Defining Community

Earlier this week, I posted about cultivating community. In the comments section, it quickly became obvious that I had missed something. I had neglected to define community. Are people who gathering and exchange thoughts and ideas online really a community?

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When I am looking for definitions, I typically pull out my oh-so-handy Webster’s Dictionary (or search my Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary online).

Here’s their definition of community:

Main Entry: com·mu·ni·ty
Pronunciation: \kə-ˈmyü-nə-tē\
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural com·mu·ni·ties
Usage: often attributive
Etymology: Middle English comunete, from Anglo-French communité, from Latin communitat-, communitas, from communis
Date: 14th century

1 : a unified body of individuals: as a : state, commonwealth b : the people with common interests living in a particular area; broadly : the area itself <the problems of a large community> c : an interacting population of various kinds of individuals (as species) in a common location d : a group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society <a community of retired persons> e : a group linked by a common policy f : a body of persons or nations having a common history or common social, economic, and political interests <the international community> g : a body of persons of common and especially professional interests scattered through a larger society <the academic community>

2 : society at large

3 a : joint ownership or participation <community of goods> b : common character : likeness <community of interests> c : social activity : fellowship d : a social state or condition

Is it just me or do you sometimes put away your dictionary more confused than ever about a word’s meaning? Since Webster’s couldn’t provide an easy answer…how do YOU define community?

For me I think “community” is all about a group of people uniting around common passions. And let’s be honest, there are A LOT of things people are passionate about.. fantasy football, running, Alabama football, sewing, comic books, churches, The Grateful Dead, the outdoors, the Amish, college basketball, the Bible…just to name a few.

Web 2.0 technologies allow us to find, and gather with, people down the street, across town, or on the other side of the world who share our passions. We no longer are constricted by geography. Our online communities are not hindered by physical boundaries.

And from what I have experienced, when a group of people are united behind feeding the hungry, praying for the sick, holding one another accountable to His standard, or even just walking through life together, a very powerful and intimate community is created. And it makes no difference if they are physically in the same location or online.

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Lindsey has a sincere love for her precious dogs Molly and Maisy, a good red wine and the Delta Sky Club. She spends her days (and some nights) laboring to end childhood hunger at Feed the Children and to gather, equip and unleash women at IF:Gathering.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • This may be dumb but I define community as any group of people where even the biggest jerk can find someone who actually cares for them as a person.

    • @Jason – totally dumb. (kidding of course)

      An interesting definition. It totally has something to do with the "care."

    • Very interesting way to look at it. Seems impossible, but in all honesty everyone needs community and everyone can be that jerk, so I like this definition.

  • Hmm. You and Charles Stone could trade notes. Your paragraph that starts with "Web 2.0…" should be a comment to his post yesterday.

    See http://bit.ly/1H79c6

    (If you don't wanna post it there, but it's okay if I do, let me know!)

    • @Jeffrey, Haven't seen your face in awhile. How are you? Thanks for the tip. I went and commented on Charles Stones' blog.

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  • Hi Lindsey,

    I really don't get community. Really truly. I absolutely think that online can be a true community and I've read 2 books about that. In fact, for me, I have an easier time relating with others online than I do IRL. I'm strange; most of my friends really aren't into online things, unless it's tending to their virtual farm on Facebook. (since I already spend way too much time online, I don't even look at FB games)

    I've already revealed several times that I'm not typical….. it's strange; I want community; a true sense of belonging even though I'm not as similar as many others….. but I'm beginning to think that community is really a lot like high school cliques: there are simply people you enjoy being with more often and those are the people you share things with and are your community. I once thought that I could be in community with my whole church; One in purpose and spirit. We may be One in spirit and purpose but I don't think it translates to community. Where I live, we're all just too busy and preoccupied with daily life, work and church stuff to really get to know all in a deep meaningful way; so we have to pare it down and choose. And I think we simply choose people that, as you pointed out, we have stuff in common with.
    I once thought that all we needed was the common denominator of Christ to be in real, authentic community but I no longer think that…… It seems that it hinges more on other things than on loving Christ. I don't like it but I'm beginning to accept it.

    • @torybee, I question whether or not it is really community that you "don't get." Because you participate in it. I see your comments on several people's blogs that you must feel drawn to for some reason. Maybe it is that whatever you things you are gathering around are not truly your passions.

      I am not saying this well so I will give you an example. When I moved I was forced into a "community" of girls. The only thing we really all had in common is that we were single. I am certainly not passionate about being single, or about going out and trying to find men. The times when we'd all gather, girls would get giddy, and tell their recent boy stories, I'd just feel out-of-place, disconnected.

      Online (and in real life) I finding myself drawn to people who are struggling. People who are struggling to be closer to God. People who have been through major stuff. People I can learn from. People who want to leave their mark. That is the kind of community I can get excited about.

      Does that make sense?

      • It does make sense and you are right. I definitely participate in community; both online and IRL… and yet it so far hasn't yet satisfied me. Online has more than IRL, ironically.
        I don't know what I'm passionate about. Perhaps I'm trying to be "in" with the "in" crowd at my church and that's the problem? Perhaps if I were to just embrace what I'm passionate about it would be more fulfilling.
        The problem is that the things I'm passionate about it seems those around me aren't, especially if they are women. I like to read, and the books I like to read are not the type that my friends like to read. I attend two Bible studies; people think I'm nuts. (I am) I like to understand theological issues and I like to talk about the Church, culture, society and the things around me. My friends IRL don't. They think that God is too big to understand so let's not talk theology; theology isn't important. And church, society and culture are things that isn't really of importance to them either. Most don't read a lot and wonder where I find the time to read so much.
        It's kinda why I love online; online people actually discuss these things: You bring this up; other bloggers ask these questions.
        So, yes; I think I do have a fledgeling community of people online that I participate in. Not sure they LIKE me but perhaps community isn't about being LIKED.
        Am I making any sense? Sorry; I suppose I am looking at it from a "me" perspective instead of as you are doing: using your passion to help others.
        It's awesome and I really enjoy reading your blog and the comments you post in the other blogs I haunt. 🙂

        • @torybee, You are making tons of sense. And I think you should keep hunting for friends IRL who share your passion for discussing real, deep things. Surely they are out there…. And thankfully you have found a community you enjoy online.

          I am lucky because a lot of the people I interact with online, live nearby and so I get to interact with them in person too.

          Oh, and I like you. Very much. I always enjoy what your bring to the conversation. But I agree that I am not sure community is about being liked.

          • Thanks Lindsey.
            I appreciate your wisdom and encouragement. I like you too but I have a CHOICE in reading your blog; you have no such choice in my being annoying and commenting on your blog and your friends blogs!

            I don't know; it seems online really is a more level playing field. I definitely feel more comfortable in this realm than I do IRL. But I keep trying IRL.

          • Oh, and you're right; you are lucky that the people you interact with online live nearby. Most of the people in my life IRL don't tweet or blog. There's a few exceptions, of course.

        • I am much in the same way…You can feel very at home online and feel that people are tracking with you, but in reality it is just one part of community.
          There is just something to be said about being with people in person. I do not know what it is, but when you are with someone else it seems that true community happens.

          Not saying there is anything wrong with online community, but I think we need to be careful with how much weight we put in having community only happen online. I have done that before and really came up empty and unsatisfied.

          But keep searching, because I often feel the same way but then discover that I just was not looking in the right place.

          • Kyle, I agree that person to person community is important; but imagine this: I don't talk well, don't come across well IRL. Online all that doesn't seem to matter. I have friend IRL, I do. I am part of true community that I love and feel accepted. I think my biggest problem from community it expecting too much. Perhaps community is just…. well, I still don't quite know. I just don't want to be a part of community where I'm merely tolerated or tolerate others; I want more than that…. I want genuine caring.
            I make no sense! Just wanted to say I agree with you and I do have many people that I'm in community with…… but it's more like we live our separate lives and only interact once a week. I want a community that does more than that.

          • I understand exactly what you are saying. Honestly I have been there and am there now. When I went to college I left a community of 10 guys that I really felt close to and loved being around. When I got to college I expected it to be the same, we would talk about books, theology, sports, etc…it was way different. The guys at college were very immature in bible and theology (it was a bible college that i went to as well).
            i had a hard time working with these guys and being around them until we started to get some things in common.

            I am with you, I want to be apart of genuine community that is not all about tolerating each other. I just have to be very careful with how much I think online community is real. It is like reading blogs, you get a glimpse of a person but you truly do not know who they are until you actual are around them and spend some time with them.

            That happened to me. I spent some time with a big named blogger (two days together) and was excited to get to know them more. A week later we chatted on the phone and he told me that I was a completely different person then he thought. He said online I sometimes am a little harsh and seem to be pretty opinionated, but in person I was very easy to be around and very gracious. He said he liked the real me way better then the online me.
            I had no clue that i was this way online, none what so ever.
            It taught me that often times it is hard to portray everything online and it can really limit things at times.

          • I can see what you are saying. I think I come across differently online; more articulate, a bit more bold and in real life I either come across as super shy or difficult because I ask questions.

            I wonder at time: Which is the "real" me? How I project myself online, which is truly my authentic, inner thoughts, or how I am in real life, which is much quieter.

          • good question to ask yourself.
            Often times (myself included) we can articulate and project what we want online, you know put your best foot forward, and in real life it is much harder to be that way.
            Just a thought maybe as to why online community is easier.

  • Ali

    I have been amazed multiple times in the past several weeks at the power of online communities. Twice this week people whose blogs I have commented on have connected with me personally by sending me an email or inviting me to send them an email. I am even going to call one of these people next week.

    Making friends online is kind of weird to me. I am not technologically savvy, and I don't have my own blog, but the kindness of people online is really amazing. (And I am beginning to realize that I can make friends online.) It is so cool what the internet allows us to do and how it allows us to connect with others.

    • @Ali, You should start blogging. You will be amazed at the love and support you feel from people you "meet" online.

    • This is what I love about social community as well. I have been able to connect with a lot of cool people because of social media that I would have never gotten to have the chance to have met or get to know.

  • I've been thinking about this idea of what makes a community since reading your earlier post. I love the community I've discovered through Web 2.0 technologies! It stretches me and makes me think outside my comfort zone. I also expect it will eventually move me physically outside my comfort zone. It's going to be an interesting journey,

    • @Cindy, That is what I am finding I am drawn to online as well. People asking tough questions and not afraid to share even tougher answers.

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  • Good post….we need better dictionaries 😉

  • Community is a funny thing. It seems that people look at community differently then others. I wrote a week long series about community and small groups last week and felt good about it only to have it completely question by my grandpa. He is old school and sees community only happening when the Bible is studying. We had an hour long discussion (well really argument) about community. But he continued to come back and ask what is community?

    The hard thing for me is I do not really know, it is just community. It is like one of those words that do not have a meaning, they just are. But as I started to really look at what community is and was I could not help but come back to this idea that community is about connecting. It seems that the communities that I want to be apart of are ones that I feel like I am able to talk about life and connect with. Not just a bible study that meets once a week but a blog where we discuss different issues and definitions.

    Community is connecting with one another in a way to discover that we are not the only ones who are often confused and discouraged by life, but that we are all in this together and are sinners saved by grace and working to share a life that has been marked by this amazing grace (sorry to get preachy).

    Thanks for asking this tough question, look forward to the responses.
    *kyle

  • Lindsey,

    You should add a link to this post into our blog carnival next Tuesday… the topic we’re doing is ‘Community’ 🙂

    I like what you said but I think you missed something.

    You said: “For me I think “community” is all about a group of people uniting around common passions”

    That’s true, but at the same time, it’s not complete. You see, true community goes beyond ‘common passions’ and extends to all of those who are around us. We’re building a community in our street not based on anything we are all passionate about but based on the one thing we have in common: we live in close proximity to each other.

    The danger of Web 2.0 ‘community’ is that it creates segregation. Instead of finding ways to integrate people with different passions into one community, we create separate, fractured communities which don’t interact with each other. The danger is that they can become less of communities than they are cliques.

    Just my 2cents worth 🙂

  • Thank you for this insightful post, Lindsey.
    I reflect on the definition of "community" quite often lately. Involved in social networks like Facebook & Twitter the word seems to have taken on a whole new meaning. Perhaps that is why our dictionary confuses us at times. Socially we are still evolving.
    For me the internet is both a blessing and a curse. Yikes. Can't believe I am saying that. It is a blessing in that it has allowed me to connect with people all over the globe. I've had the pleasure of meeting several of them in person & it was delightful. The curse comes in still feeling LONELY despite all the online exchange.
    My husband & I have been in ministry for years. We've recently begun searching for a new church home. It's a long road and sometimes Im tempted to hide out online. Yet in the end I find online fellowship & fun no substitute for face-to-face interaction.
    Hopefully one thing leads to another. Balance and belonging is a wonderful combo.

  • I have been in discussion with some of my friends about the ideas around community. We have largely focused our thoughts about church and what is the root benefit of gathering together. I could worship anywhere with anyone. I don't have to know them and the group can be large or small. I don't believe that what make a church body is really the worship. More could be said about the other things that could easily be thought of as "attractive" to potential church members. (aesthetics of the building, age of congregation, size of congregation, technology, etc.) I believe that what creates a commitment to a church family is the relationships that are developed and the sense of community that is generated.

    Has this ever happened to you? You hear of someone at your church that has gone and attended services at another church in town. What feelings are stirred inside you. If it was someone that you didn't really know you might not think that much of it, but if they are close to and you felt they were part of your circle, you might just feel betrayed. It is almost as if they were cheating on your "family" with another "family"!

    Now don't get me wrong here. I believe in the universal body of Christ and my particular congregation is not the only one handing out tickets to the pearly gates. It is not a feeling of superiority that would cause a reaction like this, but a breach in the community. A weakening of the bonds that encourage and strengthen us. I think the most important thing a church family can do is encourage one another and lift each other up. The most important thing a church can do is create community.

    You might think I am getting way off the path with this line of thinking, but I think online communities are amazing! I also think there is great value and need for local Christian communities (otherwise known as churches). The thing is that online communities are thriving while many local Christian communities are struggling. I believe our emphasis as leaders has been misdirected to focus on things that might not really matter as much as we think they do. Our emphasis should be in the one thing that a local gathering of Christians can truly offer each other…community.

    Your post has made me realize that there is a medium that seems to be doing a good job at this. It is the online community of social networking. It is bring people together and bonding people all around the globe to encourage and strengthen and share this life that we are going through. The thought that I will continue to think about is "what can we as church leaders learn about creating community from the world of online social networking?"

    Thanks for your thoughts, they make me think.
    Also, thanks for listening. I believe you truly care about creating meaningful discussion.

  • StephanieinLex

    Well-said, Lindsey, and what a great resulting dialogue!

    p.s. I, personally, walk away from Webster's New World (what the AP stylebook points to when it's silent on something) understanding stuff better, but I'm kind of weird that way. Anyhow, I think you should write either an "h" for definition 1 or an "e" for 3. Because Merriam-Webster likes to keep up with its cultural/technology references, right? 😛

    • StephanieinLex

      And by that I mean a Web 2.0 definition of community! 🙂

  • community is Biblical, like it or not, we simply need each other.

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  • For me, community also involves sharing ourselves with others. The theme song for Cheers talks about "where everyone knows your name", but it was more than that…they each knew a piece of each other. But if community has to do with sharing ourselves, then community can only grow to the extent that we are vulnerable with each other.

    I express myself better in written form vs. talking. So for me, it is easier to be vulnerable online. But the risk I run is that I only become vulnerable online because it is easier and don't open myself up to the people I am surrounded with on a daily basis. And easier doesn't always make it better.

  • I believe you have hit the proverbial nail on the head. Community is merely people in relationships of life that happen to be centered around some commonality. Some communities are long-term and some are short-term. When I was in grad school, that community seemed to almost consume my life, but it was only for a season. The communities that have involved the deep, faith issues of my life, are the ones that seem to be long-term.

    Thanks for sharing on the idea. I have also written about the relational aspect of ministry as it relates to community at

    http://randykinnick.wordpress.com/2009/10/23/camp

  • Hey Lindsey, this is my first time to your blog. Great question! It think part of the reason "community" is so hard to define is because it's used (misused?) in so many contexts.

    We refer our city as the "[insert city name] community" even though we don't know 99% of the people in it. We refer to a loose collection of regular visitors to a website as an online community even if they don't know each others real names. And then we use that same word to describe the very deep personal relationships in our small group. Which is real community?

    Perhaps it's all community, but what it looks like certainly varies depending on the depth and commitment of the relationships.

  • i like your thoughts on this, friend. 🙂

    i also get the frustration that can result from what would seem to be a simple definition search! i wonder, though, if what you found in the dictionary entry (multiple and varied definitions) lends some strength to your position: community really is something that can be expressed in varied ways. it is not something that should not be restricted to a person's small "box" of experience.

    Web 2.0/social media certainly does create new arenas for community. those new arenas cannot – and should not – replace in-person communities, but they sure can be fruitful complements.

  • I’m so glad you added this to the blog carnival!

    I hope lots of people come and read it and then stick around to read regularly!

  • Lindsey, what a perfect addition to the carnival!

    I read the definition when we picked Community as our topic this time… I was disappointed to say the least. I really like what you said:

    "when a group of people are united behind feeding the hungry, praying for the sick, holding one another accountable to His standard, or even just walking through life together, a very powerful and intimate community is created"

    This is a beautiful description! I also agree that it doesn't matter if it the people are you next door neighbors or online friends thousands of miles away…

    Thanks for posting.

  • The Church in the Book of Acts is a good model, I think. They had their share of problems, but they were committed to living in community. I found that same definition, and was equally perplexed.

  • "..a very powerful and intimate community is created. And it makes no difference if they are physically in the same location or online."

    I love this line. I am blown away by the fellowship and encouragement that is flowing from blog to blog. It feels like open borders, beyond ourselves, yet bringing us to connect and move mountains. With the power of words online.

  • Bernadette Pabon

    community, is a powerful word, it makes you feel a deeper bond,like a family, a spiritual bond, because the leader of community is Jesus Christ. Little or large we must consider all of the people, this common bond unites us in love and faith GOD.

  • dandydon

    I like the picture you use to illustrate community: hands reaching together, touching one another, forming a perimeter of unity. That is the image of "common unity." The reason it stands as an apt metaphor – better than an illustration representing people networked through computers or some other communication device – is because it is seminal in its presentation of unity.

    Community is hard to define because it is within us, as Jesus said. So we may see ourselves committed to the "brotherhood of man" as well as our nuclear family and many parts in between. It seems to me that Jesus had several levels of community that were compelling to him.

    Devices that connect are mere substitutions for real, tangible connection. Through the web we communicate ideas and feelings, but not hugs. Presence is hard to do through wires and waves. We are more than those thoughts and feelings. How we long for the one who awaits us at the airport; for a daddy or mommy who is home; for a minister to comfort us; for Emmanuel.

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