I help facilitate a ‘Life Group’ for my church. We have some discussions on and off the court about issues of community. What it looks like, really looks like. We are trying to avoid the trappings of it becoming a church ‘meeting’, or a traditional ‘bible study’ or ‘discussion group’. All of these have a place, but we felt a deeper need…even a longing for something else. When I say ‘we’ I mean some of us not all of us. We wanted to provide a place of freedom of connection. Understanding that for some people the value that ‘life best happens through small groups’ is simply not true. (How many people have you spoken to that have never had a pleasant encounter through their small group!) So we have created an environment in which people feel free to drop into and connect at whatever level they feel comfortable to do so.
Some have actually made the relationships in our group such a priority they have adjusted their lifestyles to make this group the kind of ‘relational hub’ of their life.
Others have done similar but in much smaller ways, still others have said I will be part of the relational network of the group but have yet to ever come to one of our official gatherings, but are none the less connected to our circle. No doubt for many, ‘life’ is happening outside of a small group meeting, so why push it if they feel connected despite a regular meeting?
The group is forming deeper relationships in some circles and yet others remain disconnected, disconnected to me, I should say. There may well be deepening relationships happening amidst the group that I have no knowledge of.
I feel I am missing the forum of ‘group discussion’ or even discussion about the group (note the difference). The group is too big to sit in the traditional circle and have a guided discussion on a topic. Maybe this is good. Maybe this is forcing us to have the discussions in a far more real environment over a BBQ or a coffee table, while the 3 or 4 sitting out on the lawn are also engaging in real discussion…harder than it sounds. I think us Christians have been conditioned to switch on ‘christian talk’ when we form a circle or sit in rows with a preacher in our face and switch to small talk when we move outside of ‘Christian shapes’. (A generalisation of course, but maybe not too far from the truth). I have to say that for the time being as group leader I think I will avoid doing what I have been tempted to do, that being to create another forum, maybe on the alternate Friday night, a place for proper study, discussion on issues we could talk about without kids running wild, as a whole group. I think I need to settle into some intentional discussions on topics, even preselected topics if people are open to that, but chatting as normal people do over a mug of coffee, a beer etc. (A good start is for me to attend! I have missed more than a month!!)
But the point of my post is not to give you a run down on our group but rather to share with you some thoughts on community I have been having. I am desiring further discussion on the topic of community…NO NOT THE EMERGING CHURCH!!! I really want to to talk about something else in this post! Here are some comments off a good community blog.
A group can be 2 or more people. Most, if not all, communities will change and evolve as they are subject to growth or reduction. During these processes, they may destabilize, or turn into a very different type of community. As such, the number of people involved can make a huge difference for the character of the community and the kinds of relationships and interactions that form.
Relationships in this context can vary greatly depending on the community. They can be very deep, long-term relationships, or much looser relationships. Basically, some bond has to form between members of the group described above. And like any relationship, as the group evolves (and grows and shrinks) this relationship will continue to change.This word “relationship” is key to any discussion of community.
Relationships can form over time either forward or backwards. You can form relationships in a community because of prospective reasons (I want to get involved with these people) or retrospective reasons (I have a long-standing connection to these people).
The most common forms of interaction in a community involve some form of communication or expression, such as showcasing LEGO creations, dropping an email to say hi, or working together on organizing an offline event. Additionally, interaction doesn’t necessarily include the entire community all the time. [italics mine] These interactions lead to the forming of relationship bonds, described above. They can be formed using any number of tools, including email, IM, phone, snail mail, in person meetings, blogs, WIKIs, etc. Sometimes these interactions happen for the entire community to participate in, such as a discussion board thread in a web community. But very often, these “full community” interactions are driving smaller group, more personal interactions.
Community must come together in some form on a ongoing basis. Regularly doesn’t assume that this interaction is on a set schedule, but rather that there is or will be interaction at some point in the future and/or has been at some point in the past. It’s nearly impossible to form a relationship, after all, if you never see or talk to the other person/people.
What makes community more than a simple group of people is that they are drawn together around some object. This object can be physical, virtual, theoretical, or philosophical; a political ideal, a celebrity, a musical genre, a hobby, a type of car, a neighborhood, a sport.
While community members are drawn together around a single object, they are drawn there for a variety of very personal reasons. We may both love LEGO bricks, but I may love it because I love to build, while you love it because you’re a collector of old LEGO sets. Some reasons are emotional; others are more abstract or intellectual. Some have to do more with relationships that form in a community, others with the object of interest.Each member of the community group has their own reason – or more likely reasons – for joining and being part of a particular community.