This is an excerpt from Work Out by Peggy Hahn, Kristen Krueger, Rozella White

Historian Marc Dunkelman, in The Vanishing Neighbor, describes three waves of life throughout the history of the United States.

First, the move from a nomadic existence of hunter-gatherer to an agricultural society that formed patterns of life centered in established towns and cities.

The second wave, which crested in the mid-1950s, was fueled by the advances of the Industrial Revolution. In this wave, nuclear families replaced multi-generational households, corporations became the standard way to organize business, etc. For most of us, this is life as we know it.

The third wave began in the late 1970s with an entirely new framework developing. In this digital revolution, the global access to information is only the beginning of the shift. We are living through one of the greatest transitions in our nation, not to mention the world, and the greatest impact is on relationships.

Dunkelman uses the image of the planet Saturn as he describes our relational rings. The planet is a person and the rings his or her acquaintances in a succession of diminishing intimacy. Some might suggest that the distance between the globe and each ring represents a measure of bonding between individuals. The most intimate relationships are those whose orbits form the innermost rings.

First and second wave relational rings

In both of these waves in our country’s history, the first ring (most intimate) and the middle rings (extended family, friends, neighbors) remained primary. The move to an industrialized nation did not alter the way relationships operated.

Third wave relational rings

In this recent wave, the inner ring has expanded with helicopter parents, families cocooning, etc. The middle ring has been reduced to very limited connections while the outer rings have expanded.

A few implications

Å The reduced middle ring has a direct impact on institutions which thrive in this place in our lives.

Å The church sits in the middle ring. Without intentional connections to the neighborhood, congregations play no active role in the local community. Their value is disappearing.

Å There are three new opportunities for congregational mission:

  1. The family—operating in the inner ring.
  2. The neighborhood—becoming a new middle ring.
  3. The digital world—now participating as the accessible outer ring.

The point is our relationships are changing along with all the other changes in our world.*

What are YOU doing to respond? Join the conversation with Pastor David Hansen on Facebook and share your ideas for deepening relationships in your congregational context. Pastor David Hansen is an active voice throughout the country on how ministries can use digital tools to better proclaim the Good News and build deeper relationships.

*From Work Out by Peggy Hahn, Kristen Krueger, Rozella White