In chapter 4 of Social Geographies: Space and Society, Valentine discusses the concept of community in relation to they way they mobilize and come together. The author talks about ‘natural communities’ and Darwin’s theories surrounding the relationships between organisms and their surroundings. Also discussed are the theories of Park, who looks at community through competition, ecological dominance, and invasion and succession. While I don’t agree with everything that Valentine asserts, I believe that it is important to understand the concepts underpinning the way that communities develop. Over the past 50 years, the church has broken into many different types of communities. Some of these communities are thriving, while others struggle. There are many theories about how to start and grow a church community, yet few of them consider the natural evolution of how communities form. They don’t consider the “fit factor”.
We know that our culture is consumer driven, and that communities grow based on the value that we place on housing, schools, etc. For example, I live in a small, wealthier community. Our town is somewhat segregated from the poverty in a nearby town just 5 miles away. People have paid large sums of money to live in this community. The wealthier people contribute to the local school system, which has become one of the best in the state. It has been difficult for people with lower incomes to move into the community due to the high taxes and real estate rates. With the recent economic downturn, many in the community have had a difficult selling their homes. As a result, real estate prices have recently dropped, as the high prices can no longer be supported. This is providing an opportunity for some to purchase homes in the village, who could not previously afford to. People are attracted to the community due to the culture, esthetics, and general feel of the community. The people within the community have common interests. Education is highly valued, as is care and keeping of the environment. People have moved into the community because they are drawn to the lifestyle and type of people who live here. Yet, as new people move in the dogma of the village could change over time.
I’ve often been told that people surround themselves with others who are like them. They want to hang out and spend time with people who have common interests. I believe that this is also true of church communities. Too often churches fail to grow because they seek to build community with others who aren’t like them. They either send their people into new communities with a vision to attract the people and start a new church, or the community around their physical space changes. I saw this first hand with our previous church. They were located in a neighborhood that had changed over the prior 30 years. At one time, the community surrounding the church was full of children and younger generations. Today, the same community is mainly retired individuals. The church attracts individuals over age 50, and has growth in this area. However, the new pastor and his team have spent countless hours and dollars trying to ‘revitalize’ the church by focusing on youth and young families. They aren’t seeing success, as they don’t know how to attract and relate to that generation. If the church wants to grow, then they would be better to focus ministry efforts on the older community who so desperately wants to be involved in serving together. I believe we need to leverage the concept of a natural community in our church environments. While we should welcome diversity and to be willing to go outside of our comfort zones, I also believe that natural communities develop whether they are intended or not. In the example of my prior church, the people simply don’t have the capacity to build community with younger generations. Most in the church simply can’t relate to and have a limited understanding of what most young professionals and families experience in their day-to-day lives. How could we minister more effectively if we considered the “fit” between the people building church community and living in church community?
 Valentine, Gill. Social Geographies: Space and Society. New York, N.Y.: Prentice Hall, ©2001.