As a member of a faith community, you may often feel like you are attending a lot of gatherings but not really making any meaningful connections. As a church leader, it is easy to feel like guiding the congregation is an endless schedule of meetings and checklists. Together, you have tried new projects, given presentations, attended conferences and shared meals, but you can't quite seem to get past the protective barrier of acquaintanceship with several members of the church.
While it's certainly possible that some people maintain this barrier on purpose, most people who are part of your faith community are likely there because they long to connect with like-minded others. An easy way to foster conversations where this can happen is through book discussions. Whether you divide into small groups or invite the whole church to read and offer commentary together, people who are looking for ways to get past the small talk and delve into deeper issues are likely to be drawn to this opportunity. Choosing a book to get you started may seem like a daunting step, but any of these options are likely to spark lively chats.
"The Liturgy of Politics" by Kaitlyn Schiess
The divisive political climate of the country may be an issue in your church even when there is not an impending election. Schiess brings this discussion into the light by not only addressing the societal issues that lead to divides but also detailing the way politics within the church itself may be causing rifts to occur. No matter where readers fall on the political spectrum, this book can act as a tool for breaching what many view as an unapproachable topic.
"Gilead" by Marilynne Robinson
The topic of religion can be a touchy subject, even among church members. Fiction is a gentle way to enter these conversations. Robinson weaves the story of an experienced minister through various themes:
- Uplifting the oppressed
- Relating to those with different beliefs
- Dealing with racial tension
- Interpreting scripture
A guided discussion can bring out how readers feel about these topics and may influence some of the decisions you make as a church.
"The Book of Joy" by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Archbishop Desmond Tutu
In a world dominated by personal to-do lists and community struggles about the most important issues to address, one place people of faith can land together on is the pursuit of joy. Two of the world's most beloved religious leaders join together to impart wisdom on the topic. This book is a delightful reminder that joy is more than a fleeting feeling of happiness; it is a state of being. If your congregation seems particularly disconnected or consumed by stress, a discussion about joy may be just what it needs.
"Dear Church" by Lenny Duncan
Progressive churches have long led their denominations in the pursuit of racial justice, but even these communities still have a long way to go. Duncan dives right in. As a Black preacher in a mostly white denomination, he has unique insight into the ways that the church can do better. While many members may find this material challenging, it is an important topic to address, particularly if you are interested in exploring the reasons your congregation is not as diverse as you would like it to be.
There are many books that your church can benefit from reading and discussing together. If you are looking for a way to forge stronger connections with others in your faith community, reading together is an easy way to take conversations past the nicety stage. Whether you start with one of these books or choose a selection that is of particular interest to your members, exploring conversation beyond your regularly scheduled gatherings can bring you closer to one another.