Summary: The environments where Kingdom community can naturally emerge have been mostly eliminated from where people spend most of their time. If we desire to be a part of a Kingdom lifestyle in our culture, median spaces need to be re-implemented into our daily lives.
Where healthy community develops
When it comes to your spectrum of personal interaction, you’ve got public spaces that strangers can occupy where you’ll still feel comfortable (parks, malls, etc). On the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got intimate spaces that are only comfortable when a few select people in your life occupy them (bedrooms, bathrooms, love seats, etc). In-between are the zones between public and private space that are meant to be safe places for social and personal interaction. They are the median spaces.
These are the spaces where healthy community is given a chance to develop. This is because by nature, they are neutral spaces with no strings attached. In these spaces, no one is pressured to or expected to come closer. They are perfect for providing you the freedom to form relationships with others as you wish.
Prior to the 1940s and 50s, the front porch was probably the most popular of these spaces. Spontaneous interaction occurred between members of communities as they went about their daily lives. This happened simply because the front porch provided an appropriate space where neighbors were frequently visible and available to each other. In this space, people could be invited to be closer than strangers but didn’t have to be close personal friends to come in. It provided a space to get to know one another before feeling comfortable with inviting people into the personal space inside the home.
But then they started to disappear. As suburban culture emerged due to changes in technology, people lives became physically fragmented. Where they worked, ate, slept, socialized, worshiped, etc. increasingly came to be done in separate places. Town church buildings and corners stores became things of the past replaced by remote religious campuses and strip malls. Instead of walking down the street, people started driving cars into garages. Instead of sitting on the porch, people stayed in their personal spaces watching TV in the comfort of air conditioning.
Since this was the case, houses started being built that were more fortess-like. The faces of many houses became the garage; while the front entrances were relegated to a couple steps up to the front door (which no one uses anymore).
All of these lifestyle changes worked together to build a blueprint for isolation that we see today when we drive through our neighborhoods. The spaces where social interaction naturally and comfortably takes place have largely been eliminated.
The places where you find these spaces now are fragmented from our neighborhoods. Truth be told, this is part of what places like Starbucks sells. I’ve bought many drinks from this particular coffee shop chain. But I’ve never once bought a drink because I actually wanted the drink. Not once. I’m not a coffee drinker. Most of the time, I buy because I’m there for social interaction.
Truth be told again, this is also largely why people go to church buildings. Especially in today’s day and age, it’s not for the music or preaching. There’s more music and preaching available through the click of a mouse than could ever be consumed by one person. If you really got to the root, most people sit through church services to get to the interaction. They church shop to find the least painful church service experience where the music and preaching is bearable. But they attend because they desire community and this is where they think they’ll find it.
Why they’re crucial
If Kingdom community is what is desired, median spaces need to be re-developed. But not in fragmented locations. They need developed where people live. It’s only here where frequency, spontaneity and availability have the chance to be present enough for true healthy community to emerge. These are places like porches, yards, sidewalks, fire pits and patios.
Not only that, but we need to spend time in those spaces. These are the spaces where people get to know one another. When they are absent, the only option people have is to jump straight from public to personal or intimate space with others. This feels forced and awkward. Eliminating median spaces from our spectrum of belonging has hijacked the experience of community and the opportunities for it to develop in our neighborhoods.
If these spaces are present and time is spent in them, community develops naturally. This saves a tremendous amount of time, money and energy that gets largely wasted on developing and implementing mostly ineffective temporary mechanical programs.