Five Characteristics of Community
Newer subdivisions today often have wide streets with long driveways to the houses. Any family activity is often in the backyard that is cut off from the neighbors by high privacy fences. American’s value their privacy and individuality, and that is reflected in our community development and neighborhood development.
It was different years ago. If you drive through neighborhoods that are fifty or more years old, you will notice that the streets are narrow and the houses are closer to the sidewalk or curb. Many of the homes have front porches, designed for families to sit together and relax during a summer evening. These older neighborhoods were often built within walking distance of grocery stores, schools and churches. The reason is because fifty and sixty years ago most families only had one car, and dad took it to work, so mom and the kids had to walk to where they wanted to.
The very nature of the older neighborhood promoted neighborliness: walking, stopping, talking, listening. People knew the families living next door, across the street, and down the road, because they were always walking around together. Also, because there wasn’t the second car to drive the children to a multitude of activities, or to a friend living thirty minutes away, the children were forced to play, fight, and make up with the annoying kids who lived right next door. Children learned to be good neighbors by virtue of having no other choice but to. Something developed in these older communities, a spirit of neighorhood.
Our wider roads and high fences, along with less walking and more driving, have robbed neighborhoods of neighborliness. Instead of drinking iced tea or coffee on our front porches, visiting with passers-by, and watching our kids walk across the street to play neighborhood ball, we are racing across town, watching a movie, or working our tech device. In the place of community conversation and bonding we now suffer from solitary confinement, and with it, loneliness and isolation. Maybe you feel this way. Is there a way out? Yes.
Randy Frazee, author of The Connecting Church, calls upon Christians to be the force that rebuilds a sense of community and neighborhood through the church. He identifies five characteristics of a neighborhood that we can work to establish for people. The first is spontaneity. Friendly neighborhoods are characterized by children walking to the store and older neighbors yelling greetings. “Hey Marie! Hey Bobby! How’s your mom and dad? Tell them to stop by.” In communities friends linger over fences talking about their children, jobs, and health issues. Such encounters aren’t planned, they just happen due to proximity. Friends are spontaneous with each other.
A second characteristic is availability. We think we have availability due to email and cell phones. Availability years ago meant you could see someone in person, like a neighbor, and they were usually only a stone’s throw a way. Or a short walk. And the encounter was in person. Notice how we don’t have many drop-in visits anymore?
Picture from bryan2012.com
A third characteristic of community is frequency. People spent a lot of time together. Churches that take relationship building seriously often utilize small groups to allow people to get together for an hour or so a week. The early church did that every day, enjoying meals, prayer and conversation (Acts 2). Christians in many less developed countries still get together about that frequently. Frazee says that many of the fees people pay to counselors could be saved if we would simply reach out to other people for intimate conversation and connection.
Sharing common meals is the fourth characteristic of close communities. For families, that means we should be sitting at a table together at least two or three times a week. Sharing food together promotes talking, listening, and love.
Finally, there is geography. Close proximity means we can be spontaneous available to each other for conversation and meals. The immediacy of internet chat rooms gives us the feeling of connection, but the widespread loneliness of Americans suggests it isn’t working. We simply miss those frequent face-to-face encounters. (Pp.118-36).
How can the church help? By being a community to and for people. By creating opportunities for people to sit down, share a drink, tell a story, and get engrossed in the life of another. “Come to me,” Jesus said. Let’s be his voice sounding out that call to lonely people today.
What are some ways the church today can promote the development of these five characteristics of community?