In the 1960s, Edward T. Hall developed a theory based on the relationship between space, culture, community, and belonging. His research is becoming increasingly important for us as we discern how to better engage in community.
After all, the biblical mandate for us is to be in community, but what does that actually look like? The wineskins can change, can’t they?
- Public Space (50+ people present) - Our weekend gathering or a sporting event is what the public space looks like. You belong, you are part of a community, you somewhat get to know those around you, but there is not much of an opportunity to really get to know others.
- Social Space (20-50 people present) - This is a party-like environment where we are safe to decide who we would like to grow a deeper relationship with. It’s big enough that a newcomer won’t feel like they’re the centre of attention, yet it’s small enough that no one will fall through the cracks. It’s big enough that everyone will find someone to connect with, but it’s small enough that meaningful conversation can take place, without it being uncomfortable. You belong, you are part of a community, and it’s a safe place to take that next step.
- Personal Space (8-12 people present) - This is the typical small group environment, where you intentionally are connecting with others to go deeper, share life together, pray with one another, and allow yourself to be known. Private information is shared, but this isn’t the place where you are completely vulnerable and baring your whole soul.
- Intimate Space ( 1-3 people present) - This is an environment that you let only a few people into. It could be a spouse, a best friend, or an accountability group. This is an environment where nothing is held back and there is a lot of intentionality in sharpening one another, being accountable to one another, and being intentional in community.
In churches, we have been very intentional with the public and personal space, and sometimes with the intimate space, but not really with the social space.
Here’s a quote by Joseph Myers in The Search to Belong: “I would start with social space. This is a space that our culture yearns to make significant connections in. Most of our culture tells us that these connections are not significant. If a congregation would promote this space as an important part of a person’s search to belong and if the congregation would help individuals grow in this specific space, I believe you would find a lot of spillover health into the other spaces.”
So here are my questions to you:
- What does the social space look like in your church?
- What could it look like?
- What if we created communities that were this size?
- Would that be the ideal place to live out your church’s mission and values?
- Would that be the best space to see the maximum number of individuals engaged in community?