The Awkward Truth about Churches in North America: lots of bonding, not so much bridging.

The Awkward Truth about Churches in North America: lots of bonding, not so much bridging.

Article published in today’s St. Albert Gazette 

As you have no doubt heard and also experienced for yourself, relationships matter. In fact the University of Minnesota published data to demonstrate that having a number of strong relationships significantly increase health, decrease crime and corruption and increase generosity and reciprocity.

Relationships are so beneficial that to almost every area of life that they are a real form of capital, in the economic sense of the word. The term “social capital” has been used for at least two decades to describe the number and strength of relationships people have.

As you would probably expect, going to church produces social capital. One study found that those who attend church on a weekly basis have 25% larger networks of relationship than those who rarely or never attend church. Those who go to church also trust about 20% more people than those who never go to church.

Robert Putnam was the social researcher who coined the term “social capital”, and he believes it takes at least two forms. The first, Bonding Social Capital, refers to the strength of your relationships and how likely people are to sacrifice themselves for you. The second, Bridging Social Capital, refers to the number of different kinds of relationships you have and the ease with which you make new connections.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus is asking his followers to demonstrate bridging social capital. His church was to be a counter-culture where everyone was loved and respected no matter what background they came from.

It is hard to imagine a more radical approach to bridging social capital than Jesus’s words in Matthew 5:43-45, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  The Christian church was designed to be a place of bridge building.

The awkward truth is that often we behave in exactly the opposite way.  A North American study has found that one of the predictors of low bridging social capital is church attendance. It seems that Christians tend to be much higher in bonding social capital and much lower in bridging social capital than the general population. 

In St. Albert, though, things are different. We lead the world in the number of block parties per capita, and our churches are partnering with the city to see if we can reach 150 block parties for the Canada 150.

One of the ways we are doing this is by encouraging all of our people to get involved in the Good Neighbour Project ( which is an initiative to empower anyone who wants to see a block party happen in their neighbourhood.

It turns out that when Jesus told us to love our neighbours, he was also giving us the key to St. Albert being the special place it is. Loving our neighbours begins to be possible when we meet them through Block Parties. Those Block parties build bridging social capital, and that bridging social capital builds our city.

I'd love to hear what you think...

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