Friday, February 1, 2013

7 Quick Takes (Vol. 27): Can we build a church community?

When my husband and I joined our parish four years ago, we knew no one. Since that time, we've joined six different committees/ministries, attended Mass there every Sunday we're in town, and participated in quite a few parish events. It didn't take long to become part of the community, to create our village.

It did involve investment of time. It involved a fair amount of effort and a willingness to adjust our schedules to accommodate church commitments. It wasn't easy, but to us it was worth it. We value participating in a faith community, so we have made it a priority to join one.

I have heard a number of churches lament the lack of community among their parishioners. They host events designed to build community and create Bible study groups that will draw people together. The belief seems to be that if opportunities for community are made available, then people will come together in mutual friendship and support.

I think these efforts, while made with good intentions, address a minor problem. There may be some people who desire community and don't know where to start, but I don't think that's the main issue. I think the problem for churches is that people prefer to build community with coworkers, teammates, and others with common interests. People see church as a place to worship, not a place to build friendships. And we cannot build someone else's community if he doesn't want to be a part of it.

Moving into the realm of speculation, I wonder if this is because of an increasingly segmented society. It is easy to surround oneself with people of a similar age, political outlook, stage of life, hobbies, etc. Social media certainly facilitates this type of community.

If parishioners are moving away from a church community, does this also make it harder to maintain a relationship with God? If we cannot pray with and for each other, as individuals rather than as the generic "Church", does this make it more difficult to experience the God who designed us to live in community? I don't know.

Finally, if it is indeed a problem that the congregation does not want community, how do we address that? How do we create a desire? I would love to hear your thoughts on this one.


  1. This is a great topic. Our parish is fairly good sized, but it seems (as in many groups - religious and secular) that you have the same 10% of the people participating and doing most everything. So I think it's a two-fold issue. Churches need to provide opportunities, but people also have to WANT to have their church as their community. The majority of our close friends all came from church. But, like you, my husband and I made a huge effort when we were first married and joined our parish to get involved. The best way to expand the circle of the church community is for parishes to provide the opportunities, and then for those already involved to personally invite new people. It's hard when you're the new person to make that leap, unless you are really motivated (like we were), and many people are not.

    1. That's a good point, community building is much more successful when people are personally invited by someone they know, rather than an announcement from the pulpit. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!