EMC #6: Community or Communitas?

Author: Stuart Lindsell

Community or Communitas?

In the dialogue among what are known as emerging missional communities (EMC’s) a distinction is often made between community and communitas. One of the secrets explaining the rapid growth of the early church is the fact that they were no ordinary community. They were a community forged together by both persecution and an intense sense of being caught up in a move of God. This community was very different to the typical middle class church of today that often seems preoccupied with security, survival and happiness. A community bonded together around a common mission in adverse and challenging circumstances is very far from what Alan Hirsch describes as the ‘huddle and cuddle’ instincts of many contemporary churches.

The term communitas comes from the anthropologist Victor Turner. Having studied the rites of passage of a number of African tribes he came up with the terms liminality and communitas. He used liminality to describe the transition process undergone by young men to a new social status in the tribe. It was a process marking the change from boyhood to manhood. It represents an in-between state in relation to the surrounding society that involves a sense of danger and disorientation. The testing circumstances of this transitional period produced a strong bonding in the young men that Turner called communitas.

The E.M.C’s are convinced that true mission will take us into dangerous and unknown places which will involve movement and togetherness. They believe that this should be the normal situation and condition of the pilgrim people of God. Rather than resembling an entertainment centre or spiritual hospital the Christian community should be in a state of flux, under pressure, with a strong sense of communitas.