The Illusion of Community, Part 4

November 10, 2008 by

Soldier & TeaThis is part four in a series about the illusion of community. Part one was about online community networks. Part two was about how we’re doing at building community in our weekend gatherings. Part three discussed why community ‘online’ and ‘offline’ might be an old school way to think. Today, let’s talk about why our value proposition is a little backwards when it comes to building community.

I am keenly aware that this entire series on the illusion of community has been written from a very American, very Western, perspective. Our lack of community is embarrassing compared to how the rest of the world relates. My trip to Haiti earlier this year, and to Israel and Turkey last year was no exception.

My wife and I recently watched the movie Body of Lies. It’s a great example of the differences between how we in America view community and how the majority of the world approaches community. There are several scenes in the movie with the head of Jordanian Intelligence, Hani Salaam, that contrast the difference between East and West. People may be mean, but they’re not means to an end. I regret the number of times I have “used” people as a way to advance my agenda, regardless of how well-intentioned I may have been.

Backwards Thinking
One of the unfortunate things that keeps happening in this pursuit of building community–online, offline, or both–is that we continue to get our value proposition backwards. We must continually ask ourselves how we add value to people and not how people add value to us. The success of a tech startup is all about how many users they can get. The value of the new product/technology is directly tied to how many people are participating. Twitter didn’t get heavily funded because it was a good idea. It got funded because it was a good idea that amassed massive amounts of people/users.

I’m afraid churches often take this same approach. We think our value comes from how many people we can amass. The more we amass, the more we appear to be “successful,” and the more resources we attract. Instead, our energy should be focused on how much value we add to people. How can we serve, give and benefit others? How can we feed the hungry, house the homeless or defend the weak?

Only when we get our value proposition right will we begin to understand what true community looks like. It was Jesus’ compassion for people that caused him to want to serve, not his need for a crowd that gave him a reason to serve. In Mark 6 we see that Jesus not only had his value proposition right (add value to people), he then proceeded to one of the most natural ways of building community: Breaking bread.

Post By:

Brad Abare

Brad Abare is the founder of the Center for Church Communication. He consults with companies and organizations, helping them figure out why in the world they exist, why anyone should care and what to do about it.
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4 Responses to “The Illusion of Community, Part 4”

  • C. Holland
    November 10, 2008

    I couldn’t agree more. As we continue with ministry here in Western Europe, it is disappointing to see many here trying to emulate the model of trying to attract crowds while missing the point about serving others.

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  • B. Castle
    November 12, 2008

    Well spoken. Most Churches and ministries are focused on numbers. Very seldom do I encounter Church leadership that is focused on “adding value” to the lives of individuals through the preaching and teaching of the Gospel. Somewhere we missed the point about “service”.

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  • Jeff Hamilton
    November 19, 2008

    Brad, I’m glad we’re buddies so we can process this out “in community” ;-) but…in my journey as a shepherd of a local body of Christ followers, I’m afraid that I’ve been pursuing the wrong goal. Community is not the purpose of the church. Discipleship is. It just happens to be that the most tangible context for discipleship is in community (see Jesus & the 12). Jesus didn’t sell community. His calling card was “follow me, and I will make you…”
    I’ve found myself buying into the idea that if I can create context for people to connect, for community, it will open up doors to discipleship. That may be true to an extent. But we (the church) have to be focused on discipleship, transformation. If we do, “common-unity” will be a by-product.
    Thoughts anyone?…

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  • james wheeler
    January 27, 2009

    I am way late on this but have been munching on this idea of adding value to others. I think for churches bent on marketing, attraction and numerical success this is a really tough challenge. Frankly, i think it is tough for all Evangelical types because celebrating “success” is a big part of what we do. Can we get back to building community without fretting about numbers?

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