BY TAYLOR MAY
Since we’ve had our own place … well, even before that … my husband and I have opened boxes, sprawled board games across coffee tables, and passed cards across dining room tables. We make coffee, pour wine, eat food, and have a good time. We have believers, non-believers, college students, foreigners, cat lovers, cat haters, people we know from work, people we know from school, and even people we just met, over to our home.
I had just started dating my husband when we went to our first game night. He had gone before and, as far as I was concerned, it was a guys' night to play either poker or some nerdy sci-fi themed game, listen to techno music, and drink bourbon. I was confused when he asked me to join him one night. I figured I was getting into something I didn't belong to, but I knew how’d I’d handle it: I'd sit next to my boyfriend, be cute, and get competitive in the game, and win all the points for keeping up with the guys.
That first night, there were only guys, but they were inclusive, kind, and outrageously intentional with us. The next week, I met the host’s wife, she was honest, reliable, and to the point … just the kind of person I needed in my life at the time. Soon, the other’s wives started joining, too, and game nights quickly went from a reluctantly accepted invitation to an anticipated part of our week.
I never expected that out of this would come a community that taught me more about the goodness of God, the messiness of marriage and family, the sweet and sovereign gift of abundant life, the wonder of rest and rejuvenation, than I’ve ever learned from anyone, ever. Out of this group came Bible studies, girls’ nights, babysitting, "Strengths Finder" and myriads of other aptitude tests. But we always come back to where we started: sitting around a table with a board game between us, laughter in the air, and coffee in our bellies. One couple from this group lent us a car for an entire year. Another drove that car cross country for us. Another housed us for six months before we moved overseas. And another asked us to be their kids’ godparents. Whenever we think we couldn’t love or be loved by this group of people more, they show us there’s more to give and more to receive.
Small groups, life groups, little churches, community groups, missional communities, etc. meet a great need for humans to gather. Church leaders have long since recognized that the truest and rawest form of fellowship doesn’t always happen on Sunday mornings, but in coffee shops and homes, around tables and on couches. When a handful of people come together to eat together, open the Book, and pray, that's when magic happens. Relationships grow and family takes on a whole new meaning.
This is true of those organized groups that are successful. I’ve been a part of such gatherings, but I’ve also attended a few that weren’t so successful — ones that felt more mandatory than essential, more forced than natural. God invites us to both forms, to learn and grow from people we may not normally associate with, but when it’s right, when it feels just splendidly orchestrated by a master Composer, what a gift the gathering becomes.
I can’t help but feel like sometimes, because of it’s prevalence in the Church and because we crave it so much, we fake community. We force it into being and do everything possible to assure that we’re a part of something that matters, something that’s intentional and deep. And occasionally, though we may learn a great deal from such an instance, the result is a conglomeration of people who want, feel, and need different things. This pressure to belong, to connect, and to “do life” together can stifle the normalness of it all.
"People are messy, life is abrupt, and sometimes community can’t happen in the most perfectly picturesque form of community that is so often portrayed today."
Normalness and community are stifled when its held to expectations it was never meant to achieve. We were never meant to have perfect attendance or a spectacularly clean house every week or a well-thought-out bullet on a Bible study outline. People are messy, life is abrupt, and sometimes community can’t happen in the most perfectly picturesque form of community that is so often portrayed today. We think we want that, because it’s marketable and because it looks great on an Instagram story, but what we really want is a place to come as we are. Which is exactly what Jesus asks of us and is exactly the kind of community He created us to foster.
So in the spirit of “normalness,” because it breaks the ice in a very in-your-face kind of way, because it worked so well before, and because it’s just really really fun, we host game nights and hope that because of it we'll love Jesus more and know people more deeply.