Revisiting “Community”

The members of FUMC are committed to building a faith community. However, our obligation to others goes well beyond our Church. We care about the larger community that surrounds our building. We are called to take an interest in and serve our neighborhoods, our city, our region, and our country.

To be of service to our community requires that we know you and show up where you are. It requires that we take the time to understand the complex challenges and circumstances that others face locally and globally, and we do our part based on our skills, resources, and talents.
The benefits of community happen when we go beyond the default meaning of the word that suggests merely a mutual living, work, or interest group.
The concept of community has been studied far and wide, particularly in the United States where shifts in class, socio-economic status, and social institutions, continually transform access and obstacles to community building. Many experts agree that our sense of community is declining in the US, evidenced by low rates of civic engagement, transience, a lack of cross-cultural understanding, and declining investments in third places where people casually gather and connect, such as parks, town squares, community centers, and churches.
This decline in our sense of and commitment to community is noted by Robert Putnam in Bowling Alone (2000) and Malcolm Gladwell in Talking to Strangers (2019), and more recently David Brooks in How to Know a Person: The Art of Seeing Others Deeply and Being Deeply Seen (2023). These are all books that became national bestsellers, addressing a widely studied topic because of its critical implications for so many areas of our lives.

It is important to note that community is not the same as family and neither can replace the other. Families are bonding networks and healthy church communities are bridging networks. (Putnam, 2000) They both serve a distinct purpose for our personal and collective development and they both must be nurtured independently.

So, does it matter to the Church and Christians that Americans need strong communities to thrive? To answer this question, it is helpful to understand the concept of “social capital” that is inherently linked to strong communities. Social capital, a natural development in strong communities, “has many features that help people translate aspirations into realities.” (Putnam, 2000, p 288)

“Putnam identifies five such features. First, social capital makes collective problems easier to resolve, as there is less opposition between parties. This results in improved social environments, such as safer and more productive neighborhoods. Second, it makes business transactions easier, since when people trust each other, there is less of a need to spend time and money enforcing contracts. As a result, economic prosperity increases generally. Third, social capital widens our awareness of our mutual connectivity. This can improve the quality of our civic and democratic institutions. Fourth, it helps to increase and speed up the flow of information, which, in turn, improves education and economic production. Finally, social capital improves our health and happiness through both psychological and biological processes which require human contact.” (

While the concept of social capital does not directly correspond with spiritual growth, its development fosters opportunities and environments where human connection, understanding and influence can grow. These opportunities and environments are necessary for demonstrating the love of God, building trust with strangers, and inviting others into a relationship with Him. People of faith are well-suited to be thought leaders when it comes to understanding and demonstrating the development of such environments and the corresponding power of social capital built in the context of faith communities.
People of faith are called to live in community and build community, and at FUMC we strive to do so inclusively and without judgment. The litmus test for our aptitude for community building is our personal and collective growth and development as a church. When we truly live in community, the results are noticeable and transformative on many levels, physically, socially, intellectually, and emotionally and sometimes even at a policy level for towns and cities. We all benefit from trusted relationships, new resources, more informed points of view, better communication skills, and the physical, and emotional, feelings of being understood, valued, accepted, and supported. We also have the potential to make a greater impact on local policies and norms.
Building a strong sense of community is correlated with healthier, more productive, and longer lives. Yet Americans often consider it an after-thought. We fit it in around a hundred other daily priorities and get around to it now and then.
This seems counterintuitive since almost everything in our lives is shaped by the communities we are a part of and how we participate in them. Furthermore, the serendipitous benefits of interaction with diverse communities outside our families and immediate social circle can’t be accessed by any other means except to take an active role in them.
Take an inventory of your areas of life that need improvement. How many of them overlap with the following benefits of community?

Protection Against Loneliness and Premature Death – It is no surprise that a strong sense of community is an antidote to loneliness, which can lead to premature death. According to US News and World Reports, “folks who reported that they were socially isolated or felt lonely were more likely to die early from all causes including cancer, according to a sweeping review of 90 studies that included more than 2.2 million people from around the globe.” Loneliness has been estimated to shorten a person’s life by 15 years, equivalent in impact to being obese or smoking 15 cigarettes per day. (Pomeroy, 2019)

Faith based communities, in particular, have an advantage when it comes to living longer lives. A recent study finds that people who regularly attend religious services live approximately four years longer than average. (Micaela (2018)

A Sense of Purpose & Self Esteem Outside of Work: Community members can find purpose and meaning in their lives by working together to achieve common goals. As you work with others to achieve new goals, the idea that you are valued in unexpected ways takes shape.

Behavior Modification: Through peer influence, mentoring and policy changes, communities can shape healthy behaviors and good habits. This is exemplified in a non-profit pilot program initiated in Africa by Mother-2-Mothers where they recruited neighborhood moms to counsel other mothers on how to prevent AIDs transmission to their babies and other health issues. The effectiveness of having a trusted neighbor speak to moms during an enduring health crisis was much more impactful than when moms received information from their own healthcare providers.

Behavioral modification is a significant outcome of strong communities. Do you know that laughter is good for your arteries? Laughter, social interaction, volunteerism, eating well, accessing healthcare, exercising, making things by hand, and a variety of other good habits are all likely benefits of consistent community engagement. A strong sense of community can also lead to initiatives that impact our surroundings to foster these habits. For example, in the Blue Zone of Nicoya, Costa Rica, a place where longevity is higher than most parts of the world, community action resulted in modifying signage in local surroundings to help make healthy food choices easier. Residents also shaped local policies to provide incentives to eat better and exercise more, such as offering free exercise classes.

Support & Practical Resources: Members of strong communities can support each other during difficult times and celebrate and magnify successes. Access to critical resources for living and working are also easier to find. In Singapore, strong community engagement has led to practical policy changes in housing subsidies that enable families to live near each other. This incentive to live in proximity to loved ones is believed to be one of the factors that contributes to longer lifespans in this region.

Learning & Innovation: People who invest in community life, learn from each other, and share their knowledge and skills. Consistent interactions with different people foster intellectual curiosity and cross-cultural knowledge-building. These regular opportunities to hear diverse perspectives are correlated with creativity, innovation, and business success. For example, a 2019 McKinsey analysis found that organizations in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were a full 25% more likely to achieve above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile.

Building Community requires sustained action over time, even if these actions are very small. The development of trusted, communicative, and supportive networks happens gradually, but each build upon the other. In fact, developing the skills to create and exist in community is another unique benefit of community engagement that will extend to all areas of life.

At FUMC we strive to create an environment where a strong sense of community can thrive, and our faith requires this. This sense of community, the development of the skills to build community, and the results of a stronger community start with you. You are welcome here on your journey towards a longer, healthier life through our faith community.

About the Author: Patricia Rattray, Stamford Resident, Realtor & Founder, New Revenue Consulting


Mckinsey & Company (2020, May) Diversity wins: How inclusion matters

Pomeroy, Claire (2019, March) Loneliness Is Harmful to Our Nation's Health Scientific American

(Accessed 11/14/23)

Putnam, R. (2000) Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community

Ricaforte, Micaela (2018, June) Why do People of Faith Live Longer. Azusa Pacific University,lead%20to%20a%20longer%20life. Accessed 11/22/23.