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What Do We Mean By Community?

For us, “community” means an on-going group of people committed to supporting and serving each other, particularly in the context of changing our practical, daily lives to conform to Jesus’ teachings on how to live equitably with each other, and how to live responsibly on the land, i.e., living simply. Such a community can be as simple as a small special-interest group within a congregation, town, or city that regularly support each other’s efforts, or as complex as a full-time, live-in community of many families.

Communities focused on simplicity and social justice often evolve from very simple beginnings to much more complex and diversified communities. For instance, a congregation’s effort may begin with a simple special interest group and then, over a period of years, develop a faith-based, environmentally sustainable co-housing community.

There is an interesting story of how a dying Methodist congregation reinvented itself as a Christian co-housing community here:

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Types of Communities

While the term ‘community’ used to have a commonly understood definition, in the Internet age it has come to mean many different things. For instance communities can be:

  • Online communities in which people with common interests are linked together through email, listservs, instant messaging, web conferencing etc.
  • On-going special interest groups regardless of the technologies members use to communicate with each other.
  • Conventional faith communities in which people come together regularly for worship services and other face-to-face activities.
  • Conventional towns or neighborhoods.
  • “Intentional communities” including living arrangements such as new towns designed for environmental sustainability, cohousing where like-minded people participate in shared housing, residential land trusts, communes, student co-ops, and urban housing cooperatives.

Christian simple living communities can include any or all of these forms. A Christian community based on simplicity is focused on building intimate relationships and helping and supporting each other. It is a web of face-to-face, authentic and trustworthy relationships, which is quite different than the ephemeral, trendy communication networks that spring up on the Internet. These should not be mistaken for the kind of community that is intended here. That is not to say that Internet communications can’t be useful for a face-to-face community, but it would usually have only a limited role.

In addition to being face-to-face, communities dedicated to simple living can achieve far more if members live geographically close together. Most congregations and suburbs today are spread out over large geographic areas making it difficult for members to spend significant time together. Although these traditional congregations are considered communities, they often lack sufficient intensity and intimacy to generate the kind of critical mass that results in the quantum leap Jesus and the early church created.

A community in which members live, work, and worship close together has many benefits over what has become the standard in 21st Century urban/suburban America.

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Why Is Community Important?

It is the commitment of the community that gives a way of life its meaning and longevity. A community enables its members to build and maintain deeper relationships, which is critically important to our psychological and spiritual growth. It creates a ‘critical mass’ of people who believe and live similarly, and provides a strong spiritual base to sustain the effort for a lifetime. In the Anabaptist tradition, living simply is a necessary outgrowth of the Bible’s description of how we should live. That description focuses on a loving concern for each other, which is fundamentally what simple living is about.

As a practical matter, living simply requires a group effort for efficiency and effectiveness. We need to build truly functional communities that depend less on large, far-flung government and institutional services to support us. We need to develop new, or reinvent existing communities into truly livable, walkable, self-sufficient, local communities rather than bedroom suburbs or hollow central cities. Geographically contained communities obviously reduce the energy wasted traveling from place to place, as well as delivering goods and services. We can walk or bike to work and visit our friends, have one car, or no car, instead of 2, buy a lot less gas, and pollute a lot less in the process.

Another large benefit is that a community of people, gets more attention thus helping advertise and spread this "better way of living" faster. We are, after all, concerned about all of our neighbors (and strangers) not just selfishly protecting our own little corner of the world.

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What Can A Community Do?

Community members can support each other as they begin to practice simplicity and later, in continuing and improving their efforts. For instance, communities can:

  • Help members clarify what simple living means for them, and how they can reasonably put it into practice.
  • Do problem solving and make suggestions about how to deal with practical how-to issues. In many respects this is a new world for 21st Century urban/suburban people. We have to invent simple living through a lot of trial and error learning, which is hard, sometimes frustrating, work.
  • Share success stories and encourage each other as we do the hard work of reinventing ourselves.
  • Barter and share for increased efficiency, including:

         - Transportation;

         - Tools and appliances;

         - Services such as elder and child care, housekeeping, repair work and home
            and business renovation, tutoring (for kids and adults).
  • Have fun! A community should provide an energizing and fulfilling social and recreational life.
  • Offer spiritual development opportunities that are directly related to the simplicity effort, such as:

        -     Bible study groups examining simple living, community, and service issues that are addressed in both testaments;

        -     Prayer, meditation, and contemplation opportunities.
  • Be inter-generational as well so that we build the next, improved generation of responsible livers, while we build a community that serves all its members. So we should include people of all ages in community activities.

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Creating and Sustaining Communities

Below are a few ideas about how to get a special interest group started in a congregation or local community. Once a group is formed and significant interest is generated, lots of bigger things can happen. Getting Started An exploratory meeting with a few interested people is a good way to begin. Most of the steps below are obvious, but they may serve as a reminder in the planning process.

Generate Interest

  • Personally approach individuals you think might be interested and ask for their help
  • Offer to do a presentation for an adult education class on simple living and its link to the church or local community, and/or make an announcement during a worship service, and ask to meet with those interested in pursuing it;
  • If doing a presentation yourself is more than you feel you can take on, ask the New Community Project to do a presentation for your congregation duringSunday School or a worship service, or do a weekend workshop.
  • Announce a meeting, after putting together your goals and an agenda;
  • Put out the word through the pastor, mayor, town counsel members, appropriate committee chairs, or informal opinion leaders;
  • Put a notice in the Sunday bulletin, local newspaper, or newsletter;

Ideas For Planning An Initial Meeting

  • Consider holding a get-together in someone’s house rather in a church or public building to set a more personal, intimate tone for this and future meetings;
  • Write-out an informal goal and a few agenda items, but try not to make it seem formal or bureaucratic. This is an emotional investment for most of us rather than a business decision, and you will want to form a group based on deeper, more personal motivations;
  • Begin with a simple statement of purpose for the meeting and give some background as to what your interest and commitment to the issue is;
  • Ask the attendees to each describe their interest in the issue and what they would hope to get out of the meeting, and see if there is enough commonality of interest to move ahead;
  • Use a flip chart and list the key issues that are raised, or ask someone to take notes, both so that you have a record of everything, and to assure everyone that their thoughts are taken seriously and will be remembered;
  • Facilitate a brainstorm session in which the group lists, then prioritizes those things they would most like to accomplish as a group;
  • Try to reach a consensus on what next-steps the group would like to take on the priority list;
  • Ask who would be willing to continue meeting, studying, and working on creating a simple living community;
  • Set a date for the next activity.

Keep It Going

Plan regular and spontaneous events/opportunities for the group to get together. These might include activities such as:

  • Hands-on, how-to demonstrations;
  • Cooking and eating together (another form of a demonstration on how to prepare local, organic, or other healthful meals, for instance);
  • Discussions on how to make the shift from consumer living to more responsible living along with the practical, day-to-day issues of how to do it;
  • Have fun – family games, movie nights, etc., in conjunction with other activities.

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Resources and Links

Christian Communities and Resources

A number of the following organizations are focused primarily on Christian communities in general rather than on simple living per se. However they are excellent resources for those thinking of establishing simple living communities as well.

The Bruderhof - an international communal movement of families and single men and women who seek to put into action Christ’s command to love God and neighbor.

Plough Publishing House - An independent religious publisher which has been the literary mouthpiece of the Bruderhof, an international movement of Christian communities, since the 1920s. It offers spiritual classics, devotional collections, seasonal anthologies, and titles that address specific topics from a biblical perspective, including prayer, illness and death, forgiving, child-rearing, sex and marriage, economic justice, and community.

House Church Central, The Simple Life - an excellent, well-written essay on the simple life by Vernard Eller.

The Hutterites – a communal group of Anabaptists, living on scattered colonies throughout the prairies in North America.

PlowCreek – A Global Village Practicing the Peace of Jesus.

Temescal Cohousing – a success story. 

Koinonia – a Christian farm community.

Reba Place Church – a 24/7 congregation living out the way of Jesus.

New Creation Christian Community – an evangelical Christian church in the UK.

Economy of Communion. Unlike the consumer economy, based on a culture of having, the economy of communion is the economy of giving. It emanates from a spirituality of communion lived in every day life, links efficiency and solidarity, and relies on the strength of the culture of giving to change economic behavior.

Links to Christian Communities.  

Secular Community-Building Resources

The Cohousing Association of the United States – integrating the needs and hopes of all champions of cohousing.

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance – The New Rules Project is a program of ILSR, a national nonprofit research and educational organization which proposes a set of new rules that builds community by supporting humanly scaled politics and economics.

Intentional Communities – providing resources for finding a community home and creating more community., The Community Page – an overview and directory of links to a wide variety of ideas and projects that help create stronger, healthier community.

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kid's educational resource Transformation Puppet and Story Works logo

Puppetry for Christian living and simplicity

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Please visit our collaborating organization, The New Community Project website: