Many people have different perceptions about the meaning of sense of community. A widely held academic definition of this term is ” the sense of community is a feeling members have of belonging, a feeling that members matter to one another and the group, and a shared faith that member’s needs will be met through their commitment to be together” (McMillan and Chavis, 1986). No matter how serious people’s level of involvement in the community, there are four main elements that compose a person’s sense of community.
The first aspect of Sense of Community is membership in that community. People become members of a community when they feel emotionally secure, personally invested and a sense of belonging or identification in the community. These features of membership “fit together in a circular, self reinforcing way, with all conditions having both causes and effects” (McMillan, 1996).
Secondly, people that have a sense of community must feel that their opinion can have influence over what the group does. The most influential people within a group are those who acknowledge the importance of other people’s needs, values and opinions. In close knit groups of friends this element may be increasingly more important.
Another element that is fundamental to people experiencing a sense of community is that people are rewarded for their participation in the community. This attribute is fundamental for people maintaining their sense of community. Ahlbrandt’s research clarifies the importance of this attribute by asserting a community “must attract individuals by positive rewards and satisfying experiences. When this attraction is not present, people withdraw their commitment, participation and rewards” (1984).
The final element that creates people’s sense of community is that the members have a shared emotional connection. This element seems to be the defining feature for people to experience a true sense of community. There are many features that facilitate people having shared emotional connections. One feature that connects to the physical features of a community is that people have an emotional connection with each other when they have a shared history (Mcmillan, 1996). Shared emotional connections are often experienced in public spaces. Public spaces can generate or restore a deep sense of community through providing people places to socialize and interact with each other (Hayden, 2000). People need places where they can socially interact with each other on a non-commercial level.
As you continue to grow, we want to develop, nurture, and challenge your sense of community. (Ephesians 2:21) Feel free to share your thoughts and join in the discussion on Facebook.
Community is what enables us to think beyond ourselves and have a sense of social justice. Most of the time when we speak of someone who is kind, who listens, who always seems to know the right thing to say, who seems genuinely interested in us and with whom we feel at home, we are describing a person who understands community. In this realm, community may be thought of as being composed of two specific feelings – empathy and sympathy.
Empathy is the ability to feel another person’s pain. Sympathy is feeling sorrowful that another person is suffering. These feeling can occur independently and simultaneously. Because of our capacity for empathy and sympathy, we can think beyond our immediate physical needs and creature comforts. A community minded person is not content to say, “I have mine, so now it’s every man for himself.” She looks beyond her own situation and is concerned with the welfare of others, often to the extent that she cannot be happy with what she has if she knows others have less. She wants everyone to have what they need. She knows that everyone should expect to receive a fair chance, equal opportunity, freedom from discrimination, and a full measure of equality and dignity under the law.
As a teenager, you are evolving into a broader sense of community. Just like all of your body parts fit together to make the total person – You, you in turn fit as a part of the broader community – Society. What you bring to society – positively or negatively, is what affects society. Our society will only get better when you begin to recognize that it is not all about you, but community. You can impact our community when you dare to make a difference. Fairness, equality, justice, and change do not just happen. They require you as the catalyst.
Ephesians 2:21 reminds us that God has joined together the whole structure of believers as a holy temple of the Lord. You do not have to wait until you are a senior citizen to make a difference. You can begin today.