Saturday, November 10, 2012

The diminishing sense of community...

We have spoken many times about the problems of establishing or finding community.  The church has become a very important venue for community struggles to fill the void and, as many complain, the church has not been as successful as many have hoped -- both those inside and those searching from the outside.  It is worth our time to consider the things that are pulling against community.

1. Family is stressed and scattered, pulled in various and diverse directions.  Who sits down to dinner together?  How often is this an occasion and how seldom is this a part of the family's routine?  If community is grounded upon the family and the breakdown of the family has created a weak foundation for a sense of community and belonging, then everything that follows the family will necessarily be weaker.

2. Courtship and marriage have been replaced by a hook up culture, by social media, and co-habitation. The common complaint among the single is where can you go to meet somebody?  Face to face venues have given way to social media as the place to meet, court, and even date -- Facebook friends become lovers become potential spouses. Though the places we can connect are many, the nature of these avenues of socialization make it harder for real connections.  Have you paid attention to the online meeting/dating services advertising on TV, radio, the internet, and in your email inbox?

3. When we do connect, we connect with people who have a past.  This may be the garden variety promiscuity or “hooking up” which has replaced courtship but it means that such pasts often create impediments to that intimacy that is desired.  Or, the past may be more sinister.  Many complain that people are not who they claim to be and that serious problems are easily masked by the superficial nature of our contacts. We connect with our pasts but we do not admit to them nor do we include our family so instead we are left with merely the wounds.

4. Some 40% of women today have never been married; of women age twenty-five to forty the number is closer to 60%. When they do marry, it is much later in life than in prior times.Most couples who do finally get married, postpone that now until the early to mid thirties. And smaller numbers of those who finally do get married struggle to stay married. Of all women married today, only 36% of them are in their first marriage. What this means is that marriage is rarer, later, and less successful than ever before.

5. Smaller families – it goes without saying, with marriage being in such crisis that birthrates have declined.  The family as community is a much smaller community than before and it offers less opportunities for socialization and community than ever before.  Significant numbers of children social primarily with adults and so their socialization is skewed gy this.  In effect they skip part of their socialization and jump to the mature world of adulthood deprived of a real childhood.

6. Most people no longer value or attend community organizations and their meetings.  Neighbors seldom interact with their neighbors and blocks and apartment buildings are filled with people who are strangers to one another. Church attendance is certainly not the only form of community meeting that has experienced an decline in attendance.

7. Displaced from family and the support systems in place where families live more local to each other, we find ourselves on our own.  Our geographical mobility has enriched our experiences but left us lonely and isolated.  Few people live and die in the community they grew up in, or work for the same company the whole of their career, but are more constantly on the move from job to job and place to place.

8. The decline in the number of secure institutions that anchor our community has taken its toll. Think how many schools a child may attend during his elementary and high school years or the myriad of sports and music options that steal away the playtime in which children and youth would learn community and socialize together.  In addition, look around the community to see how many volunteer youth agencies are suffering both a lack of leaders and youth (scouting, is but one example).

9. Increasing numbers of Christians do not attend their neighborhood parish. We travel to our churches of choice and every Sunday pass by other congregations of the same denomination so that distance limits our connections to the church as community. We may be present on Sunday but not during the week. Those who do attend regularly, go to more specialized parishes featuring particular “mixes” of people, perspectives, ideologies, worship identities, ethnic factors, etc., so that they are often less diverse than ever before.

The pressure upon the Church is great and the desire for community may compete with the specific mission of sharing the Gospel.  That is not to say that community is a fruit of the Word proclaimed and the Sacraments administered -- it is -- but fostering community may take a higher priority and more significant role in the life and ministry of the church than is realized even by the church's leaders and members.  No one doubts that the need is great but the pressure to substitute community building for faithful proclamation of the Gospel is a very real danger.


Anonymous said...

Increasing numbers of people live in tract housing subdivisions and go to strip and shopping malls. The traditional town is dead. Mayberry no longer exists.

Non-denominational seeker-churches do well, as the leadership understands that people are eager to find a church that attempts to recreate a strong sense of community. Unfortunately, strong theology is a low priority.

Derek Johnson said...

All valid points. Even in small communities, a lot of people end up commuting to bigger towns. One thing I've noticed through my travels (I work for a seed corn company, so I spend a lot of time in rural America), is that if a community of 5,000 or less is with an hour of a larger city, a large number of the people commute and come home tired. Look forward to hearing your podcast on Issues Etc. Continued blessing on your ministry.