Read an Excerpt
By Andy Stanley Bill Willits
Multnomah Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2004 North Point Ministries, Inc.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA CULTURE CRAVING RELATIONSHIP
Most mornings, after hitting the snooze button, I do what a lot of people do and faithfully visit my local Starbucks for a cup of the day's fresh brew. I begin to crave that first sip as soon as I walk out the door and get into my car. I've become such a regular that the Starbucks employees know my name, and I know theirs. Starbucks has become more than a purveyor of caffeine for me; it has become a part of my daily routine.
One day, while adding the necessary additives to make the product "my" coffee, I saw a card that caught my eye. If you are an occasional patron of Starbucks, chances are you've seen it, too. It's a card promoting career opportunities at Starbucks. No, it didn't intrigue me because I was looking for a job. What made the card stand out was the title. The card read, "Create Community. Make a difference in someone's day." Since the subject of community not only intrigues me but also employs me, I immediately picked it up. On the back of the card it went on: "When you work at Starbucks, you can make a difference in someone's day by creating an environment where neighbors and friends can get together and reconnect while enjoying a great coffee experience."
Interesting, isn't it?Starbucks sees itself in the business of doing more than selling a premium cup of coffee. Starbucks believes part of its corporate purpose is to create environments that connect people so meaningfully that it changes the quality of their lives. Hmm. Sounds familiar.
According to the Starbucks website, what they are selling is the "Starbucks experience." And we're buying. Revenues for the upcoming fiscal year are expected to be in excess of five billion dollars, and Starbucks expects to open thirteen hundred new stores globally next year. Most recently, Starbucks was named among the ten most trusted global brands. Not bad for a company whose primary commodity is beans. Starbucks is using coffee to promote connection. That's a good thing because the company knows we are a culture craving relationship.
Several years ago, my wife, Terry, who is an interior designer, read something about home construction that caught her eye. The article she was reading noted that most architects currently design homes intentionally to promote privacy and seclusion, not connection. Not so back when life was simpler and commute times were nonexistent. Back then homes were constructed with front porches, so when people took evening walks or afternoon drives, it was commonplace to "run into" your neighbors sitting on their porch. One thing usually led to another, and before long, you were invited to sit with them and enjoy casual conversation and a cold beverage. People actually took the time for one another and saw value in this spontaneous interaction. Talk time on the porch was a way of life. As one writer has observed, "The American front porch further represented the ideal of community in America. For the front porch existed as a zone between the public and the private, an area that could be shared between the sanctity of the home and the community outside. It was an area where interaction with the community could take place."
Welcome to the twenty-first century. Retreating from the busyness and intensity of work life, we come home, put the garage door down, and escape. Not outside to the openness of our front porch, but inside to the TV in our living room. And if we go outside, it's not to the porch on the front of our house, it's to the deck on the back of our house. The harsh truth is that after a long, hard day, and perhaps a crowded commute, we don't want to see more people. We want to get away from them! The last thing we want to do at the end of a day is to have one more conversation, be forced to make one more decision, or fulfill one more request. So we shun unplanned interactions by hiding. Our goal is to avoid people-and what they potentially want from us-at all cost! And cost us it does, because the avoidance approach comes with a price tag.
ALL THE LONELY PEOPLE
George Gallup has said, "Americans are among the loneliest people in the world." In the midst of busy lives, over-committed schedules, and congested cities, we feel alone. Although we drive on overcrowded freeways to catch overbooked flights and sit in jam-packed airplanes, we live in isolation. But how can that be? Most of us are mobbed with people. Lots of them.
Most of us live around a lot of people, work with a lot of people, and attend sporting events with a lot of people. Because of the size of most fitness centers today, we even work out around a lot of people! Sound familiar? As one writer has observed, "Today more than three-fourths of the American people live in metropolitan areas, and more than two-thirds of those live in suburbs." And many times those suburbs are made up of mammoth subdivisions, some bigger than small towns. And if you live in my area of the country and don't like the people you live or work around, you have the option of getting on a plane and visiting 80 percent of the country's population within two hours!
Having access to people isn't the issue for most of us. So why the loneliness?
Debbie is a single woman in her late twenties. She has great leadership gifts and a promising career. Her commitment to her job has made her a rising star in her company. Senior management is beginning to notice her. But working six days a week has also kept her from having a life outside of work. For the most part, Debbie doesn't get out much. There's just too much to do. When she's not working, she is renovating her loft. Her parents are worried about her. The girl who once had several inseparable friends has drifted away from those relationships. "That's the price of working for a Fortune 500 company," she tells them.
Besides, she is with people all the time. At work, at her gym, and at her church, people are everywhere. Debbie is surrounded by people. True, she doesn't really know any of them, and they don't know her. Which was fine, until recently. Doing life alone is taking its toll: Debbie is beginning to feel alone, even in crowds.
For almost ten years, my wife and I worked predominantly with singles in their twenties and thirties in a metro area with over one million singles. If that describes your stage of life, Atlanta is a great place to live. And North Point is a great place to attend church. More than one-third of our congregation is made up of single adults. We host a weekly Bible study called 7:22, where more than twenty-five hundred college students and singles show up every Tuesday night. While involved in this ministry, I served alongside some of the most amazing followers of Christ on the planet who were exploiting their current season of life for God's purposes. But it wasn't rare for me to talk with some in this same group who were experiencing exactly what Debbie experienced. Even though they were living in a large city, working at a successful company, and attending a large Bible study, they felt alone. The volume of their acquaintances wasn't the problem. They were acquainted with many people, but they were known by none. And this issue was not just the result of their marital status. Many couples will tell you they experience the same thing. Being married does not exempt someone from the emptiness associated with isolation.
We are a culture craving relationship. In the midst of our crowded existence, many of us are living lonely lives. We live and work in a sea of humanity, but we end up missing out on the benefits of regular, meaningful relationships. Let's look next at why God is so concerned about this unhealthy reality in our culture.
CREATE YOUR COMMUNITY
1. Describe a meaningful relationship you've had. What made it so significant?
2. Why are people today so lonely?
3. Do you think people really want community? Why?
4. What do you think people are looking for?
5. Describe the last time you had a meaningful interaction with a neighbor.
Excerpted from CREATING COMMUNITY by Andy Stanley Bill Willits Copyright © 2004 by North Point Ministries, Inc.. Excerpted by permission.
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