We are living in a time when there are more ways to be in touch with one another than any other time in history. Phones, texts, emails, FaceTime, social media, Zoom are all avenues that can keep us connected wherever we are in the world. The personal, near ancient art of letter writing? Practically non-existent. With each deeper foray into the cyber world, culture suffers more from little sense of the community which we need to lead healthy lives.
In addition, and further isolating, working from home is the new normal, thanks to Covid-19. Yet, even before Covid-19, (since 2018), we have been experiencing less community and more loneliness than perhaps ever before.
What is Community – The Bare Minimum?
What comes to mind when you hear the word community? For me, I imagine friends gathered around a table of food, talking, laughing, and sharing life together. I don’t mean in a commune sort of way, but being close enough to genuinely care about each other.
There are several definitions available, depending on whether we’re dealing with a business, health, or non-profit culture. However, the most basic definition of community remains the same:
a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists
Additionally, we must have the element of trust if we are to add the warm sense of togetherness for which many are longing. Too long we have lived in, and are continually fed distrust and skepticism. Community is a place where we can go to find a listening ear. Furthermore, we know what we say can be entrusted within our community.
Where to Find Community
Historically, communities were formed around the places people lived. Imagine the 1950’s in America or the UK when most urban families lived in small homes or apartments. These places were called neighborhoods. This is where people usually formed friendships, socialized together and raised their children together.
Technology and jobs moving us around the country changed that. Now, a type of community can be found in online groups, book clubs, churches, support groups, and so on. However, they all require some basic, key, components to be recognized as a genuine community.
One writer believes community involves four elements.
Our definition, based on our experience is, a group of people existing in a place that shares a purpose, a sense of belonging, and who communicate with each other.
On the other hand, businesses use the term differently. Business leaders seek community in the light of how it benefits their business.
- Having a community is having a support network.
- They are a safe space to share knowledge and can foster collective creativity and innovation.
- Communities offer valuable networking opportunities.
- Provide opportunity for authentic mentoring relationships
Furthermore, there are education communities, health communities, and I could go on…but won’t.
Benefits of Community
It would be difficult to overstate the role community plays in our state of well-being. Every human being has a deep desire to belong. A healthy community provides that.
Having a sense of community embraces spirit, character, image and pride and is a vital element of a healthy community. It is a feeling that people within the community matter to one another with a shared faith that their needs will be met through commitment and togetherness. Being a part of a community can make us feel as though we are a part of something greater than ourselves.
Moreover, this writer believes other benefits include:
- support – for you and other members of the community
- influence – participation in a community can cause one to feel empowered to make a difference
- sharing – sharing ideas helps everyone grow and gain knowledge
- reinforcement – can be an effective learning tool to encourage desirable behaviors and provide motivation.
- connection – An open bond with new connections is what builds valuable relationships, and gives us a deeper sense of belonging.
There are a few others that you can check out for yourself at the link provided.
If It’s So Great, Why Aren’t We All In Community?
Thank you for asking! However, the answer likely has less to do with us than with the culture in which the we live. Western countries such as the United States and Europe, Australia, and S. Africa are considered individualistic cultures. People living in these cultures generally value independence.
Within individualist cultures, people are more likely to “see themselves as separate from others, define themselves based on their personal traits, and see their characteristics as relatively stable and unchanging.” An individualist’s sense of self is defined more by who they are on the “inside,” minimizing the influence of factors, contexts, and people “outside” the individual. Individualists tend to communicate in direct styles—they say what they mean, prioritizing that information is conveyed explicitly and unambiguously. European and “Western” cultures are typically more individualist.
Collectivist cultures value the group over the individual. Countries with the collectivism culture are Japan, China, Venezuela, Guatemala, Brazil, and a few others.
Collectivist cultures emphasize the needs and goals of the group as a whole over the needs and desires of each individual. In such cultures, relationships with other members of the group and the interconnectedness between people play a central role in each person’s identity.
Therefore, we can understand why it is difficult for most of us to wholeheartedly align ourselves with a community. Initially, at least, each of us needs to overcome a hardwired, cultural individualism, which minimizes the influence of others in our lives.
Unfortunately, people outside of the Church sometimes think that Christian community means living in a commune on a farm somewhere in the country. For a very small percentage of Christians, that is what it means and I applaud them.
However, for the rest of us, Christian community is simply sharing an authentic life together. It moves us beyond ourselves and our isolation to invest in the other. In addition, it’s more than superficial social contacts that’s called “Christian fellowship.”
Pastor, theologian and martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, wrote an entire book about community entitled Life Together. It created a deep longing within me for this depth of fellowship the first time I read it. (https://amzn.to/393P4eC)
The more genuine and the deeper our community becomes, the more will everything else between us recede, the more clearly and purely will Jesus Christ and his work become the one and only thing that is vital between us, (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together).
Indeed, the biblical idea of community can be found in the one another passages of Scripture, which I’ve been taught all my adult life. We find that we are committed to one another because we love one another, John 13:34. We want the best for each other because we are members of one another, (Romans 12:5; Ephesians 4:25.)
Moreover, we need the community of faith to gain maturity in Christ. To underscore this, I’m going to share a list that a professor emeritus from George Fox University believes a community of faith provides.
- a way to see Christ in others
- a source of accountability and guidance
- a place to pray and worship
- a place to serve
- a model and witness of Christ to the world
- ambassadors of God’s love
I encourage you to read the article to see how he explains each point.
What About You?
I’m an American, thus, an individualist. Add to that a past with trauma, violated trust from more than one spiritual leader and… I get it. Trusting a group to have a sense of belonging can be very difficult for many. However, let me comfort and assure you, when I have experienced genuine Christian community, it is the sweetest thing this side of heaven.
Please don’t give up, dear sister. It is available. Go find it!
A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another, or it collapses. I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me. His face, that hitherto may have been strange and intolerable to me, is transformed in intercession into the countenance of a brother for whom Christ died, the face of a forgiven sinner.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together