Summary: For healthy community to emerge among a group of people (church, small group, neighborhood, whaetever), members have to learn appropriate activities, appropriate behaviors, and the appropriate amount of investment for each of the relational spaces (public, social, personal and intimate) and put them into practice. Mistakes are made when specific spaces are promoted more than others or when the four spaces are treated like an assembly line through which relationships are moved.
“…no relationship survives in one space for the entire life of the relationship.” –The Search to Belong
Space vs. investment
Within a group of people (church, small group, community group, whatever), each individual only has so many slots in each relational space (public, social, personal, intimate) that can be occupied at any one time to remain healthy. (Here’s more info on the spaces.) Since change is inevitable, people “dance” throughout the spaces with those they come to know throughout the seasons of their lives and in different contexts and environments.
For example, a person that occupied a slot in personal space as my roommate in college has now moved to social space as we see each other every so often to catch up on each others’ lives and maintain a friendship. This opened up slots in both of our personal spaces for others to fill, while now occupying slots in both of our social spaces.
Remember, individuals only have so much time, money and energy to spend on how they belong to each other. Being overloaded in one space (relative to the investment to stay healthy there) deprives an individual of healthy belonging in another space. For each of the four relational spaces of an individual’s life to be healthy, the number of slots occupied should be inversely proportional to the size of the investment in each of the slots. Intimate space has just a few, but requires the most investment; while public space has multitudes, but requires very little.
The fans of my favorite sports team are in my public space. In order to stay healthy in this space, I’ve got to make sure I’m not investing more time, money and energy with them than they warrant from occupying the slots in this space. If I do, it creates unhealthiness in another space. For example, if I watch my favorite professional baseball team on TV every night, when am I spending time with my wife? She’s someone I claim to want in a slot of the intimate space of my life, which has very few slots available, but requires the biggest investment of them all to stay healthy. If I choose to watch the game every night, all the relationships in my other spaces are now out of whack.