Which Community?

Here’s a thought to start the year:

“The community” doesn’t exist. It’s an abstraction. Let’s drop it in the service of people and groups of people in need of something more durable than what most of us mean when we say “community.”

This thought has been brewing since I heard a church consultant state the obvious to a room full of pastors and elders, that the church ought to serve “the community” rather than its own members. “Ought” is where the weight falls in that sentiment. I’ve never met a church leader who said the opposite, that the church ought to serve those already in it and that we ought to leave the community to its own devices.

We may act that way out of instinct, but nobody is proclaiming that God so loved the church . . . .

Maybe this is the problem: maybe “the community” is too vague a thing to serve in a concrete way. Maybe churches remain inward-focused because we don’t know “the community” well enough anymore. If that’s the case, then there’s a cacophony of consultants and demographic studies we can pore over to learn all about our . . . “community.”

But we still won’t know it. Because it’s not a thing.

Our cities, neighborhoods, and zip codes are populated by countless (and frequently overlapping) networks–communities–of relationships: schools and their students’ families; youth soccer leagues; colleges; adult softball teams; the chamber of commerce; groups of teenagers who play video games at one anothers’ houses; panhandlers outside the downtown shops; homeless encampments under freeway bridges. The community–such as it is–comes about from the interactions among all of these networks of relationships, which means that the community is always changing as those relational networks change.

What if a church tried to serve one of those relational networks instead of “the community?” What if, when we said we were serving “the community,” we could narrate the people and relationships we mean?

The next time somebody makes mention of “the community” where you live, ask them, “Which one?”


5 thoughts on “Which Community?

  1. Donna Supinger says:

    Our church is so inward focused that I have not heard of an outreach to the community other than our bus which picks up trailer park children for Sunday school, Kings kids, Bible school etc.



  2. carolynkingshill says:

    I agree with you mostly, BUT I do think that there are some places which
    might be called community. I say this because I feel that Pilgrim Place is
    a community. We live near each other in a certain place, most of us eat
    our noon meal together, which strengthens our community, we worship
    together every Thursday evening. Those are just two examples I come
    up with “off the top of my head”. I would imagine some other retirement
    centers might also think of themselves as a community — that is, if it is the
    residents talking about themselves. I doubt if advertisements about a
    retirement center from their own relations director (or whatever that person
    is called) necessarily meets either your standard for community, or mine!!!
    Of course, I’m not at all prejudiced about this!!!

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