I’m reading through Mark Waltz’s Lasting Impressions (great read so far, thanks Mark!), and in chapter 4 he summarizes something intriguing he read in Joseph Myers’ The Search to Belong. Mark synthesizes Myers’ work to explain that there are 4 kinds of spaces: public, social, personal, and intimate.
When you stop and think it it seems obvious. But what might not be obvious is that the church should actively work on cultivating each of these environments. I’ll discuss each of them and let Mark’s much wiser words connect the dots:
Public space is your weekend services, or anytime you draw a crowd. People are comfortable enough to chat with each other afterwards because they at least have in common that they attended the same service. Like Mark says, “They don’t have to be friends to share in this kind of exchange. It’s public space.”
After public spaces, you move into social ones. I’ll let Mark take over:
“The second space of human interaction is social space. The space can exist in a variety of sizes and crowds or groups. A defining characteristic is small talk – light but connective conversation about common life experiences…Our ability to enter into transformative relationships is actually dependent on lighter conversation.”
Personal space is that which is shared between a smaller group of people, though not necessarily in a “small group” setting as we typically define it. To use Mark’s example, if you did a series on finances and encouraged people to meet together during the week to continue the conversation, personal space would exist around a group of men who decide to talk at Starbucks on Tuesday mornings. In this space, conversation goes deeper than the surface, but it does so to a limit. Failures, successes, struggles, and personalities may be discussed here.
The final space is intimate. Perhaps two of the men in the group mentioned above realize they really hit it off and they start to meet regularly. They become more and more open as time goes on, and discuss their greatest fears, biggest failures, and largest hopes. “That level of relationship…is slow to develop and hard to find,” Mark writes. “[Myers] suggests that most of us will have only five to six intimate relationships in our lifetimes – and up to half of those will be with relatives.”
The big picture
What I realized reading through this is that a) it makes a lot of sense, and b) the church has to have each of these stages in mind and respect people in each of them. When I think about my own journey to Christ and his church, I can remember passing through each of these stages, from years of showing up on Sunday to holding a door, to joining a small group, to volunteering every weekend at a new multisite, to joining staff. Each step was massive for me at the time, and I would do well to remember that feeling.
It’s important for the church to keep each space in mind for a variety of reasons, so I’ll just name a few here:
- Knowing which space you’re trying to create dictates how you design the environment. You wouldn’t put couches in the auditorium, but you might put them outside a coffee shop or in a lobby. The auditorium isn’t conducive to conversation because it’s a public space, not a social one.
- People are ready for each space at different times. If more than half of the people in the world are introverts, then we can’t expect them all to walk up to strangers and start connecting. It’s just not going to happen right away. But it will happen. As a member of a church staff, it’s our job to identify which space the person is in, and help them move towards the next space as they’re ready for it.
- Each of the 4 spaces is necessary for life-change. It’s easy to say life-change happens in the personal and intimate settings, and that may be true. But without the public and social spaces people would never end up in personal or intimate ones. Each space deserves attention as we seek to move people closer to Christ.
Realizing the 4 spaces and paying attention to them is an important part of creating a loving community.