Organic vs. Formal community building

Submitted by Derek Alton on June 6, 2013 - 2:47pm
Followup to a community conversation

The following is an excerpt from a conversation between myself and Josh Penfold, a pastor at Wellesley Mennonite Church, following their churches community conversation.

Josh Penfold:

Josh: I have a friend from school who would always get frustrated when people would talk about creating community; he believed community wasn’t something that could be created by will or by programs, or by policies, but it was something that resulted in people committing to loving one another and bearing with one another. This was his understanding of true community. Maybe it’s two sides of the same coin, but I’ve always found the way he talks about it appealing.

Derek Alton:

Derek: As for your friend's perspective, I think it highlights a profound dichotomy we have come across through our campaign.  That is organic vs. formal.  Often times we try to structure community, create programs, events and games (and conversations) to create community.  This came out strongly in a conversation with a group of pastors in Oakville who talked about how during the early 90's the trend with youth ministry was to build community and there was a seven step process for building community that was published by many of the churches  for their youth ministers.  Many expressed frustration that despite all their efforts to follow the steps, community was not forming.  Then they went on a mission trip, and the community they were looking for just came out of nowhere.  At the same time, other pastors talked about how community takes effort and work; that if you just waited for community to organically form, it often wouldn't.

I guess the question I would ask is, how do you get people to commit to loving and bearing with each other?  Often that is the role of structure, to create space for this to develop, or to serve as a reminder.  Its like the role of tradition in the church. 

Ultimately you need both. Structure creates the structure for people to open up and be vulnerable with each other and also gives a common experience for connection (that is the role of ice breakers) at the same time community is about relationships and connections, this is innately organic and dynamic.  Too much structure though can stifle this flow and squash it.  At the same time, some structure brings stability and consistency to the dynamic flow of relationships, that is why stuff like having a date night for relationships is so important, its a bit of structure that creates consistency, and serves as a space for dynamicness to flow.

Ultimately, it is a continual play back and forth between formal and organic that is the dance of community.

Click Here to check out the reflection from Wellesley Mennonite Curches Community Conversation



I echo Joyce's comment- this was a good relfection to read. Thanks for sharing!

I think this tension between organic and formal community is a good one- I also think there is value in experiecing community in both ways, too.

Important balance


Thanks for raising an important question for those of us building community, and for bringing up the important balance between formal structure and organic growth. I'm glad you shared your productive conversation.