The Question?
It seems like people have been asking the question:

Can you have community online?

Or at least some form of this question is asked. Usually adjectives are thrown in front of the word community such as “true” or “real” or “authentic” or “quality”….and so you get the point.

I think what people are wondering is whether or not community can exist outside of a person to person, flesh to flesh encounter?

I have asked this question a lot before. But I’m not asking it anymore. I think community does exist online. And that it can exist just as fruitfully and vibrantly as it does in person.

Couple of thoughts:

  1. Just the fact that someone online is asking that question proves to me the fact that there is online community.  Otherwise, why ask?  And who are they asking that question to online?  Some community somewhere, because they are obviously expecting some response…from someone.

  3. Just because someone doesn’t have, or hasn’t experienced community online, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist and isn’t thriving.

  5. We have to be careful of what our expectations of community are.  Community is different things to different people.

  7. Also, how long does it take community to build?  A long time.  We can’t just log onto Facebook and comment on blogs and expect instant community.

What is Community?
Depends who you ask…but one place I like to gain wisdom from on this issue is Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I think he really wrestled with the topic of community. And I think we can expand his ideas online.

Here are a few of my favorite excerpts:

Christian community is like the Christian’s sanctification. It is a gift of God which we cannot claim. Only God knows the real state of our fellowship, of our sanctification. What may appear weak and trifling to us may be great and glorious to God. Just as the Christian should not be constantly feeling his spiritual pulse, so, too, the Christian community has not been given to us by God for us to be constantly taking its temperature. The more thankfully we daily receive what is given to us, the more surely and steadily will fellowship increase and grow from day to day as God pleases.

On innumerable occasions a whole Christian community has been shattered because it has lived on the basis of a wishful image. Certainly serious Christians who are put in a community for the first time will often bring with them a very definite image of what Christian communal life [Zusammenleben] should be, and they will be anxious to realize it. But God’s grace quickly frustrates all such dreams. A great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves, is bond to overwhelm us as surely as God desires to lead us to an understanding of genuine Christian community. By sheer grace God will not permit us to live in a dream world even for a few weeks and to abandon ourselves to those blissful experiences and exalted moods that sweep over us like a wave of rapture. For God is not a God of emotionalism, but the God of truth. Only that community which enters into the experience of this great disillusionment with all its unpleasant and evil appearances begins to be in God’s sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it. The sooner this moment of disillusionment comes over the individual and the community, the better for both. However, a community that cannot bear and cannot survive such disillusionment, clinging instead to its idealized image, when that should be done away with, loses at the same time the promise of a durable Christian community. Sooner or later it is bound to collapse.

Every human idealized image that is brought into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be broken up so that genuine community can survive. Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial.

I’m about to tackle Bonhoeffer’s doctoral dissertation (which he wrote at age 21…geesh), Sanctorum Communio: A Theological Study of the Sociology of the Church….I think that there are some gems to be mined in the area of church and community, and practical, theological, ministerial implications for community online.

And What Are You Doing to Foster Community?
I think we are all quick to criticize community–The lack thereof…The clicks…The difficulty to connect. Judgmental…Non-existant. Etc.

But what are we doing about it.

The right question I think: Is what are you doing about the community you are a part of, and to participate and give to a community…not just take?

I love community, but sometimes I’m not very good at it. I love person to person, in the flesh encounters. I also love online community and think it’s a huge blessing and gift that previous generations did not have.

If I have my choice, most often I would rather meet in person, talking over a cup of coffee…sharing life. I love that. But sometimes that’s just not possible. I may, and most likely will never have the chance to meet everyone I’m friends with on Facebook, or who I follow on Twitter, or who I read their blogs. But that doesn’t mean community doesn’t exist, or that our online friendships can’t thrive into an amazing community.

But here’s what I’m going to do about it.

  1. I’m going to continue to connect with people online, communicate, collaborate when possible.

  2. I’m going to make attempts to also call, video chat, FB chat, email, etc. with those online…take it another level.  I talk with several Tweets on the phone that I’ve never meant in person.

  3. I mentioned this on Nov. 17 in the post, Taking Community Offline: What I’m Doing About It And My 2009 Goal. That goal is to “meet & have coffee with every person in the DFW metroplex that I’m connected to on Twitter, Facebook or my blog.  Cool?”  In fact, I’ve already got a head start and met with several others (about 10) and will meet more at churchtechcamp:.Dallas, and many other places. Sometimes in large groups, sometimes in small, sometimes one on one.
What are you doing to create, improve, strengthen, connect, community online and in person?  Please share. We can learn from each other.