A friend of mine engaged me in a discussion about the nature of the group of friends that she was currently hanging out with. The group met her companionship needs, a group of people her age in the same life situation. They got together to kill time together, watching television, going out to eat, and in general, enjoying one another’s company. In other words, it was basically a singles group.

Singles groups are singles groups first and part of the church in the secondary. Sometimes VERY secondarily. Your typical church singles group has a few key characteristics: 1) the average stay of the typical member is five years and 2) about every three years, the group has gone through a cycle of turnover. Why? Because it is one of the few ministries where the object is to get out of it. People date, and if they marry, they leave. People date, and if it doesn’t work out, they leave. People hang out, and if there are no prospects, they leave.

Some communities exist for their own sake, but can’t sustain themselves over the long haul. Even in my own experience in singles groups, a few true friendships were forged, but the group on the whole couldn’t sustain itself. I’m not talking about the relationships per se because those interested in true friendship built those relationships. But the group on the whole, if it were just about killing time, got old. Especially since the “mission” of the group was to get out of the group.

Michael Frost in his book Exiles discusses the commendable desire for Christian community, how it has become a buzzword, but how it has gone often unfulfilled. Frost’s contention is that the problem begins when we make community our end goal, how “aiming for community is a bit like aiming for happiness. It’s not a goal in itself. We find happiness as an incedental by-product of pursuing love, justice, hospitality, and generosity. When you aim for happiness, you are bound to miss it. Likewise with community. It’s not our goal. It emerges as a by-product of pursuing something else.”

There comes a point where you want to go deeper with a group, where you want to move from community to communitas. With communitas, you buy into a mission or vision and that mission sustains the group because not only do the activities stem from that sense of mission, but there is a sense of purpose about them. The group becomes united behind the feeling that they have banded together at this time for this reason. Whether to join in with what God is already doing (to put it in spiritual language) or simply to better the world them; either way, they become a part of something greater than themselves and turning outwards, rather than continually focused inward.

This part of a hermeneutic of communitas I can buy into. People will want to go to the next level, deepen the roots of the friendships in any group, moving from a sense of a group of casual acquaintances to real friends, because we are relational beings and long for that sense of connection. If we don’t share a committed pursuit of a greater goal, we often will succumb to being a short term, unsustainable mission of hanging out. Until we leave.