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The spot for the good news, the good word, the quick reports of the many, many wonderful news items I hear all the time and want to share with the rest of you. Expect to find the good news when you come to check out "what’s the good word?"

Friday, May 14, 2010

Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft

In yesterday’s blog post, Gaze, Marion reviewed the three kinds of activities the healthy congregation undertakes; witnessing/inviting, gathering, and sending/serving. The three are not mutually exclusive, and each contains elements of the others. In other words, even when the congregation is in the gathering one-third of its program, the gathering must always exemplify witnessing/inviting and sending/serving. This principle is based directly on the model we find in Jesus' life.

Nineteenth century German sociologist Ferdinand Tonnies identified two types of small communities. Those he refers to as Gemeinschaft are built on relationships and are like families. These groups appear warm and friendly, but in fact are quite exclusive. It is actually quite difficult for others to become a part of such groups. In subtle ways, community members quickly deny access to strangers or visitors. Over the years, I have heard countless stories of people, members as well as non-members, who have gone to church and felt excluded. Usually the subtle if unintended message was, “We are busy here! We have important things to deal with. We/I don’t have time to include or listen to you!” (Note: The extreme opposite approach of centring a person out can drive people away just as effectively.)

The contrast to this, according to Tonnies is the gesellschaft community. These groups are more open and inviting, and tend to include people easily. The attitude is one of acceptance without suspicion or question. This community understands that the stranger does not know their way around, and seeks to make people feel accepted and at ease, minimizing any embarrassment. In church, for instance, such communities would try to avoid subtle barriers such as use of internal idioms, busyness, body language, formality, styles of dress, testing attitudes, questions, etc; the signals that tell people, “we are in but you probably don't belong here!” Instead, the message is simply, “Hi, I’m Susan. I’m glad you came. I’m going to sit over here; would you like to sit with me?” In other words, the gathering activities of the community are open, welcoming and serving to others.

Of course the key to this is that our lives should operate on the same open basis; an approach that says, “I do not know you yet, but I hope we will be great friends.” In my better moments, I understand that. I wish I lived my life that way.

Posted by Carman

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