Thinking about our “village”

Dear Friends of Second Church,

On NPR today, I heard a piece on a new book called The Village Effect: How Face-to Face Contact Can Make Us Healthier, Happier and Smarter, by psychologist Susan Pinker.

The idea is pretty simple: instead of trying to navigate among extensive social networks, and the constant challenge of “keeping up” with hundreds of relationships (close and dis- tant, near and far, deep and shallow), we all might be better off (healthier, happier, even smarter) if we made the choice to keep our worlds smaller — to around 150 people.

That’s about the size of the average village throughout most of human history. Not for noth- ing, it’s also about the number of people that the human brain can recognize on sight with- out needing specific contextual clues. (Do you ever see someone from Greenwich walking down the street in New York City and totally draw a blank on their name?)

I’m struck by this because, according to statistics, it’s also the size that most people want for their church. Think about it: if you see a church on t.v. (not a “t.v. church,” per se, but a scene in a regular show that happens to take place in a church….) it’s almost always a church for about 150 people. That’s just what most of us imagine.

Church growth experts also say that the hardest challenge for churches is to grow beyond 150 regular Sunday worshippers, because so much has to change when a community is trying to make that leap. So much of what people love about their church has to be done differently — they don’t feel known and included in the same way, and that can feel disori- enting, even upsetting. It’s pretty common for people to leave until…guess what? The num- ber is back at 150, with new faces replacing the ones who decide that it’s time to move on.

Does God need our church to be a particular size? I haven’t learned that, yet. But I do know that people hunger to be known and to feel connected with their neighbors, that rich relationships are the result of years spent alongside one another, and that too many people in Greenwich feel deeply alone but unsure what to do about it.

And then I visit Act II and see members of our Women’s Fellowship hard at work, or I learn that someone else has signed up to serve a meal at Pacific House, or give an older member a lift to church, or to be part of our Prayer Group’s weekly email of prayer needs for our church family and friends…and I think: well, maybe “the village” starts there.

Will it make you happier, healthier, and smarter? It might.

It might even help you find something to believe in.

See you in church,
Max

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