There’s really no avoiding it. We absolutely must live in close proximity to one another if we desire the type of church life were made for. It must be reconciled in our minds that the way we live is not normal – it’s the exception.
It’s impossible while being scattered
I’ve had many discussions over the years with people about the possibility of this type of community experience between people who are scattered around a city, living anywhere from a 3 to 20 minute drive from one another.
The hope was that there would be enough people that would be “committed enough” that they would make the sacrifice of meeting together regularly despite the inconveniences of scattered residences.
The thought is that the frequency of the meetings would be enough for a strong community experience to develop.
Community is tribal
But there were important concepts being overlooked with this idea. The problem is – community is more than commitment and meetings. It’s a way of life that has tribal characteristics.
It has characteristics like the ones below that must be present in order for the type of church we hope for and need to be experienced.
These characteristics simply can’t be present in a group that lives in scattered residences, no matter how committed they are.
Currently, because of where we live in relation to those we choose to have relationships with, our social experiences are almost purely mechanical. That is, we have to plan them ahead of time, or maybe they are already planned for us.
For example, the time and place for meeting and activity are set in stone (think church, club or other social group).
While there is nothing wrong with planning an event, healthy community sees much of its time spent together between members occur spontaneously.
Without living in close proximity of each other, this won’t happen no matter how committed the participants may be.
We simply don’t have a high level of availability with those we have relationships with. This is because we base who we spend our time with on who we like best regardless of where they live. We also spend the vast majority of our time focused on individual pursuits,
Healthy community consists of members that understand that life together is more important than any individual pursuits they can accomplish. This causes them to make themselves available to each other.
This doesn’t happen without proximity because people don’t just hop in their cars and drive to someone’s house on a whim when they have a need.
But, when you share a common space, it provides the opportunity for members to be available to one another.
Spending time together once a week is simply not enough for healthy community. And many people only spend time with other Christians in church services. Most of this time spent together occurs while looking at the back of people’s necks.
Daily interaction has always been a dominant characteristic of a healthy community. No, this doesn’t mean you have to spend multiple hours a day every day with other members. But it means that there is natural interaction on a daily basis as the gospel of the Kingdom is lived out with each other.
Who’s got time for this?
I know, I know, you’re reading this and thinking “and where do you expect me to find time for this?!?” That’s of course where we come full circle to the change that is required in our daily lifestyles. As Randy Frazee points out in his book The Connecting Church 2.0…
“If we aren’t willing to change, we should stop pretending it (community) is possible.”