In centuries past, your community was the people you lived on the same street with, went to church with, walked to school with, shopped at the market with. For country folks, their community was the nearby town. For city folks, it was the few blocks immediately around their flat. As more people moved to the city and cities got larger, the definition of community largely stayed the same. These were the people you experienced life with. You worshipped together, you bought food together, you worked with one another, and your children played together (and as time went by) went to school together.
Then came the advent of cars. We started driving to places where we worked with people we didn’t live with. But driving was still expensive and the communities around our neighborhood were still small. On evenings and weekends we still bought food together, still worshipped together, our children still went to school together. Our community was still the people around us experience life with us.
Then cars and fuel became affordable. We built countless roads and created a life that made cars the expectation, not the rule. And with the internet we are spread out even more. Now you don’t just work with someone that lives on the other side of town, you work with someone on the other side of the world. You worship with people that live on the other side of town. Your kids go to school together, but now you drive them there and back. We drive past the people we live next to, go inside, get on the internet, and talk to people across town and across the country.
We call the people we work with our community, but do we talk about anything of meaning? We call the people we worship with our community, but do we see them more than once a week. We call our neighborhood our community, but how many of your neighbors do you even know the names of? We call the people we communicate with on the internet our community, but how many do you ever see face-to-face?
Everyone talks about all the communities they are a part of and then wonder why they feel so lonely and isolated. I think it’s because we’ve changed the definition of community and while the way true community is built has’t changed. You can’t truly live in community with people you don’t physically interact with regularly.
To live life in community where we can truly know each other deeply, I think we have to always meet all three criteria: proximity, interest, regularity. Take out one of the three and you will always find an excuse to not find time to get together.