Communities Are Failing

communities are failing

In my last post (What Redeems Culture?) I stated that community redeems culture, but communities are failing. As a result, culture rules in the ruins of community.

One question this doesn’t answer is, “What is community?” That’s a logical question, but the fact we have to ask it is evidence that communities, as we know them, are failing.

Communities Are Failing

Communities have been failing for a long time. Small towns are shrinking in the face of hard economic times. Small churches struggle to stay alive past a dying generation.

Even our neighborhoods lack a feeling of being connected to each other, and belonging to something together. Isolating during the pandemic has only made this worse.

These small, personal communities have been replaced by large, impersonal ones. There’s talk about “the Christian community,” or the “business community.” And yet, it’s harder and harder to know who makes up that community, and what responsibility they feel towards others who are in it.

What is community?

A community is a group of people who are bound together by a common identity.

It seems strange to ask that question because community has always been part of our lives. We can all think of a community we came from, even if we’re not certain we belong to one now.

That description explains why we are talking about community now. Our sense of identity is at the heart of our deepest divisions. Instead of drawing us together, identity is fracturing us in unimaginable ways.

Identity has become the trump card in any social or political disagreement. It’s the unassailable truth, but that truth can only be defined by each individual.

This view to identity makes each one of us autonomous. As autonomous beings, we must choose with whom we will identify. With this approach, identification cannot be forced on us. Doing so violates our very humanity.

In that light, it’s understandable why communities are failing. A community is bound together by a common identity. But if identity is determined by each of us, and we each must choose our community, that bond is weak to the point of being non-existent.

Communities Come Apart.

Communities were intended to be a source of strength in our lives. But instead they come apart. Rather than being a refuge we find ourselves handling them like a ticking bomb.

How do we get communities back? How can we return communities to a place that solves problems instead creating them?

Communities were intended for good, not by us but by God. God, as he is described in the Bible, is a community of Three-In-One. (Read more at

God created the world to be a place that allowed those created in his image to grow in community. But sin entered that world, and sin has led us to where we are now.

But there is hope. God sent his Son to pay the penalty for our sin. But he also established a new community, the church.

The church, as it is described in the Bible, is uniquely equipped to grow in the hard places left by sin. And, by growing in hard places, the church allows other communities to grow as well.

So, how do we do that? That should be a simple question to answer, and according to the Bible, it is.

The way to grow community is this: Work for the good of those around you.

This solution is so simple we already apply it in our businesses and organizations. And it works whether you believe the Bible or not. So, why has working for the good of those around us become so hard to do?

Something else has confused our idea of community. That something else is culture. Communities create culture, but superficial communities create destructive cultures (I wrote about this in my previous post).

This creates a spiral. Culture confuses and weakens communities, making them superficial. These superficial communities create destructive cultures. As this cycle has increased in speed and intensity our focus has shifted from strengthening communities to resisting destructive cultures.

In fact, we are more aware of culture today than we are of community. And that’s part of the problem.

Instead of focusing on the bad out there, we need to grow the good right here.

Then community can redeem culture.

What Redeems Culture?

what redeems culture

We’ve all heard that culture beats strategy, but what redeems culture?

For decades now, culture has been the thing everyone sought to control. We worked for it in our companies and fought for it in our politics.

But despite these efforts, we now face problems we’ve never seen before. These problems stem from conflicting views of the world, and a willingness to act on those views at any cost.

What have we unleashed? Are not these problems caused by culture? Are we not seeing the thing we have prized used against us, and taken to an extreme we could not imagine?

It seems undeniable that culture has a role in our problems. But that has not brought us any closer to a solution. Rather, we stand dismayed as the unthinkable plays out before us, and our beliefs and values are swept aside.

We wonder openly if we have reached a point of no return. Has culture become a force beyond our control? Does it now control us? To ask that another way, is culture redeemable? And if so, what redeems it?

There is something that redeems culture: Community.

Defining culture and community are complicated tasks. That’s because they are closely related, and often overlap.

But perhaps two diagnostic questions will help. Where would you be missed? That is your community. What do you worry about missing? That is your culture.

These questions are overly simplistic but can begin to create a bit of separation between community and culture. That separation helps us see the relationship between community and culture.

Community is more enduring than culture because community creates culture. It makes sense that the only thing that can redeem culture is the thing that made it in the first place.

But our perception of community seems weak in the face of what we are experiencing from culture now. How can something so intangible and undefined redeem something so powerful and out of control?

Culture is powerful because community is weak. Think about it. Where culture is its most destructive, community has already failed.

Culture rules in the ruins of community.

The more superficial the community, the more destructive the culture it creates. That’s why movements can form around hashtags and catchphrases but inevitably burn themselves out.

But the opposite is also true. The more substantive the community, the more constructive the culture. That’s why some communities survive, regardless of what forces of culture align against them (Read more at

How did it come to this? We took community for granted and pursued culture instead. Now we’re seeing culture for what it is, and are wondering where to turn next.

Like warriors of old, we left our homes to pursue the prize. But we are returning bruised and empty-handed only to find our communities in ruins.

But there is hope. Community can be rebuilt.

We can build community. Even while we are in shock or grieving, our most basic instinct is to reach out to another human being. We look to join hands and begin to build again.

We’ve been here before, countless times. But we’ve also made the same mistake over and over again. Even as community is being rebuilt, we are drawn away by culture.

We forsake our communities again to pursue the prize. So now we must ask, what redeems culture?

Maybe this time will be different. Maybe we’ve seen enough of the destruction and chaos that culture can create.

Maybe this time the cost of rebuilding will be enough that we’ll choose to protect what we have, rather than chasing what we can’t possess.

Community is powerful because it creates culture. But it requires discipline and understanding to be content with culture in here, and resist the allure of culture out there.

We must choose the good of those who are with us over shaming those who are against us. That builds substantive communities which in turn build constructive cultures.

It’s as simple as choosing who over what.

Then culture can be redeemed.

Problems of Culture

problems with culture

We are vexed by problems of culture.

Think of the things that cause you the greatest frustration and anxiety throughout your day. Perhaps what comes to mind are differences views on abortion or gender. Perhaps its uncertainty about your future and your financial security, or relationships.

Perhaps you are concerned about your kids, or grandkids, and what values they are learning, and the world they will inherit. Perhaps its all those things combined.

Whatever they are, these problems can leave you feeling overwhelming fear that can stop you in your tracks. Or they can set you running in all directions at once.

None of these issues threaten us with any physical harm, and we probably have rational explanations for what will fix them. But certain things seem to get under our skin, and we feel powerless to stop them.

If we were to work through why those things affect us, at some point, culture would enter the conversation.

The logic seems to be: If we could get others to see things our way, we could change the big problems. But they won’t or can’t. And a big part of the reason they won’t or can’t is because of culture.

Culture seems to be the trump card in any conversation about our differences.

Regardless of what you think, someone will disagree with you. But the disagreements we can identify come to represent much more than that.

The reason our disagreements become about so much more is because of culture. Culture is how we connect to the larger world around us. Culture is also how our ideas connect to each other.

That’s why culture quickly becomes a stand-in for things we disagree with or don’t understand, and that we feel powerless to change. But that’s not all culture is. It can and should be a force for good (Read more about this on my blog

But what turns culture from negative to positive? Community.

Community can resist negative culture by creating its own positive culture. But that’s not what always happens. And even positive cultures can become negative over time.

Everything we identify with problems in the culture began in a community. The problems begin if the community breaks down, or the culture becomes detached from it.

The answer is to build, or rebuild communities. Communities can resist the destructive effects of culture with constructive cultures of their own.

But what is culture, and what is a community?