The 5 Stages of Community (Or, Why the Unicorn Must Die)

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We all come into relationships with expectations and dreams of what it will be. But if we aren’t careful, our ideas about what our community should be can destroy what it actually is.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book, Life Together, expresses the dangers of such thinking. “Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.”

In other words, if you internally look at the community God has given you with judgment, critique, and cynicism, then you've created a fantasy version of community - a unicorn if you will - that's keeping you from loving the people God has placed you around. If we ever want to experience true community then our unicorns must die.

Now it’s not wrong necessarily to have some expectations, but we need to have the right ones grounded in Scripture. A helpful diagnostic tool to uncover yours is The Cycle of Community. This tool shows how all communities and relationships go through five different stages. 

Stage 1 - Honeymoon

  • In stage 1, everything is brand new and shiny. You just moved here and all you have in common with these people is Jesus and an address… but it’s something and it’s more than what you had! 

  • People in stage 1 say, “Everything is great! We hung out five times this week! I haven’t been a part of anything like this before!”

Stage 2 - Apathy

  • In stage 2, the honeymoon phase wears off and you begin to realize how normal people are. Things feel routine and less exciting. You start to settle in and get bored.

  • LifeGroup conversations in this stage feel less passionate, “How’s it going?” “Fine.” “I’m struggling with the same old thing but whatever.”

Stage 3 - The Rough Patch

  • Stage 3 can be marked by conflict, frustration, or even fear of frustration. When things normalize with others the real you, with all its issues, starts to come out. Also at this stage people can begin to clash with others over preferences, not necessarily sin issues, but preferences like parenting styles or your season of life.

  • People in stage 3 say things like, “This person always talks about the same stuff over and over again,” or “This person is really annoying,” or “This person is wrong and needs to get confronted.”

Stage 4 - Acceptance

  • Stage 4 is when you realize, for better or worse, that these are the people God has placed around you. You see that everyone is an Image Bearer of God that brings their unique perspective and giftings to help you and others be more like Jesus even with their flaws and annoyances. 

  • People in stage 4 say, “Oh yeah, this person can be annoying and they make everyone feel listened to and valued.” “This person shares the same thing over and over again and they are always willing to help someone in need at a moment's notice.”

Stage 5 - Re-engagement

  • In stage 5, we press back into vulnerability and accountability - not with all the idealism of early on but with genuine love and understanding. This means conflict resolution and hard conversations happen not out of frustration but out of deep love and respect for one another.

In the cycle of community, it’s important to note that this is not a “one and done” journey. Oftentimes this is a cycle that you go through over and over again. 

The truth is most people bail right around stage 3, The Rough Patch. Right when you get to that place of frustration, clashing of preferences, and say things like, “This doesn’t work for my schedule,”  or “So and so is in a different stage of life,” or “This is getting too intimate and I don’t trust these people,” or, “Can you believe they said that” - most people bail. 

Which is right before Jesus actually starts to do the really good stuff in your soul. 

Now we’re not saying when you join a LifeGroup you join for life, but we are saying that generally, the people who stay grow and those that don’t won’t. 

Because here’s the real expectation you should have: practicing biblical community - practicing church family - will be hard. It will not be easy. It will demand things of you. It will infringe upon your time. It will cause you to have conversations you don’t want to. It will challenge your comfort. It will exhaust you. It will feel fruitless at times.

But, it’s worth it. 

  • What stage in the cycle do you view your community?

  • What next steps can you take to pursue health?

This resource is adapted from the sermon, “Jesus’ Call to Community” by Bridgetown Church. You can listen to the sermon here.