One of the questions we get a lot is “How do we cultivate a stronger sense of community in our groups?” It seems many leaders are noticing that it’s easy to organize groups around projects or curriculum, but more challenging to cultivate a real sense of spiritual family.
I’m going to share a practice that we’ve engaged in that’s been really helpful for this. But first, let’s talk about words.
Words create worlds
How many words do you hear in a day?
Some say 30,000 words; others put the total much higher. This varies from person to person, depending on environment, personality and many other factors. (Parents of young kids who hear questions ALL. DAY. LONG. are definitely on the higher end!)
Point is we hear words all the time. But words are more than just sounds that bring information. Words have power to do a lot more.
Rabbi Abraham Heschel says, “Words create worlds.” They have the power to create when spoken. They bring about new realities.
The universe was brought into existence through words. In Genesis, God said “Let there be light,” and there was light. God spoke and our world was brought to life.
“Words are God’s tool for creating the universe,” says Susannah Heschel. They are his creation tool for bringing life into being.
Jesus healed people with words. Many suffering from sickness were made completely well by hearing two small words: “Be healed.” Their lives were changed in an instant. All sorts of possibilities were suddenly open to them because of just two small sounds.
Using our words like God
Since we are created in God’s image we also have the powerful gift of words. And with this gift comes great responsibility. The Book of Proverbs tells us that death and life are in the power of the tongue. We must be full of care when using this powerful tool. Words have the ability to completely change the trajectory of someone’s life.
How many of us remember something spoken to us as children that still seems to hinder us today? Or something spoken to us that encouraged us that we continually go back to for strength?
Words have power to harm, tear down, destroy, break apart. Words also have power to heal, help, encourage, strengthen, embolden and empower.
Since we’re created in God’s image I wonder what comes into existence when we use our words to bless someone else? What kind of world could be opened up in conversations within our communities? What new reality could be created?
Blessing with our words
So here’s one way to deepen relationships in missional communities – it’s a practice that uses the power of words. It’s called “Birthday Blessings.”
It’s pretty simple: If anyone has a birthday coming up, we take a few minutes to name some things that we see and appreciate in that person.
Here are a few examples:
- “I’ve noticed how you’re always smiling and how much I love that about you. I can’t count the number of times your smile has brightened my day. And your laugh is so contagious! I really love your laugh. You are such a joy to be around and a great friend.”
- “I appreciate how you ask lots of questions. They are always so interesting and insightful. I love how God has made you to be curious. Keep asking questions and being curious!”
- “I love how good you are with children. You seem to find so much joy playing with them, helping them and talking with them. I think you have a real gift!”
- “You have a way with other people that really puts them at ease. I think people find it easy to trust you. You’re a great listener and I always know you care deeply.”
Through this practice, we are speaking good news over one another. We speak identity and calling into each other. We are gospeling each other and this calls us into something deeper. It sometimes helps us see things we haven’t seen before. And it sometimes confirms something we have known, but perhaps have doubted.
There is a simplicity in this practice and yet it never fails to be an incredibly significant time for everyone involved. It’s a powerful practice because it is one of the ways that we build a sense of family among us.
It fosters connection by saying “I see you. I hear you. I appreciate you. You are valued here and we wouldn’t be the same without you.” It calls us up, cultivates life and even sometimes, brings much needed healing.
This practice can be a particularly significant for children. It’s one thing for a child’s parent to tell them something they like about them. But when other people in the community speak this into a child, it has a different impact.
Do try this at home 😉
Next time you’re with your missional community or small group or just with your own family, try doing this. Intentionally bless someone with your words. Share something you’re noticing about them or something you appreciate about them and see what happens.
(You don’t need to reserve it for people with birthdays, of course! We sometimes do a spontaneous appreciation party where we just appreciate everyone at the table like this.)
Just try it, I guarantee you will walk away different.