They serve different purposes in our lives.

The concepts of networks and communities play pivotal roles in shaping human interactions, but the two terms can be conflated in our thinking, resulting in unnecessary confusion and pain. Networks refer to the interconnected relationships between individuals, organizations, or entities, formed for specific purposes or goals, while communities are self-formed groups with shared values, interests, or experiences. Networks and communities hold immense importance in facilitating social connections and achieving collective objectives. However, I’ve often observed that individuals can feel a sense of loneliness even when surrounded by crowds. It is my contention that this phenomenon arises from seeking the deep sense of belonging and support that can only be found within a genuine community within the impersonal connections provided by networks. In this context, the significance of churches is exemplified as the defacto place to fulfill this basic human need.

Networks necessitate strict adherence to all protocols

Networks define relationships between individuals, organizations, or entities that are formed with specific objectives or goals in mind. They are characterized by a structured framework, or protocol, which all participants are expected to adhere to. Those who wish to participate must follow the protocols precisely, or their contributions to the network will not be understood, or worse, cause malfunctioning in the network. While networks are undeniably valuable in facilitating efficient communication, collaboration, and progress towards shared goals, there is a downside to the strict adherence to protocols as applied to social situations. The rigidity of the network’s protocols may discourage creative thinking or dissenting viewpoints, leaving little room for flexibility and adaptability — in a word: being yourself. No wonder that in a network-centric culture, one can be surrounded by hundreds or thousands of other people and yet feel a keen sense of loneliness.

Communities have a different focus

Protocols within communities however, while present and necessary, are more flexible than in networks. Unlike the rigid structure of network protocols, community protocols offer greater adaptability to accommodate individual needs and preferences. They provide a framework that fosters inclusivity and allows members to express themselves freely within the community. Communities strive to accept the person as they are and adapt to the particular strengths and weaknesses of each member. Rather than expecting absolute conformity, these differing viewpoints and perspectives add to the richness of the community and provide value. The focus is on creating a supportive environment where members can be themselves, and their strengths are nurtured while weaknesses are supported and strengthened through collective efforts. While not exclusive to churches, the best communities are typically found in them. In a church there’s a focus on higher ideals and becoming a better, more loving person. Churches provide a spiritual and communal setting where individuals come together to pursue shared values and a deeper connection with something greater than themselves. Within these communities, the emphasis is on personal growth, love, compassion, and service. Members strive to embody these higher ideals, supporting each other in their journey towards self-improvement and a more fulfilling life.

Networks aren’t sufficient

Communities, in contrast to networks, offer a more flexible and inclusive space where individuals are valued for and provide value through their uniqueness. Churches, with their emphasis on higher ideals and personal development, exemplify the transformative power of communities in nurturing individuals and fostering a sense of belonging and purpose. I’ve found a great deal more peace in my life as I discovered that what I had been participating in was networks when what I really needed was a community.