My husband and I recently enjoyed a beautiful weekend celebrating the marriage of my best friend and a truly wonderful man.  We spent two days in the company of their families and friends laughing, eating, and learning about each others lives.  Special connections were made with other guests as we told stories of family, work, school, and shared history.

I love telling my story about hosting community meals, and the joy I feel because of the relationships that have grown from these dinners.  In response to this, people often make the same comment.  So many people have the desire to invest in their communities and develop meaningful relationships over shared meals in their homes – but they feel stuck in the not knowing of how to get started.

So to sum up my reply to the questions that I am often asked about getting started, here are the four most important lessons I have learned through a lot of trial and error:

1. Don’t wait until you think your home is ideal and you can can cook masterfully.  If you have a desire for greater community in your home, just start inviting people and love on them with a good meal and good conversation.  People don’t need an immaculate home, a vast gathering space, or beautiful decor.  The really just need to be invited in and welcomed with a warm smile.  Most people feel blessed by having someone else cook a meal for them, even if all you do is boil pot of spaghetti noodles and heat up a jar of sauce.  We are not talking about entertaining.  We are offering hospitality, which by definition is “the friendly reception and treatment of guests and strangers”.  You can do that! 

2.  Don’t measure success by the number of people who come, and be patient with the reality that growth often happens slowly.   

It takes time to nurture and grow a consistent group of people committed to being in a intentional relationship with one another.   Most people love the idea of community, but it actually takes an investment of time and vulnerability for a group to develop lasting roots.   It will take time for people to find your group who don’t just desire community, but are also willing to do the work for it.

Even after five years of gathering my community weekly, there are weeks when 6 people join us for dinner, and other seasons when 18 people are coming regularly to every meal.  When the group is small I rejoice in the intimacy of conversation that comes from a smaller group, and when it’s big I enjoy the energy that a larger group creates.  But I don’t get motivated or distracted by the numbers.  I’ve learned to find encouragement and joy in the strengths of all sizes of a group.

3.  Don’t take it personally when people decided that your group is not the right fit for them or move on to other things.  The communities that we love on every week are in a season of life marked by numerous transitions.  Circumstances change all the time that result in someone not being able to continue attending our dinners.  It helped me early on to just accept this as the rhythm of living life with people.  It is not a result of something I did or did not do.

I have learned to love and value everyone who comes through my front door with the same sincerity, knowing that some will only come for a few weeks and some will come for years.  Some will come to simply enjoy the fellowship of community and some will invite me to know them deeply.  As their lives move on to other things, some will one day just stop showing up without saying goodbye, and some will express profound emotion and gratitude as their weekly dinners with us come to a close.  Some people who say good-bye won’t look back as they leave, and others will stay connected to us for a lifetime.

We need many types of relationships in our lives to help us along in our journeys. Whether they are brief and casual, or enduring and deep, they all contribute value in some way to our story.

If the heart of the weekly dinners that I host are intended to serve others – not my own needs – then I have to hold everyone tightly and loosely at the same time.  Not just inviting people in to my home and my life, but also giving them the freedom to chose how connected they want to be with me, my home, and my family.

4.  Don’t expect growth to happen in as a straight upward line.  If you choose to open your home or your life up to the pursuit of developing community, you have embarked on one of life’s greatest adventures without having to leave your neighborhood.   But remember that just because something is right, it isn’t necessarily easy.  Expect there to be challenges.  Don’t be derailed by them, figure out how to over come them.  Lasting community groups grow like the stock market, with a continual pattern of peaks and valleys.

Learn to assess your efforts by looking for the good things and invaluable connections that spring from the relationships that you nurture in your community.  Whenever you discover that a meaningful friendship has been made in your group – either with you or with one another – rejoice over it.  Intentionally enjoy the satisfaction of seeing souls nurtured through your investment of time and resources.  If you stick with it, that is fruit that will come regardless of the size of your group, and it is what makes all the work so, so worth it.

Are you struggling with any of these hurdles even though you have a sincere desire to nurture a community of people?  Or are there any lessons learned you can share from your experiences as you began investing in your people?


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