One of the areas that church leaders and seminaries would do well to read and train in the area of sociology, the study of how individuals and groups of people interact with one another, for three primary reasons:
Ironically, however, community is most especially formed not by pursuing it on its own, but through the pursuit of profound common goals and experiences. Like happiness, community is a by product. In his book, The Sociology of Community Connections, author John G.Bruhn writes,
Jose y Gasset once pointed out that "people do not live together merely to be together. They live together to do something together" (Wrong, 1976, p. 78). The error, according to Wrong, lies in conceiving of community as an end in itself, apart from the activities and functions that bind people together, and apart from those values that constitute a shared vision of life. The achievement of community, he said, cannot come from pursuing it directly, but only as a by-product of the shared pursuit of more tangible goals and activities (Wrong, 1976). [bold added]
John G. Bruhn. The Sociology of Community Connections (Kindle Locations 324-327). Kindle Edition.
This is why making community the goal of, say, small groups, problematic. There is only so much of building a sense of community and closeness that can be achieved by sitting around and drinking coffee. Certainly, that is a step towards community, but after awhile, the conversations grow stale and people lose interest.
What binds a small group together? The pursuit of meaningful goals together. And there is probably nothing that binds a group together more than the pursuit and practice of mission as a group. There is no need to debate whether mission or community or spiritual formation or worship is "more important." Obviously, those with a missional theology definitely have a perspective on this. However, it can certainly be observed and experienced that mission may be the best catalyst of these other three. (See Alan Hirsch)
Think of this. When mission is pursued, and a small group begins reaching out to a particular people group or goes on a short term mission trip, the experience bonds the group together more than just about anything else that they might do. They become a type of community with strong relational bonds. The mission causes them to pray together, study about how to reach people for Christ, reflect and commune with God. And when they worship together, they have stories and experiences to share that bring praise and glory to God. God becomes the God of today, who is alive and active, not merely the God of history.
This example from small groups and how they bond and form community is hopefully helpful in illustrating the importance of understanding sociology for churches and church leaders.
What other applications of sociology do you see for churches? Do you agree or disagree that community is most strongly achieved as a by product, rather than as an end by itself? Why or why not?