Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Create Community

I'm a writer. I haven't gotten around to calling myself an author -- maybe when the book comes out in the fall. Until then, I'm just a writer. Sometimes that's glamorous; sometimes it's like making sausage -- you don't want to watch the process.

Last night was one of those nights. Locked in a room with two other guys, we were given five icons and five short phrases. Then we were told to write five articles of less than 500 words.

Phrase #1: Create Community
Icon: Bowling Pins

Phrase #2: Be Relevant
Icon: Furniture

Phrase #3: Enlist the Family
Icon: Station Wagon

Phrase #4: Clarify the Message
Icon: Microphone

Phrase #5: Incite Worship
Icon: Boombox

And away we went. Here's the end result of the first article. Let me know what you think.

Create Community
Bowling is a social sport. It’s definitely not your typical competition where you are constantly battling your opponent. It has a relational emphasis. Just watch kids at a bowling party. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of stress if someone rolls a gutterball. And there’s plenty of pause for eating, laughing and talking. And everyone who gets a strike gets a “high five” or a “thumbs up”. It’s probably because the point of bowling for most people is togetherness. Whenever our small groups have an activity at the bowling alley, something unique happens. There is a connection. There is a gregarious urge that is satisfied. Friendships deepen. Conversations occur that otherwise might not have. Maybe bowling is a microcosm of community and how it works.

Robert Putnam seems to think so. He wrote a book a few years ago called Bowling Alone. In it, he uses bowling as a metaphor to illustrate a central crisis at the heart of our society. His book shows how bowling has evolved through time, and how it symbolizes what is happening in our social culture. Years ago, thousands of people belonged to bowling leagues. Today, however, they're more likely to bowl alone. In Putnam’s opinion, this is symptomatic of what is happening to our concept of community and points to our desperate need for social revival. He warns of a growing deficit of social capital. According to his research and statistics, educational performance, safe neighborhoods, equitable tax collection, democratic responsiveness, everyday honesty and even our health and happiness is somehow linked to community. His arguments are convincing, and his books have gotten the attention of mainstream magazines, politicians and social experts.

Putnam’s observations about how community impacts someone’s moral and emotional health are also true of spiritual health, probably even more so. People need community to grow in their faith. When kids, teenagers or adults serve together, discuss faith together and do life together, it has a lasting impact. And there is no organization that has the potential to create community like a church. If God created within everyone the need to experience community, then we should make it our business to help people find community. We have discovered that when the principle of community drives the primary environments you create, it radically affects the culture of your church. Every program should be a step to small groups. They are the optimal place to model character, talk about faith, monitor personal growth, develop spiritual disciplines, establish significant friendships, interpret life and learn to apply truth. And when kids grow up understanding the power of community, chances are they will make a conscious decision to always make it a priority. Maybe our motto should be “No one grows up and goes bowling alone!”