When you think of the word ‘community’, what shape comes to mind?
Usually, if asked to draw the shape of community, it would look something like this
This is probably the most common shape thought of for community. This is the Focker ‘circle of trust.’ It represents closeness, intimacy, safety…
It’s closed, it’s limited, it’s redundant. In short: it’s an awful metaphor for ‘community.’
Healthy community is vibrant, new, fresh, connected but not overbearing. Healthy community is inclusive, always adding, shifting expanding. A shape like that would maybe look something more like this:
Each person represents a node. Nodes are inclusive, spontaneous, expanding and always changing. Nodes are connected to multiple other nodes, in multiple networks, rather than being trapped in just one circle with no way out but to destroy it. Not all nodes have strong connections to other nodes. Not all nodes need the same type of connection, or number of connections, as other nodes might.
I’ve had so many conversations within religious communities where people say something like this: I was in a small group for a while, but then it died and I got disconnected. It’s as if they put all their eggs in one small-group basket and then that basket gets tipped and people are lost at relational sea.
Small groups aren’t canned goods with no expiration date. They are more like dairy products. They have a shelf life. The more transient our community becomes the more adaptable our social networks are, the more we’ll have to learn how to make multiple bonds with multiple, weaker networks, as well as a few strong bonds that may hold together over great distances.
We’ll have to shift away from a programmatic approach to healthy community and move towards a more mature, spontaneous and intuitive approach. It’s the future of friends…
welcome to it.