March 19, 2003, 10:15 am
Filed under: uncategorized

I read this post from Todd Hunter’s blog the other day and have been chewing on it ever since.

“We keep trying to make Sunday church into “community” with people driving to these meetings from 20-30 minutes away. We then try to fix this obvious lack of community by adding some form of ‘home group”. Now people drive 20-30 minutes to a second meeting and we fool ourselves into thinking we have created community. [read more]

That, along with some other discussions I’ve read and been a part of seem to suggest that community is improbable without proximity. That’s a strugle for me. Now, I am very open to the thought that I haven’t matured to that level yet, but I’ve got some questions/issues. I’ll admit that community along with proximity is highly advantageous because of the unplanned contact that people have with one another, but I don’t think that’s the whole picture. It seems to me that proximity is being held out as an ideal, but the definition of proximity is in need of attention. Awhile back I read Randy Frazee’s book, The Connecting Church, which points in some of the same directions as the “community enhanced by proximity” stream. Frazee, though, idealizes relationships based on proximity in large part as a lost virtue of an earlier time in American life – i.e. “the good ‘ol days when people would sit on their front porch, drink lemonade, and talk to the neighbors passing by.” I really don’t have a problem with that as ideal or even as a model to try to recreate, as Frazee’s church in Texas does.

However, I believe that proximity has changed since those days. In the good ‘ol days, transportation, entertainment, and communication technologies were not what they are now. Now people don’t spend nearly as much time within the zones of the older definition of proximity. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that there is no proximity. Cell phones, e-mail, IM, blogs, etc. are newer applications of proximity. The fact that I’m writing these words in Southern California, and someone in Ohio or Canada or South Africa or next door to me will read them is testimony to a new form of proximity. Quite honestly, I’ve “accidentally run into” people on the internet many miles away and had conversation with them the same way I’ve “accidentally run into” people in the grocery store. It doesn’t mean that this is superior, but it’s not necessarily inferior either. Proximity absolutely helps when it comes to community, but we need to be wise to what the changing nature of proximity is. I do recognize that without actual physical proximity, there’s a need for more intentionality. But maybe that’s just another element of our new reality that we need to accept and deal with creatively, the same way we have to accept and creatively deal with spam in our in-boxes.

To me it boils down to this: I stopped think along the lines of “modernity bad/postmodernity good” or vice-versa a long time ago. It doesn’t matter whether postmodernity is good or bad, it just IS and the sooner I figure out how to approach life and taking the gospel to the world that postmodernity has changed, the more effective I’ll be at following Jesus. Similarly, whether proximity means living on the same block or across town, people live their lives in a new way. Maybe we need to creatively approach concepts of community with this in mind.

I’m still chewing on this, and I’ll be happy to be enlightened by anyone out there who can help sharpen my thinking a bit.


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