Social science offers helpful insight on the role different spaces for connection play in the formation of people. Connection (to a relationship or an organization) are not “all or nothing”. We belong in different ways. It benefits our leadership when we understand these different ways of connection and the function that each space offers in our priorities of equipping people for participation in God’s ministry across our community.
We are made for connection with others. Intimate space is the closest space that we are known by others. This is not an exclusive quadrant dedicated solely to a marital partnership, we see examples of this with life long friends and community members. This space offers a sense of vulnerability and openness the other spaces are not intended to provide.
Our families and close friends provide us a place of belonging. They provide us the opportunity to reenforce formative truths that are revealed by God and those in our intimate space of connection. These are appropriately closed to those outside the circle. Trust has been forged over time through shared experiences.
The frequency of our presence in a space provides a level of connection to others. We may recognize a person or know them casually. These spaces provide a field of opportunity to be drawn into closer proximity (personal space) as time and interactions increase. Examples of this would be the gym, a co-working space, local church coffee hours, etc.
Wherever we gather for a common purpose, we are connecting with others in a public space. We are connected with others when we cheer for the same sports team, send our children to the same school, or worship in the same congregation irregardless of how well we know one another.
Local churches tend to program towards three of the four spaces (public, social, and personal) while providing support for the various “intimate relationships” that make up their construct. There is a tendency to over emphasize the importance specific spaces in a given congregational make up. We have examples where the public space attendance is held up as the most substantive metric to pay attention to. Throughout the centuries of Church history, we have various examples for the personal space has been held up as the priority (think house church networks, or the more recently coined “micro-church” movement). In some circles of the Church, we have seen where social space is held up as the priority, though these groups tend to couple their efforts in social space with either personal or public emphasis (missional communities and missionary teams are examples that come to mind).
What if our metrics shifted away from where attendance was growing in our preferred space towards the formation of people?
Would our leadership accept that in certain seasons of life, a person may need to prioritize one space over another? What would have to change in our current structures if rather than putting pressure on schedules for attendance, we provided environments that foster maturation in the faith and extension of ministry in the natural spaces people already operate within?
People belong in many different ways. How do we attend to their formation more systemically and less linearly?