Reaching The Online Generation

An Initiative of CityTeam Ministries

Developing a Three Dimensional Understanding of Online and Offline Community

Posted on | February 16, 2009 |

Imagine a cube.  Imagine that there was a dot on each side of the cube.  Now, draw a line through the cube connecting each dot with the dot directly opposite.  You should end up with three lines which intersect within the cube.  Whether you realized it or not, you just demonstrated one idea of how you can find a point in space given six other points and no point of origin on an X, Y, and Z axis.  At least, this is the idea promoted by the popular Sci Fi TV series, Stargate.  

If you’re still with me, you’re probably wondering what in the world this has to understanding church planting and community - I’m getting to that.

3dcommunitySix Sides of a Community Cube

If you look for the definition of community, you will stumble into definitions provided by six different disciplines - Sociology, Psychology, Anthropology, Social Philosophy, Business & Communications, and Ecology.  Each discipline looks at community differently.

Sometimes they overlap, sometimes they don’t.  

And, while being different, they are all correct.

So how can anyone talk about community when you have six different disciplines all defining community differently while each being correct but only partially?

Well, you develop a three dimensional definition that allows for a fluid understanding of community within a well-defined, three dimensional space.

Think about the cube again - label the with one of each of the six disciplines listed above.  You just defined your space.  Conversations about community happen within this space.  They may trend toward one definition or the other, but a true understanding of community actually happens within that three dimensional space.

communityaspointEveryone is Right but Doesn’t Have a Complete Picture

Most conversations about community and online community, in my experience, end in argument.  The problem with these arguments is that everyone is right, but only to a certain extent.  Unfortunately, that leaves most intelligent conversations at an impasse.   This model tips its hat to the correctness in each of these disciplines without compromising a complete understanding of the incredibly complex concept we call community.  So, hopefully, this model will allow very stubborn people to move beyond defining community and to discussing ministry online and offline.

Definitions that Describe Community Rather than Prescribe Community

Additionally, most definitions of community are prescriptive of community rather than descriptive.  A three dimensional model of community actually allows people to observe community and list characteristics of that community within the matrix without having to filter what you see based on a predetermined definition of community.  This way you can understand how the community defines them self, and see to which discipline their self-definition trends.

Social Artifacts

Now, those of us who look to engage communities can spend our time looking for social artifacts (I previously called these ’social tags’ and was crucified for it.  Started using ‘community identifiers’ but didn’t like it.  I think ’social artifact’ is a better descriptor of the concept.)  A social artifact is anything that helps build a better understanding of how a community defines itself.  For example, if you unearth a pot you might be able to make assumptions about the community from which that pot came.  But, your assumptions would probably be highly inaccurate because they were only based upon one artifact.  If, however, you find multiple artifacts, you can build a more accurate picture of the community.  Twitters online are social artifacts.  Blogs, videos, and pictures are all social artifacts.  Together, they help develop a picture of community and help us understand the boundaries of that community as defined by that community.

Identifying Your Point of Origin

Ultimately, to have a conversation of community within a three dimensional space, you need to understand your point of origin.  That is, you need to understand how your definition of community fits within a community cube.  Why?  Because your point of origin determines how you will typically identify, understand and evaluate other communities.  If you aren’t aware of your perspective of community, you will probably filter out perspectives of community that are different from yourself.  Subconsciously you will only reach communities like yours rather than understanding how to reach communities that are dissimilar.  

Spiritual Community

Well, I don’t believe in a dualistic view of the world - that there are secular things and spiritual things.  I believe everything can either draw my affections to Christ or pull my attention away from Him.  Things commonly called secular might make me worship and so-called spiritual things might actually pull me from God.  What I do know is that there are spiritual holes in community because there are spiritual holes in people.  As the holes in people are fulfilled, community will be transformed by the Gospel.  The stories those communities tell themselves will change as the Gospel changes them.  Spiritual community is the result of the Gospel permeating existing community.

What Does All This Mean?

Well, as you listen to communities, as you build a picture off the stories they tell to reinforce their understandings of their community, you begin to get a sense of the needs within that community.  Then, whether from a humanitarian or a business perspective, you can position yourself to meet their needs.  From a Christian perspective, meeting those needs gives you a reason to engage the community and find potential persons of peace - people interested and ready to hear the Gospel - rather than forcing the Gospel upon people who aren’t ready and who could care less.

I’ll probably build on this idea as the week goes on but I’d love to hear what you think at this point.

P.S - I’m at Starbucks right now, or I’d upload some fancy drawings to illustrate my point.  I’ll update this post with those drawings later.

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3 Responses to “Developing a Three Dimensional Understanding of Online and Offline Community”

  1. David Watson
    February 18th, 2009 @ 1:23 am

    There are many areas of this model that need to be developed. How do communities change over time and why? How do circumstances force communities to different parts of the matrix? For example, war forces people to a biological definition of community. I will trust only those who are biologically related to me. How do the personalities of those in charge, and how they interpret community filter the projection of the community to others? Do various situations cause one dimension of community to take precedence over the others?

    Thanks for causing me to think.


    David Watson

  2. The 4th Dimension and Why It Could Kill Online Ministry : Reaching The Online Generation
    March 5th, 2009 @ 8:56 am

    [...] I’ve already talked about developing a 3 Dimensional Understanding of Online Community here. [...]

  3. Acorns, Oak Trees, and Online Community : Reaching The Online Generation
    April 29th, 2009 @ 2:39 pm

    [...] discussed developing a three dimensional fluid definition of community here.  Additionally, we need a list of characteristics that help identify the maturity of emerging [...]

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    Who is God?' was one of the top three sentences googled in 2007, according to Google Zeitgeist. According to Alexa, the top two religious websites are Muslim, with BibleGateway coming in at a close third. The Online Generation is spiritual. They are seeking. And the church is the last place they would go to find spiritual fulfillment. This site is dedicated to those walking with The Online Generation and living lives of obedience to all the commands of Jesus Christ.
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