Interest-based communities are easy. This is not to say that they are perfect, but when a group of people get together for a specific purpose, it is often times much easier to get along. I know that every group has their disputes, but by and large, most interest groups seem to stick together on some level.
I don’t know that you can say the same about a geographic community because simply sharing space leads to very little common ground. All of my neighbors and I might agree that road maintenance is very important because we all share the same road, but there might not be very much else we agree on. We might agree that funding our school is important because we all have children who attend the local public school. Most people didn’t buy houses beside each other because they knew that in a particular community everyone loved the Philadelphia Phillies. The motivations that led to people living near each other can be just as diverse as the people themselves.
Some people move to a town because the economic opportunities are great. Other people move to that same town because they have family nearby. Still other people might move in down the street because they like the climate.
Of course, there are cultural trends in certain areas. Politically, living here in Vermont is a lot different than it would be in Alabama. Religiously, living in the United States is a lot different than living in North Korea.
However, those statistics tell you very little about individual cases in any of these particular areas. I was a statistics major as an undergraduate, and we were always taught that it is not wise to judge anything about the individual from the general. In other words, Vermont might be one of the least religious states in the United States, but that doesn’t mean that everyone who lives here is by any means an atheist or agnostic. In fact, you don’t want to go any other direction either. You could come to my young adult’s Bible study on Wednesday night and survey all of us. We are all Christians, but it would be irresponsible to use that survey result to conclude that Vermont is a very Christian place even though our Bible study is 100% Christian. You don’t want to go from general to specific or specific to general when we’re talking about statistics.
Consequently, when we’re thinking about this idea of our local community, we can’t just rely on survey results to tell us all we need to know about people around us. I am a Christian, but I just saw a survey a few days ago about the percentage of Christians who deny that Jesus rose from the dead. By just looking at self-reported statistics, we might both appear to be Christians, but me and one of these hypothetical resurrection deniers are miles apart in our beliefs. However, you would never know that by the statistics. Instead, you need to know the individual in order to know what he or she believes.
As a result, the first step to community building is getting to know the actual people who live or work in that community. People are complicated, and (I am fully aware I sound like a total millennial right now) labels are not always accurate representations of what people really believe. Without that, we’re going to think that we know the people around us, but really we only know the strawmen that we have created in our own minds.