We used to have a church member around here named Jim Fulgham. He once asked me if I have ever read Bowling Alone. Funny thing was I had. It is an important book by which we can understand a bit about our American culture’s shift over the last fifty years or so.
Mark Chaves, a professor of sociology at the University of Arizona, recently wrote a book review article on Robert D. Putnam’s book, which carries as its full title: Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. What Chaves wrote affects everyone who loves the PTA or service clubs or the church. This is what he wrote:
The phrase “bowling alone”—the title of an article Robert Putnam published in 1995 in a relatively obscure academic journal—quickly became shorthand for the arresting claim that civic engagement is in decline. Putnam’s point was that though we may be bowling as much as we used to, we are much less likely to be doing it in organized leagues. The article did not, of course, rest mainly on bowling statistics. It pointed to evidence of declining participation in a variety of civic arenas—politics, churches, labor unions, parent-teacher organizations, and fraternal organizations.
As civic participation in these arenas declined, Putnam claimed, so did America’s stock of social capital—the connections between people that foster cooperation and trust. To be sure, social capital can be used malevolently—to restrict employment opportunities for those outside one’s own group, for example, or to battle real or imagined enemies. But because it also serves as a resource for many benevolent activities, we should be concerned about its decline (The Christian Century, July 19-26, 2000, p. 754).
I find this analysis helpful because too often we in the church beat ourselves up because so few people participate in the church’s activities. This is not just our problem. It is every organization’s problem. The only way to counteract the general drift away from community is for those in the community to take an active role in helping people find a place and a way to participate in it.
Invite a friend to church. Include someone in your Sunday school class. Bring your schoolmates to UMYF. Invite people to become a part of your significant group—youth, choir, Bible study, whatever. This issue of social drift is one that can only be solved with the help of EVERYONE—and of course--God!