Stop Trying To Build Community

Community is a bad goal. If you’re trying to “build community,” you won’t upset anyone, but you won’t change anyone either. You might actually do some harm.

Our church is always trying to build community among the families in our preschool. We invite them to church (of course), we rent a bounce house of the kids, we offered a weekly parents; playdate. Their reaction to these things is a pleasant “Oh that’s so nice!” as they head straight for their cars.

I’ve heard time and again from people in this group that something is missing from their lives, and there is a perceptible longing to connect to something bigger than their busy family calendar. Yet when we offer connection and community nobody comes. Why?

My friend’s answer is that community is a byproduct of other things and that the most meaningful way to create community is to provide something that helps people connect to each other without trying to, well, connect to each other. “What if it was about food?” my friend asked. What if building community were a secondary outcome to the primary purpose of focusing these families on food–child nutrition, family meal strategies, gardening, and so on. Maybe a menu (ahem) of resources about food will serve as a community building tool for those who value it.

Building community for community’s sake doesn’t really work. Communities bond over shared interests and–even better–shared purpose. What are we producing that people in our neighborhoods can use to connect to each other?