Wednesday, May 04, 2016

A Community Feel

I've noticed a lot of churches and towns try really hard at building community. The towns or areas of town throw community block parties, or host festivals. The churches have sermons on reaching out to new people and making them feel comfortable. You may have even tried to have community yourself by following a list of ideas and then trying to replicate that process over and over until you can build community.

However, I've noticed in my life, none of that has really seemed to work in the past. When I went to a large church in a large city, I did all the right things. I volunteered, I joined small groups, I talked to my neighbors and had part-time jobs to meet people. I joined mom's groups and tried to follow all the "how to make a friend" lists out there. Sadly, after nearly 8 years, I still had only a tiny handful of close friends who I could count on to help out in a crisis (and some of them were moving away at the same time we were). It was incredibly difficult, to say the least, putting myself out there day after day, and not getting anywhere in my goal of building relationships and friendships.

I had pretty much given up, when we moved to the Raleigh, NC area to be closer to family and because of a great job opportunity. We first moved to the North Hills area. It was temporary housing, and I thought I would try it out. Because if it's the place everyone wants to live, then it must have some great community vibe and be a great place to meet people. That's when I realized where I had gone wrong. The place to meet people is not the "nice areas" of town. The place to meet people and build community is in the middle ground.

So, since you can do all the right things, and still not have community, what should you do? Well, don't give up, but also keep these key traits in mind for building community.

  • Percentage of People. Community by definition cannot be something you do yourself. A large percentage (in my estimation a minimum of 5-10%) of the people living in the area or within the organization need to be naturally community focused (more on that later).
  • Self-sufficient, but not self-contained. A community must be self-sufficient in order to truly be a community. However, it does not need to be self-contained. For instance, I usually go to the library, grocery store, doctor, coffee shop, fast food, and more in "our town". However, that doesn't mean that I don't invite community members from my community to go with me to other areas of town and do fun things. We are self-sufficient, but we don't have an idea that other places (or people from other places) are in any way less than we are.
  • Community Minded People. What does this mean? It can mean several things, but this is what I think of when I think of a community minded person. 
    • 1) Open hearted. Willing to let someone see the true you and being willing to look honestly at the other person in return with an open heart. 
    • 2) Working together. Being willing to ask for and receive help, regardless of the situation. 
    • 3) Outgoing. Again, not everyone in the community needs to have this trait, but many people in the community need to be willing to start the conversation, or you will lose whatever you have built within a few weeks or months. 
    • 4) Welcoming. This is a bit different than open hearted. This comes before open hearted does. People must be willing to welcome those who are new, strange, or different. This is more than a "greet you at the door" church. To me, being welcoming is an understanding that you are not better than the stranger you see. It's welcoming that person first and always as an equal, no matter their story, town, or creed. For instance, I was at a mom's group event that had a Facebook invite, and I didn't personally know anyone there. It was 30 minutes from my house. The moms all sat in a cluster, or circle, with their backs to any new people. They made snide comments about how, "at least in this town" they could leave their purses laying around and nothing would happen here. Most of the kids had no such problem or preconception about outsiders. My kids were playing with their kids and had a great time, but not one of the adults in this "mom's group" welcomed someone who was clearly an outsider. It definitely made me glad that I hadn't moved to that particular town.
I hope this helps the next time you are looking to build a new community, or improve your currrent community. The biggest thing, I think, is getting that initial momentum going. If you don't have enough people on board with this idea of building community, you will fail. Community, by definition, cannot be done alone.
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