Four Steps to Building Community

By Judy Mills

Photo by Mackenzie Warren

Photo by Mackenzie Warren

Four months after moving to NYC, friends from back home began asking: “Have you made any friends yet?” They knew my desire to find community wasn’t happening quickly. And while we’d laugh each time I’d reply “No,” I longed to find similar relationships in New York.  

We live in one of the largest, most vibrant cities in the world, but it can be challenging to find our “people.” Studies indicate many New Yorkers feel some level of loneliness and a struggle to find real connection. The transient, hectic, “it takes 45 minutes to go three miles” nature of our city makes building deep relationships difficult.  

While challenging to form, we still need a close-knit community. 

WHY WE NEED COMMUNITY

Not long ago, people lived their lives in one community surrounded by multiple generations of family and friends they’d known since birth. Relationships lasted a lifetime over which commitment and trust could be built. You were known and surrounded by people you knew, and with whom you lived your life. While tight-knit communities and cultures are not without their challenges and issues, we all have a desire to find our place, to engage in a network of relationships that cultivate deep care and unconditional love.

We are hard-wired for such community. God is a relational being who created us for a relationship with him and other people. Jesus once said:

“The goal is for them to become one heart and mind…so they may be one heart and mind with us. He knew our need to be deeply connected with others and with God. 

WHY WE TEND TOWARD SHALLOW RELATIONSHIPS

Often, however, I think we tend toward shallow relationships. Shallow feels easier. Surface relationships require less time and emotional energy, something we New Yorkers tend to run low on, but the lack of depth and true connection costs us something. Just Google “effects of isolation” or “effects of loneliness” and you’ll find the research alarming. There are harmful effects on us mentally, emotionally, and physically.   

Because of the effort required, building deep relationships often becomes something “we’ll get to tomorrow,” but because we were made for more meaningful connections, our emotional health can suffer if we don’t dig deeper!

HOW TO FIND MEANINGFUL COMMUNITY

In their book “The Power of Moments,” Chip and Dan Heath explore the lack of real connectedness many people today experience, citing a lack of give-and-take as the reason. 

Successful relationships (they propose) encompass three things:  

  1. Understanding - Each person knows how the other sees themselves and can see what’s important to them.

  2. Validation - They respect one another’s desires. 

  3. Caring - Each person takes active and supportive steps in helping the other meet their needs. 

Community is a reciprocal give-and-take between people, and it lines up with our God-given design. We were made to be FOR others and to receive FROM others.

It seems to me that relating to others in just these three areas would help significantly in forming deeper friendships. With these three things in mind, here are four steps we can take.

FOUR STEPS TO TAKE

ADMIT THE NEED

While I was spending time “hanging out” on the phone with friends from Atlanta, I had to admit they couldn’t be my only form of community. I longed for face-to-face coffee dates, in-person conversations, and women with whom to share the unique aspects of living in NYC.  For me, relationships and deep friendships make a city feel like home. 

PUT YOURSELF OUT THERE:

While we may cringe at the thought, there really is no other way to connect with people.

I tried several ways of meeting people before getting any results. I attended a “Meet Up” for writers, but we spent the entire time writing, never interacting with each other. I reached out to people in our building, but most were too busy to engage. We visited a different church each weekend. Yet it wasn’t until we invested — consistently gave up time and emotional energy — in a specific church community that friendships started to form. 

 PUT IN THE WORK

Admittedly, a lot of the people we meet will not become our close community. It may take many coffee dates and nights out to discover who will be an acquaintance and who will be that friend that becomes as close as family. In this stage, we can practice being the friend who understands, respects what the other wants, and takes action to support what the other desires. Then, we can see who reciprocates; we can see who sticks. 

GO DEEPER

I’ve met a lot of amazing people in the two short years we’ve lived here. I have a full circle of friends — and am thankful for each one. Now, it’s time to go deeper. I need people here in the city who I invest in as they invest in me. I need relationships with reciprocal understanding, validation, and caring. Though I’m early in the process, just knowing the pursuit is underway gives me hope. 

Which step are you stuck on?  What’s your next move in building community?