|one of the many murals in los angeles:|
Inspired by Matthew Frye Jacobson’s The Historian’s Eye project, Darren Grem’s work on and photographs of Chick-Fil-A, and Thomas Tweed’s new book on the Basilica of the National Shrine, I’ve been mass-transiting around southern California (mostly San Diego, but getting into Los Angeles and the Inland Empire some too) and looking for signs (literal, physical signs) of church and religious life. What has most drawn my attention, aside from the big, gigantic Jesus murals, has been the word “community.”
“Community” seems ubiquitous in church signage, even though I know many of these congregations are gigantic. Reverend David Jeremiah’s Shadow Mountain Community Church is huge and the service is broadcast on cable television. Heck, Shadow Mountain is robust enough to have Tim Tebow visiting for father’s day (to talk about not being a father, I guess?) Journey Community Church is not too far away and it has at least one thousand regular attenders. Both Journey and Shadow Mountain are also deeply committed to the idea of “you.” Shadow Mountain’s current campaign is “God loves you, He always has, He always Will.” Journey’s motto is “You Matter to God. You Matter to Us.”
Someone help me out here and explain the rage for “community” for churches that clearly are many, many communities within one large organization? Sure, this is a marketing strategy on one hand. Sure, this is an appeal to a world where people “bowl alone” (although I’ve never seen that in my nights of bowling with friends) on the other. If I had a third hand, I'd say 'and then on the next hand', sure, this is a cry for connection in a time of seeming social anomie and atomization. But is there more happening with the focus on “community.” Can anyone provide any meaning to these, to quote Charles Long, “significations, signs, and symbols”?