The word “community” has taken on a life of its own in our time. For most of human history, the ‘community’ was a relatively small conglomeration: a small group, a church family, a neighbourhood, or at the biggest, a town. Today, however, the ‘community’ is much larger.
People talk today of the ‘global community’. In this sort of community, we don’t know most of the people who comprise it. Think about it: I am in the same ‘global community’ as an unskilled labourer in India and a business executive in Germany. I don’t know these people, but we make up the same global community.
Social networking has also changed how we see community. We can have ‘online community’ with people who live thousands of kilometres away, whom we may or may not have ever met. The Internet allows us to ‘reach out and touch someone’ (an ancient motto of Bell Canada from its rotary telephone days) in numerous ways: email, text messaging, voice-over-Internet-protocol ( like Skype), even video calling. This has changed all the rules with respect to regular contact. Grandparents can watch their grandchildren grow up, day by day or week by week, even though they live an ocean away. A WiFi connection allows long-distance talking for hours at a time at no cost. Distance is no longer a barrier to community.
However, the larger we draw the circle for community, the less sense of responsibility each member of that community has for the others. There was a time when it was commonplace for community members to look out for one another. And it can still happen.
For example, I was part of an organized event one time where a woman was injured and hospitalized. When she was released from the hospital, the person she called to bring her home was not a member of her family, or a neighbour, or a Facebook friend. She called the leader of her church small group – someone she knew she could count on, someone who really was ‘love with skin on’.
In Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears A Who!, the community of Whos is only rescued when each member of the community participates in making noise to enable them to be heard by those other than the large-eared Horton. Every member of the community had a responsibility to ensure the well-being of the entire group.
This is why the local church still has a huge role to play in human society. Despite all the technology that has made the world One Big Community, people still long for face-to-face, authentic human friendship. And nobody offers that quite as well as the local church does – or should.
“All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12.27, NLT).
May it be true of every local church, that we provide the best kind of community, just as God intends!