community, leadership & vision

What We Are Learning About Community

Adam Tarnow
Adam Tarnow Director of Arts
John McGee
John McGee Sr. Director of Watermark Resources
John Elmore
John Elmore Men's Director of re:generation

What We Are Learning About Community

John Elmore, Watermark’s Director of Community and Recovery, joins John McGee and Adam Tarnow to talk about some of the things he is learning about community. They discuss community vision, fragmentation, shepherding and more. Tune in for new ways to think about community at your church.

Podcast Link

Introduction (00:06)

John Elmore was first brought into genuine community by attending a 12-step group. He entered the Church as a recovering alcoholic. Community has been transformative in his life, and he is convinced that it is the heartbeat of the church.

5 Things We’ve Learned About Community

  • Vision Leaks (4:26)
  • Aspiration or Actualization (12:41)
  • Challenge of Fragmentation (18:00)
  • We Need More Shepherds (23:35)
  • Job Descriptions Over Job Title (29:17)

Vision Leaks (4:26)

“You are always moving forward or backward, there is no neutral. You are never parked and static. There is either atrophy or you are going forward.” – John Elmore

At Watermark, we have bet the farm on community groups. We believe if we don’t get this right, church will not go well. Our community is not event based. It is not on any particular evening, often meets in homes and can easily fall off the radar. However, community is now 2-3 times larger than any event we might run. Roughly 1000 lay-leaders oversee 8000 members in community. It is here where vision begins to leak. The aspirations of staff or senior leadership do not always trickle down to the individual level. When networks are small, vision can be caught. But as the church gets larger, vision must be taught. Community needs to be practical and actual rather than just aspirational. Building a church is like building a custom house. As you have more kids, there needs to be expansion and maintenance. Watermark is in a stage of renovation. We must remember that only the Spirit and hand of God can bring life to the building (Psalm 127:1).

Aspiration or Actualization (12:41)

Even your staff can miss out on what genuine community is capable of. If your staff are not living out community, then there is a good chance that your body is not doing it either. The aspirations of leadership must always be practically put into action. So, insist that staff live in intentional community. Here are three questions that we believe help assess community: How did you feed your soul this week? How did you feed your flesh this week? How did you feed others this week? These questions are alternative ways of asking: What are you doing to grow closer to the Lord? How are you confessing sin? How is your ministry? Other tips: Remember evangelism and discipleship are not optional. Read scripture, sing songs, and take communion together. Act like a house church. Keep in mind that living in community like this is not going to come easily to everyone.

Challenge of Fragmentation (18:00)

Giving people too much freedom can result in a free-range, do-as-you-will, type of community that doesn’t always work out well. Give people tracks to run on. When churches are really small, people have more touchpoints with people and leadership. The larger a church gets, the harder it is to get everyone on the same page. Rather than constantly pullingpeople upward toward leadership, focus on pushingcontent right into the laps of community groups. Do this no matter where people fall on the bell curve. At Watermark, we are working on a community app. But you could use sermon application guides. Insist that groups start off with a spiritual centrality and scripture. Discussion questions are useful and help with authenticity. Rather than striving for more control, be creative. Think big within the parameters of small groups in people’s homes.

We Need More Shepherds (23:35)

The need for more shepherds is nearly universal. Pastors all almost always overworked. We want to always be looking to the model Moses employed in Exodus 18. Basically, Moses is using delegation to shepherd his flock. He appoints leaders over leaders. This model allows you to always know that the body is being fed and led. Keep in mind that your lay leadership is often pulled in many directions. There are many ministries vying for their time. Community groups are often forgotten opportunities for service. So, we make community shepherds the highest esteemed position other than eldership. Always be gathering men and women who can shepherd people well. We even move leaders from other ministries to community.

Job Descriptions Over Job Title (29:17)

If people focus only the job title, then they will often relegate the responsibility in an unhealthy way. People will be appointed “community group leader” and then forget that this new title actually means something. The new job title needs to have a job description. Their position is absolutely essential. There should always be responsibility and accountability at every level of leadership. Raise the bar for what it means to be a leader. Remind people it is an honor and just because someone has been a leader does not mean they are going to always be. There needs to be intentionality. If your leaders aren’t behaving like you’d like, there is a chance your job descriptions need work.

Wrapping Up (31:34)

These things we’ve learned don’t just apply to community. Use these strategies to assess other ministries in your church. Remember ministries without weekly events can easily fall into the background. Don’t lower the bar, raise it. Create environments where people are honored to be called a leader. In Genesis 26:18, Isaac reopened the wells that were stopped by the Philistines. Once, again the water flowed freely. Ask yourselves: What are the things that are blocking the water at our church from flowing freely? Have we stopped the wells with busyness? Apathy? When that living water starts to flow, everything begins to change. It has nothing to do with us.

Application Questions

What does Community look like at your church?

How are small groups/community groups structured?

How effective are these at living out the mission of the church?

What about community does your church do really well?

What might you change about how your church does community?

How important are your leaders?

Do they know that?

How can you empower leaders at the lowest level?

Other questions or comments? Email