Read Paul Born's latest book:
Read Paul Born's latest book:
Recently, we had the great opportunity to sit down with a group of people at St. Christopher’s Church in North Burlington. This church is a great example of a community hub. There are so many different groups and neighbourhood activities that run out of this building. The congregation run these activities intentionally, as they're in line with their vision. They are also active in many different groups in the community. On the night that we had this conversation, there were several different activities happening in the building- from a food exchange, to a children’s choir concert.
But the real action was happening in pastor Steve Hopkins' office.That is where a group of us gathered to dig deeper into our experience of community. The richness of that conversation will likely spill over several blogs, but for now, I want to focus in on three particular points that came forward from the conversation:
Connected vs. Belonging
During the conversation, pastor Hopkins made a point about the difference between connection and belonging.This right away jumped out at me as a key distinction and one that we often overlook. He describe the difference as follows:
"There are people who we are in touch with, this can be close friends but it can also be casual acquaintances, facebook friends and contacts. Groups that we are causally associated with can also fit into this category. There can be a greater amount of flow of people coming in and out of your connections.
Belonging, in contrast, is a much deeper relationship. It is a place where people put up with you no matter what. You are just part of the group; nothing required. These relationships are long lasting."
Often times we mistake connection for belonging. We see that we have lots of facebook friends or contacts on linked in and feel that this must mean that we have a strong sense of community. But if we are lacking a place where we belong, we likely have a shallow community.
Dangers of describing church as family
I grew up in a very close knit church. We often described ourselves as a "family" to express the closeness we felt towards each other. In fact, it is common for churches to do this. The group at St. Christopher’s cautioned against doing this. Families are indeed very close knit, one reason for this is that there is a high barrier to entry. Not just anyone can be part of your family. You have to be a blood relation, be married or adopted into the family. By calling your church a family are you creating a similarly high barrier to entry? How does it feel being a newcomer in a church that sees itself as a family? Families also are very invested in each others' lives. As a result, they are up in each others business.This can be a very dangerous place for a church to be and can lead to problems of gossip; something that a couple group members mentioned as experienced at past churches.
Community as a spiritual experience
One person in the group talked about how she had not experienced a true, deep sense of community and belonging until she had joined a church. She could not imagine forming such a sense of belonging outside of the context of church. As we probed deeper into this we started to ask the question, can we have community without God? People can definitely have a deep sense of community without believing in God, but is God not there with them in this experience of belonging? To put it another way, is there something spiritual about the experience of deep community? Doesn’t a deep sense of connection come from having an experience with a group of people where you cease to be an isolated individual and become part of a larger whole? There is an experience of transcendence there. I think this is a very powerful insight to dig into. If we start seeing community as a spiritual experience, how will it change how we try to build and deepen community?