Communitas and Mission in Liberal Congregations

Unitarian Universalist congregations are generally mission-less.  Many of our congregations have a defining characteristic in common.  They have no discernible mission other than to be a gathering place for like-minded people.  Church has become an oasis, a refuge, and an escape. The most pressing work of the church has become maintaining an institution and a physical plant so that there is a place to gather.  Most of our churches have, in fact, become quite adept at this.  Unfortunately the community they create is not very generative. The congregation may do a wonderful job at maintaining a space for like minded people to gather, but two things are generally true of these groups: they are closed, insular circles and they do little that deeply involves them in or has any meaningful impact on, the world around them.

Groups with a definable, discernible mission find that they do not experience community so much as communitas.  Communitas is a social construct in which people grow bonded to each other through the experience of liminality, risk, adventure and engaging a common mission.  Christian church planter and missional consultant Alan Hirsch explains communitas as:

“a Community formed in the face of an ordeal, a challenge, a task, a mission that requires each player to find each other in a new significant ways in order to get the job done. Friends become comrades, team players, and they rely on and interact with each other in new ways.”

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