On the problem of creating community

One of the difficulties with moving to an area like ours is being an outsider. Most people in our community have lived here all their life. Or, if they haven’t lived here all their life, they have come here as part of a particular community that is ready made for them. So, most people have their community already – with their family nearby or their extended community here for them – and they just don’t need you or the church to fill that void for them.

That tends to mean we do not need to create community for people here. They already have their community and we aren’t likely to do it any better. Instead, we need to enter into their existing community. It is better for us to join in with them than to expect them to join in with us. They don’t need us necessarily, so we must try to join with them.

How this works its way out will depend on which particular community we are talking about. We have found in trying to build up links with the local Pakistani community, we are best trying to develop shared spaces. There aren’t many natural places for white Christians and Asian Muslims to hang out; so we have had to create them. Through building up relationships in these created spaces, we have been able to involve ourselves in various other ways in this community.

When we are trying to reach the white working class, the community spaces are different. There are cafes, pubs, restaurants, cinemas in which we can naturally go together. There are plenty of shared interest clubs to which we can belong and get to know people. We can involve ourselves in various ways locally if we want to do that.

Similarly, in a deprived town like ours, we can provide help for people locally. We are able to offer English Classes and food distributions that help us to develop relationships with people. We have to be clear that these things are the beginning of relationship building, pre-evangelism if you like, but are nonetheless opportunities to get to know people through which we can then get involved in their community in other ways down the track.

But the reminder that we see again and again, many folks don’t need our community. They don’t need us. So trying to impose ourselves as those who are ‘here to help’ or trying to create community for them is rarely all that successful. Better, where we can, to involve ourselves in the community as it already exists. It’s usually better than what we artificially create anyway.