Reshaping the Church

Communitas: The very spirit of community

Posted September 19, 2023

by Shelby LaPorte

Photo Courtesy of Leon Longard

Over 50 years ago, Communitas, a global missional network, began planting churches in Western Europe and later expanded to include Eastern Europe and Latin America. Communitas North America launched 15 years ago.

Communitas North America seeks to start and shape communities of faith that love like Jesus in their neighborhoods. Leon Longard and his wife joined Communitas North America in 2012. He is the fifth person to lead the team for North America.

“Connecting with a community seeking to make positive changes in a neighborhood or city can be one of the most life-affirming experiences for anyone,” Longard said in an email interview.

Communitas North America reaches out to different communities based on their needs and the abilities of the team. Its focus is most often on marginalized communities experiencing homelessness, facing poverty or seeking refuge. Other faith communities address prominent issues like human trafficking.

Photo Courtesy of Leon Longard

Community

A major aspect of the Church is helping, not only those in the faith community, but strangers as well. This hospitality and care should not be contained to church services but transferred into the daily lives of faith community members.

“We see Whole-Life Community as one of the three essential functions of the Church,” Longard said.

In society today, there is a tendency to embrace individualism, according to Longard. This tendency results in an epidemic of loneliness, evident not just in North America but worldwide. However, Longard believes we all have something within us that desires a relationship with other people.

Each member should feel they have a place and a voice in the mission of their faith community. Communitas North America does not want to operate in a hierarchical system. Instead, it wants decisions and work to be spread out equally among members based on their talents and abilities, no matter their spiritual maturity.

“People at various stages in their relationship with God are welcome to journey with us in deepening our relationship with God,” Longard said.

Photo Courtesy of Leon Longard

Equipping and Empowering Leaders

Equipping leaders with the right training to build others up in order to lead these kinds of faith communities is important. In order to help provide leaders with the right training, Communitas North America established different methods to equip them. This way, they can step into the role God is calling them to with both proper skills and a greater mindset.

“Our goal is an adaptable mentorship path that fits the needs of someone we are coaching and serving while connecting them with other missional practitioners who will help them journey together in mission,” Longard said.

Communitas North America provides coaching that centers around its own book, “Dynamic Adventures.” This book is a guide created from years of experience, and it is meant to assist teams in discerning their common mission. It is most effective to go through the book in small sections with a training cohort or an experienced practitioner.

“Dynamic Adventures” is not the only tool Communitas North America equips its leaders with. It also offers Journey Groups, which use listening prayer exercises, that help practitioners nurture their spiritual and emotional well-being, while traveling down the path God laid out for them.

The organization is currently working on a 10-month residency program for graduating college students. The program gives students a chance to spend a year working with one of Communitas North America’s local projects and learn how to start a missional faith community.

Photo Courtesy of Leon Longard

Stories of Impact

Communitas North America impacts the spiritual and communal life of communities all over North America.

Communitas North America made spiritual and community service impacts on communities all over North America, ranging from the East to West Coast.

A single mother, who works at a bank full-time, is leading one of the organization’s oldest faith communities. She and her coworkers came together to form a house church. They started by providing a monthly meal served to the homeless on the street. Today, this monthly gathering consists of about 50 people from various socioeconomic backgrounds.

In 2016, a Chicago couple’s front yard became a gathering place for neighbors to come and join them on Friday nights. They would discuss possible activities for the neighborhood and eventually began to serve refugees, who were living in shelters in Chicago. A small community of people also meet inside the couple’s home to have spiritual conversations.

A woman in Tulsa, Okla. created a team of twelve doulas to serve pregnant Afghan refugees. This effort has cemented relationships between the team and the families of these women, and they continue to build a faith community.

“Many of these people have been alienated by past experiences with the church,” Longard said.

Longard himself led a community in Indianapolis, which engaged with those, who were currently, or had previously been homeless.

“One young man we first met living in an encampment by a railroad track became a regular part of our faith community,” Longard said.

Over time, the young man began working towards building a more stable life. He now holds a steady job, is married and is working towards buying a house so he can start a family.

“He credits much of this life change to the work of Jesus in his life and his relationships with our faith community,” Longard said. “We stay in close contact even though we now live in another state.”

Faith communities can be affected by people from all walks of life, as these stories demonstrate. They can become an inspiration for Christians to become involved in local and global missions.

More stories about Communitas North America’s impact can be found on its podcast.