Building an offline community.

5:37 PM



One hears so much about building their "online community" these days.

   And while I think the friendships forged and formed with the aid of modern technology and social media are valid and valuable, I am afraid that in the pursuit of building a community spread over states and miles and countries and wireless networks, we lose something.

   It would have never even occurred to me a number of years ago to pursue meaningful relationships online.  Comments and emails and followers have always been nice, but not where I would turn for validation or affirmation in friendship.  That always happened in person, flesh and blood.  And while travel afforded me many opportunities to meet new people and form new friendships, the fact remained that it was at least REAL people.  People I had known and met and smiled with and talked to and experienced life with.

But times have changed.

   Now, we have Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and Youtube and a plethora of other things I don't even really know how to use, to aid us in forming friendships and making connections and building that community deeper and wider and faster and farther.....and still not really, truly, walking in real life with anyone.  They clamor for our time and attention and resources, using us up until we have hardly any time left for the people around us anymore.

And really, it's so much easier to try and "build a following" than it is to make a real-life friend.

   It doesn't take nearly as much vulnerability.  They see only what you want them to see, and they only get as close as you allow them to be.  You can carefully select and edit your online persona whereas in real life.....it's just you.  The ugly and the beautiful.  The graceful and the clumsy.  The elegant and the unrefined.  The whole package.

   The nearest Costco to me is about 30 minutes away, and a woman who works there reads my blog.  (She might even read this, actually:)  I was sitting in the food court chatting with a friend and feeding the girls their supremely healthy and nutritious lunch of hotdogs when she came up and shook my hand and said, "Are you Shelley Smucker?  I read your blog!"

   And I'll never forget the way those words made me feel....instantaneous shock and surprise, followed by a thrill of affirmation, followed by fear.

"What if I'm not what she expected?"
"What if I was frustrated with my children in the checkout line and she overheard?"
"Do we look like a mess?"
"There's ketchup all over their faces!"
"Maybe it's all rather a bit of a disappointment, after meeting me."

  And these thoughts shoot rapid-fire through my mind because....well, in real life there are no buffers!  There is no auto-correct, no spell-check, no filters that make you look like you have a tan.

There's just...me.

  But our life's purpose is not the pursuit of comfort, and it's not always about the easy way out.  And so I've started doing things that scare me, stretch me, and take me out of my comfort zone.

   I am starting to invest more time and energy and effort into my church family, even when I would rather be alone, or just stay home.  Or writing on my blog.  Or building my "online community".

   I have begun meeting once a month with a small group of women who, when we are all gathered, represent three different churches and our paths would almost never normally cross.  But this group calls us out of our normal "realm", out of our comfort zone, and into coffee shops and each other's homes and lives, and creates community.  The real kind.  The kind where our children shyly meet and then run and laugh and play and we share stories and hurts and ideas and dreams and cups of coffee, and wonder how it is even possible to live so close in miles and yet so far away in relationship.

   My thoughts are so scattered and I could go on and on, but I'll leave you with this.......online community is a beautiful thing.  I am in awe and totally humbled at the gift of technology, and that the words I type in the quiet of my home could encourage or inspire someone at Costco, or in Canada, or beyond.  I am so grateful for the connections that I have been privileged to make through social media.  But it doesn't end there.

   God also calls us to real-life community and fellowship, and we need to be careful that we don't take the "easy way out".  We need to be careful that we don't pursue building an online community at the expense of the one a stone's throw from our front door.  Because there are people all around us, real people, SO VERY CLOSE to us that need fellowship.

I'd love to hear from you!  What are some ways you are building your "offline" community?

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4 comments

  1. Ohh good thoughts! props for being bold//brave and sharing your heart! <3

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  2. I just had a baby, and was thinking about this very thing. It's fun to see the "likes" and comments, but those who held my hand during labor, and are totally overwhelming us with their generosity and love-stocking my fridge and freezer, and all the bags full of adorable little clothes. Those are the people I actually do life with. Final thought :) Bob Goff was asked how he prioritizes people. " I figure that when I'm dieing there will be about eight people around my bed. These eight are the ones who I always give priority to."

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  3. Thanks so much friend!!

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  4. WOW, I love that quote by Bob Goff!! I had never heard that before but it has totally stuck with me and I've been passing it on....what a powerful thought. Thanks so much for reading, and for taking the time to share! I totally agree with you that the people you actually "do life with" are who matter most. Blessings!

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