Is There Such A Thing As Online Community

I found this very interesting. Shane Hipps, explanation of what community is, and what “online community” is, shows the value of what the internet world can do, but yet shows the fragmented separation from true community. I have met people from the internet, people I want to be friends with for a long time… Yet, there is something about the ability to touch, hear, smell, sense body  language and emotion from, that makes that form of community much more empowering.


4 thoughts on “Is There Such A Thing As Online Community

  1. Shane provides great insight into how quickly online community provides a “shared imagination of the future,” and a good distinction between what I would call “Mediated community” versus “Incarnational Community.”

    Still, there is nothing WRONG with mediated community. God employed it since the Fall, using creation, miracles, prophets, and prophetically inspired writings to mediate his presence to his people. Paul obviously values mediated community as well. He used the best available technology of his day to: 1) maintain connections with both groups (Corinthians, etc.) and individuals (Philemon), and 2) forge new connections to readers he had never met (Romans, etc.)

    What Shane does a good job of detailing is the limitations of mediated community. God, Jesus, Paul, all viewed it not as “non-community,” but rather as a “second order” community. Words convey a lot, but not as much as flesh and blood contact.

    HOWEVER, “Incarnational Community” can be limited as well. Many community experts make a distinction between “genuine community” and “pseudo-community.” In ‘A World Waiting to be Born’ Scott Peck defines pseudo-community as a “stage of pretense,” wherein group members “pretend” they already possess genuine community, but no one actually knows one another on more a shallow level. Communication in a pseudo-community is a lot like a dinner party full of strangers “filled with generalizations. It is polite, inauthentic, boring, sterile, and unproductive.”

    Here’s the problem. Peck’s description applies to face-to-face communities every bit as much as it does to mediated communities. It describes what passes for “fellowship” in most mega churches–small talk over stale donuts and bad coffee in the lobby. And don’t pick on the sheep in the lobby. In my consulting work with church and nonprofit leadership teams, I have ALWAYS had groups rate themselves as possessing Genuine Community in their initial survey, only to have them realize that they are actually pseudo-communities after just one training session.

    So, the really issue isn’t that online community isn’t real community; it is that ALL communities start as pseudo-communities. A mediated genuine community, such as the one one shared by Paul and Corinthians (and perhaps even the Romans) is an infinitely better vehicle for transformation than a face-to-face pseudo-community. So the big how do we build Genuine Transformational Communities from our Pseudo-communities, whether they are mediated or face-to-face?

    How do we foster the kind of Acceptance, Authenticity, Conflict (Peck calls this Chaos), Forgiveness, Affirmation, and Soul Communication required to build genuine community? It takes both time and commitment, and, it rarely happens in groupings larger than 12. (Some would argue seven is the upper limit.)

    So I say… let’s try to build genuine community both online, on skype, and face-to-face, but realize that it will never happen without a committed few who are willing to commit the time and endure the chaos of real human life. To me, THAT is the real secret of the Incarnation. You?

  2. Mike Friesen says:

    great thoughts Gary. Jean Vanier said in his book with Stanley Hauerwas, How To Be Gentle In A Violent World, that community happens when three things happen; 1. Prayer 2. Feast 3. Celebration.

    I think that all of these are incarnational traits. What they all require is two things, vulnerability and time. If we don’t have time for anyone, we cannot ever have true community. This is what scares me about American Christianity, it has lost the value of community, in large part because it has lost the value of its time. We live such a frantic pace of life that we can’t be self-aware of who we are, and what we can’t recognize in ourselves, we will not be able to recognize in others. The second thing, is vulnerability. Vulnerability requires an openness, An openness to one’s self and to the other. With out the ability for me to give myself, who I am, to another human being, I have to know not only know what I am giving away (self-awareness) but also be willing to allow myself to need, to bleed. and the ability to be wounded further, so that I might find healing. Vulnerability requires trust, hope, and love for it to incarnate into me and frome me.

    I think these are both necessary traits,
    what do you think?

  3. Mike,
    The Vanier/Hauerwas Prayer/Feast/Celebration model pretty much fits my experience as well. It’s why Sue and I have built most of our DEEP COMMUNITY (did I just make up a catch phrase?) around what we call “Communion Fellowships”–groups that meet in our home over a long relaxed evening of feasting, prayer, and celebrating the Lord’s table. (We would add two further elements from Acts 2:45-48. SCRIPTURE engagement of some sort “devotion to the apostle’s teaching” and MISSION, “there were no needy persons among them,” and “the Lord added daily to those who were being saved.”)
    We’ve seen it work with married couples, families, singles, and mix of all the above (my favorite.) I also REALLY agree with you on the TIME, VULNERABILITY and COMMITMENT issues. Done right, these evenings take hours and hours (we nearly always do them on Friday or Saturday night.)
    I love large group worship and preaching, but the closest tastes of the coming kingdom I have ever experienced have been in those smaller groups (8-16, including kids). You?

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