How can Christian communities build a culture of trust?

This question comes from reflection of my own church experiences. When I first became a Christian, I remember being hugely encouraged by Matt 19:29. I interpreted it to mean anyone who has lost a level of connection with their family because of embracing a faith different from the one they were born into will receive new “family” members, those who share the desire of walking in God’s will. In fact, I think each of us as believers in Christ can see this as a calling, to be inviting as a family to another believer. However, after being in various churches over the years, I have found that even among sincere Christians, there are many barriers to trust preventing people from experiencing true Christian community and accomplishing God’s work in our world. For instance, a part of my journey as an Indian living in the US, has been about trying to understand cultural differences to find a common ground and feel a sense of belonging in church. However, I have also found that even without cultural differences, when we take too long to trust someone due to our expectations about knowledge, status, gifting, etc. there may be missed opportunities. On the other hand, when we are too quick to trust, we can harm our community and ministry.

I am curious about what others in the community have learnt about building trust in Christian communities.

4 Likes

Hi @lakshmi,

This is a great question and I know it will connect with many people. It connects with me.

First, I think that many people are lonely and struggling to form relationships. This is a challenge in many societies. There are structures within which churches are operating that make it hard to connect. Whether that is the demands of work, frequent travel, busy schedules with kids, attending church sporadically, etc., it is often hard to see the same people consistently.

I think if we each had 2 to 5 good friends, we would be doing really well.

Second, I think building a culture of trust depends on building a culture of trustworthy people. That’s an idea I picked up from a conversation with someone who works at GRACE.

Who at church is intentionally growing in the Lord? Their character reveals the fruit of the Spirit. They are known for loving God and others. And so on.

If we have a discipleship crisis, it will be harder for our churches to be places where it is reasonable and good to trust that others sincerely follow Christ.

Third, I once learned the idea of “conversational tennis” from a friend. You hit the ball to them; they hit it back. And that’s how most good conversations go. We take turns.

I think this applies to other parts of relationships, too.

For instance, I share a level-one vulnerability. You reciprocate. I go to level 2, you do the same. We find that increasing disclosures results in greater care and love for one another. And so on.

Fourth, we build friendships that are bigger than themselves. That might include prayer, serving together, enjoying fun experiences, spending time in each other’s homes, and so on.

Fifth, it is inevitable that as we trust people, some will take advantage of that. We do our best to be careful and wise, but there are no foolproof ways to not be deceived - except to stay at home and never interact with anyone.

I have a lot to learn about navigating cross-cultural differences, but I hope more Christians will see this not as a barrier but as a bridge; not as a problem but a gift; not as a challenge but an opportunity.

I look forward to learning from your response and other replies. This is an ongoing struggle for me and for most people I know.

5 Likes

Thank you @Carson for some specific suggestions on a very broad question.

Structuring our lives to make church community happen, discipleship, vulnerability in conversations, engaging in fun activities or service projects together, taking some risks with our best judgement, are all great ideas that we can practically incorporate into our lives to build trust. More the time spent together doing stuff, we get to know each other and appreciate different facets of each unique person.

In thinking about solutions for greater trust, my angle of approach was more on our attitudes, beliefs, and communication styles to create safe spaces of trust. It’s usually easier to build trust with those whom we understand or are like. But our church communities are growing diverse in so many ways and it can be a challenge to figure out how to make everyone in the group feel accepted, which is crucial in establishing trust. I can certainly share some thoughts I have on this subject based on my experience and reading.

Christian psychologist Dr. Henry Cloud in his book, “Trust” identifies five essential elements to trust–

Understanding: Trust begins by listening and truly understanding other people such as their needs, feelings, and values. It’s not about convincing others to trust us but about them feeling that we genuinely understand them.

Motive: Real trust is built not only through understanding needs but also by ensuring that the other party’s motive is right and genuinely good for you. When motives align to benefit others, everyone profits.

Ability: Trust also hinges on ability or capacity. It’s not enough to understand and have the right motives; a person must be able to deliver what you trust them to do. Ability supports understanding and motive.

Character: A person’s character plays a significant role in trust. Honesty, integrity, and consistency contribute to trustworthiness. When someone consistently demonstrates good character, trust deepens.

Track Record: Finally, a track record matters. Past behavior and reliability influence trust. Consistent actions build a positive track record, reinforcing trust over time.

In my own experience, even with a willingness to understand, I have either misjudged or been misjudged, preventing trust from being formed. For the most part we Christians agree on keeping unity in Christ, but we don’t always know how to practically go about it.

For instance, when it comes to honoring cultural differences as Christians, we may be quite open to different cuisines, clothes, music, celebrations, of different cultures but we may not recognize the less obvious cultural differences to make space for those expressions. Until we take time to ask questions, educate ourselves and understand, we may not be able to appreciate the different cultures with their varied emphasis on values, perceptions on what constitutes strength/weakness, boundaries on sharing thoughts, emotions, opinions, time, views on parenting, marriage, gender roles, hospitality, societal obligations, etc. Christianity lived out may look different in different cultures. When cultures come together misunderstandings can make someone look immature, impolite or even unchristian. These misunderstandings if not properly dealt with, ultimately lead to conflicts or at the minimum cliques in the community.

Listening to individual stories may help us understand differences better. As we hear responses to our questions from those with different perspective, we have to resist the urge to judge or get defensive and be willing to compromise and adjust our attitudes and beliefs if we were misinformed. We have to be willing to not be offended easily and be willing to forgive. We have to be patient with one another, as change takes time and support. If we differ on biblical interpretations on something secondary, we dont need to major on the minors.

I think understanding the basis for differing views is the biggest challenge. Once we get past the first hurdle, with proper Christian biblical discipleship, we may find ourselves much in agreement with others on other elements of trust like the importance of having motives that focus on loving others, living with integrity, and growing in excellence or keeping a good track record.

In small groups, having rules for discussion spelled out in advance has been helpful in experiencing safety. I also think due to power imbalance created between a majority group and minority group due to numbers, the leadership or the majority group can adopt ways to increase partcipation of the minority group. As everyone partcipates, when gifts and good character are seen for what they are, I have seen trust grow. Another way I have seen trust grow is when we admit to our failures and make good on them.

I would love to hear other examples and lessons learned on building trust from others in this community.

2 Likes

This is going to sound very much like a high school girl.
At my church, there aren’t many girls my age, but those that are are either: Pastor’s kid, Pastor’s Kid’s cousin, or Pastor’s Kids best Friend.
They all go to the same schools, hang out together, and only talk to each other. I was and still am not invited to their group. As a result, I have and still would like to leave my church as an adult. There have been times where there have been youth retreats and I have been left alone unable to go anywhere because of our buddy system. And at the same time, I’ve been told over and over again that I need to find some good Christian friends. I finally found one this year, and it’s done incredible things for my faith. I also use a lot of resources online…which is good but it misses human interaction. Because of this, I feel that I do have a lack of trust within my community. It’s very difficult for me to be open to making friends or talking to people within the church because I know how much others have ignored me.
What I have learned is not to give much away, like Carson said with levels 1 and 2. This viewpoint has led me to never actually getting past level one.

4 Likes

I can totally understand this feeling after your experience. I am glad you were able to make at least one friend. I pray for healing from all the hurt. One way of looking at the bad experience is that it is God’s protection from even more hurt. If we have extended an olive branch and tried to initiate friendship and there is no response, all I think we can do is try to meet other people. Perhaps, you can bring up some of this with another trusted leader in church who may understand your situation better. And when it comes to which church to attend, the most important thing at least for me is whether its helping my growth in the Lord.

2 Likes

In my years of church attendance, I have experienced the same. I have concluded that most folks don’t want to air what they consider to be their dirty laundry as if the goal of church attendance is to present a wart-free life.
I will share a story about trust that spoke volumes to me some time back. I was asked by a good friend to help him with a Celebrate Recovery ministry at the church we were attending. For those unfamiliar with a recovery ministry, it is for the truly broken folks in life. People who obviously needed help, drugs and alcohol overachievers, but it also encourages people with less obvious brokenness, porn addicts, enablers, adulters, and the list goes on. It is in this setting that my story comes from.
In one of the meetings, one of the attendees made the announcement that he had been sober for 30 days, but he was disappointed because his family was unimpressed. One of the men spoke up, (he and his wife attended and served as councilors) to share his story and its effect on his family. He became a drug user, and, like most addicts, he resorted to thievery to pay for the drugs. There came a time when he started stealing from his wife’s pocketbook. As a defense, she would sleep with her money under her pillow. At the time that he spoke, he had been clean for 5 years, and as I stated above, he and his wife were still married, but she still slept with her money under her pillow to that day.
The point he was making is trust that is broken is next to impossible to win back.
I keep this story in mind whenever I find myself being invited into someone’s secret life.

@Carson, my Dad always maintained that if you had a handful of friends before you died, you were a very fortunate man indeed.

3 Likes

Thanks @jimmy for sharing that you have had similar experiences. It helps me sort through my own experiences and understand what gaps in communication in church community may be related to intercultural differences and what may not be. Some gaps may have nothing to do with a lack of trust. I can see why someone with a deeply broken past may not feel safe to share their story.

Great advice. When someone trusts us deeply about important and sensitive things of their life, that trust is sacred, and not to be taken lightly.

3 Likes

This has been a crucial aspect of building trust in my experience. Not only the curiosity and care to understand someone else, but the humility to learn from them and to value different perspectives and approaches to life. Trust and vulnerability go hand in hand, so trust will not grow without the safety that comes from knowing you are valued and loved rather than belittled or dismissed.

I also loved Henry Cloud’s five essential elements that you shared. One thing I have found essential that he doesn’t address though, is intentionality.

When I was in college, there was always campus ministries with students and adult leaders actively reaching out to get others involved in mentoring or Bible studies and to build personal relationships with others and check in with how they were doing. But when I left college, not only did many churches not offer small groups intended for unmarried people, but even among those that did it was extremely rare to find any that offered more than the lightest of small talk for newcomers. It seemed that there was no longer anyone intentionally seeking out my welfare or spiritual growth.

I quickly learned that if I wanted a Christian community that I could trust and who would come alongside me in life, I had to be very purposeful about seeking it out.

Often this has meant staying late after church, introducing myself to others I didn’t know, asking about what opportunities there were to get involved, and accepting invitations (to coffee, ministry nights, etc.) as they came. Even then, finding the deeper connections of trust required the vulnerability of taking steps toward deepening the conversations I had. For this I found @Carson’s third point really helpful.

Not everyone will be open to deeper friendship and community, nor is everyone safe to build community with. So it is important to take steps one at a time, for your safety and for the comfort level of all involved. Yet, often I’ve found that it is important to intentionally take those steps toward trust instead of waiting for others to act first.

This intentionality has made an enormous impact on my life.

A little over two years ago, I was sharing about my interest in learning Hebrew with a friend from church when that friend told me of someone at our church had taught Hebrew in Thailand for 10 years. So, even though I had not met this person before and I thought it might be rude to ask him if he would be willing to teach me Hebrew (since it had been his job previously and I didn’t have money to pay), I had my friend point him out to me at church and so I could ask if he would be interested in teaching me. Far from finding the request inconsiderate, he was excited about the possibility and even found several others to join in a small group each week.

Over time, the conversation in the group began to deepen, we brought in donuts, went out to eat together, and shared about our lives. Through this, the leader I had asked to teach us began to encourage me to look into the Biblical Exegesis program at Wheaton. Throughout my whole application process, I could come to him for prayer, encouragement, and feedback. Not only did he become a trusted friend, but he is the reason I’m at where I’m at today. Even now, I can count on him for continued prayer, for wisdom, and encouragement.

Even though I find taking intentional first steps to start and deepen community both scary and uncomfortable, almost every meaningful relationship I have had since college has come about because of the intentional steps taken to introduce myself and to take steps toward deeper conversation and increased time spent together. While there are certainly still a few people who will reach out to me and take the first steps toward community themselves, they seem very few and far between. But when I have the courage to take those first steps, I often find that others are eager to reciprocate.

4 Likes

Hi @blake, thank you so much for taking the time to write a detailed response. Its great to hear your story on how small steps towards being intentional about building connections has led you to this place of having a strong Christian group to support you on your journey. I wonder if part of the reason you were able to have positive results is because of where you were on your spiritual journey and your familiarity with church culture.

I am reminded of another scenario based on a real life experience. A friendly middle eastern couple, new converts to the Christian faith from a Muslim background, had a son with some mental health issues, not fluent in English, not well-off, and living in US, a foreign country for them. There are just too many obstacles to overcome for such a family to feel a sense of belonging if a church doesn’t have proper structures in place for newcomers to find their place. It takes more than handing out a bulletin, a greeting at the door and small talk to make such a family feel welcome. It may take going out for a meal and listening to their story. I think the onus of making friendships should not be on the newcomer of the church, at least in the initial stages. Some people may just need a hand to start taking those steps of intentionality.

Very true. We need to look past external appearance and their talk, and take time to understand real motives and character. Even among true Christians, a level of maturity, grace, humility, knowledge and wisdom are required to build these safe communities of trust. It all boils down to our intimacy with the Lord.

2 Likes