oprah’s latest book pick. The community center down the road offers Pilates, scrapbooking, and family Tae Kwon Do. All of it makes me wonder: Could it be that most people’s need for community is more than met?

Thoughtful churches who see this will ask, “If we’re targeting ‘authentic community,’ are we aiming at the right thing?”

I used to believe my church offered higher-octane community simply because we paired it with the word Christian. Most of this thinking comes from reading the stories of Acts 2. In the wake of Pentecost, Luke tells us that people learned, prayed, and ate together. They lived in awe, meeting together daily, loving each other, and giving in shameless acts of generosity. Is it any wonder “authentic community” has become a goal for our churches?

But was “authentic community” ever the goal in Acts 2? What if it was never the goal but, rather, an incredible, life-giving, world-changing by-product of people devoting themselves to being fully grown, Spirit-filled followers of Jesus Christ?

If we could ask them, I suspect the disciples would report that no one set out to build authentic community. They simply followed Christ. Remarkably, every time people devoted themselves to following Christ, new communities of believers formed with an intangible quality that we now know as “authenticity.”

What if when Starbucks offers authenticity, it’s really God whispering a word to stir us to discover the One who, in drawing us to himself, draws us to each other as well?

About the Author

Geoff Vandermolen has been an associate pastor, church planter, and lead pastor. He now serves as director of vocational formation at Calvin Seminary.

See comments (1)


I just googled "Authentic Community" in preparation for next Sunday's Youth Ministry Talk and found this. (yea, 2007 was a long time ago) I am taking this thought of authentic community as a need we have formed out of our "Likeness" of God. The Trinity in Creation set out to give us a creative, authoritative role, over the creation. It was not good for Man to be alone, so a Woman was fashioned out of Man's rib revealing a closeness in family. Then in Romans, we find Paul calling others "to belong to Jesus Christ" with an unashamed passion for a gospel that is the "power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes." My take on Paul's longing to come and "impart" some "spiritual gift" implies a true Authentic Community when believers gather. However, as a student pastor, I see the "Starbucks" approach to authentic community. People gather to find acceptance dealing with the insecurity of self and rebellion against family. They deny the Creator's creativity and wish to be someone else, far away from a family resemblance, and then latch on to friendships that then define them. Only in Christ and His power do we find a confidence in self and understand that the authentic community is in the Kingdom of God as a Son and Daughter.