FELLOWSHIP & Dunbar’s “Expanding Circles” of Relationships and Their Impact Upon Discipleship

Phil Brien, shares a video slide and gives a helpful overview to Dunbar’s Oxford video, stating, “Robin Dunbar is excellent in the video – makes me wish I’d had a University education. He uses simple slides to explain his theory, maintains that even with lots of maintenance those weak ties will drop away to his 150 – and is humble enough to tell us that Aristotle and Plato got these numbers right well before he did.

He continues to justify his 150 in simple form. He shows a bar chart analysis of the average number of people we send Christmas Cards to, cites military units and tells us that even Facebook recently analysed their network and the average friends per user was 120-130 (very near).

I like his style. Explaining a complex, well research subject in a fun way. He’s happy to intersperse his serious research with a bit of fun. He analysed that boys spend on average 7.3 seconds on a phone call, whereas girls spend massive amounts of time on the phone!! I like amusing academics….”

Read more at http://www.philobrien.com


FELLOWSHIP & How Dunbar Follows Wesley in Depicting Your Ever-widening Circles of Friends #DunbarNumber

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: “Robin Dunbar, the sociologist famous for depicting relationships including the “Dunbar Number,” gives us a modern version of John Wesley’s discipleship method of: band meetings (3-5 people), class meetings (12-15 close friends) and the society meeting (50+). read this interesting article in BusinessWeek magazine for more insights about the social groups that naturally form.”

Drake Bennett, writing for BusinessWeek Magazine gives an important overview of Dunbar’s “widening-rings” of social groups.  Bennet writes …

“Dunbar actually describes a scale of numbers, delimiting ever-widening circles of connection. The innermost is a group of three to five, our very closest friends. Then there is a circle of 12 to 15, those whose death would be devastating to us. (This is also, Dunbar points out, the size of a jury.) Then comes 50, “the typical overnight camp size among traditional hunter-gatherers like the Australian Aboriginals or the San Bushmen of southern Africa,” Dunbar writes in his book How Many Friends Does One Person Need? Beyond 150 there are further rings: Fifteen hundred, for example, is the average tribe size in hunter-gatherer societies, the number of people who speak the same language or dialect. These numbers, which Dunbar has teased out of surveys and ethnographies, grow by a factor of roughly three…”

Read more at … http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-01-10/the-dunbar-number-from-the-guru-of-social-networks#p4

FELLOWSHIP & Why Is Robin Dunbar Killing My Church!? #DunbarNumber

by Bob Whitesel, 4/4/14

One thing Donald McGavran emphasized is that we should not be shy about applying the sciences to our study of church health and growth. And the Dunbar Number can explain why many churches plateau in size.  Here Is how I explained the Dunbar Number at the request of a colleague of mine Dr. Gary McIntosh at Biola University:

The Dunbar number is a sociological theory (based in physiology) that people can best relate to an extended group of about 150 individuals. By keeping this in mind, factories have been created with under 150 employees where unity and self-identity are higher. This of course has ramifications for the church, and explains in my mind the cohesiveness of these church-style Dunbar groups:

> missional communities (3dm ministries and Mike Breen)

> sub-congregations, such as venues, multiple sites, campuses, Whitesel and Hunter in A House Divided (2001).

> clusters (St. Tom’s Church of Sheffield, see Whitesel “From Gathered to Scattered: St. Tom’s Church,” a chapter in Ryan K. Bolger, Gospel After Christendom, Baker Academic Books, 2010 (http://www.amazon.com/The-Gospel-after-Christendom-Expressions/dp/0801039436).  The proliferation of Dunbar-sized “clusters” seems to be an explanation for St. Tom’s rapid growth after losing their large venue, The Roxy in Sheffield, UK.

Thus, church growth may be helped by the the multiplication of Dunbar groups within a congregation.  Wikipedia has a good article on the Dunbar Number

Also, read this good overview in an article on the “Dunbar Number” by National Public Radio, titled: “Don’t Believe Facebook, You Only Have 150 Friends.”

Here are some quotes:  “MARTIN: The factories were capped at 150 people, and Bill Gore found things worked better. People knew each other. They worked better together. DUNBAR: Everybody had the same label on their jacket that said GORE-TEX Associate, and that was that. Everybody knew who was who – who was the manager, who was the accountant, who made the sandwiches for lunch. ”

A student of mine once responded:  “I can see how having multiple services to create community for groups of 150 people is necessary.  What I’m having trouble wrapping my mind around is how you avoid tensions and problems between the different community groups within the church.  In the example above the GORE-TEX associates knew who the manager was and the accountant was and so on…I wonder and I’m just guessing here, do problems arise because the multiple services leads to multiple ‘managers’ which leads to conflicting ideas and different needs that need to be met?”

Here is my response:

Hello (name); Yes, you are right, there is tension. But, by keeping people as part of the same church organizational structure you work out our differences.  The problem in most of today’s churches is when conflict arises we don’t address it, we just bless them and send them out to start a new church to their liking. This creates conflict-avoidance. Thus, churches become enclaves of unified, but uni-cultural people.  And as thus, many people can’t relate to our fractured nature.

The key is to have diversity, within one organization which then creates unity or E pluribus unum.  To obtain this, see the “Exercises for Unity” in The Healthy Church (2012)

SMALL GROUPS & Should The Church Provide Oldenburg’s “Third Place?” Yes!

by Bob Whitesel, 5/15/14.

A student of mine found a helpful article titled Walls Do Talk by Paul Louis Metzger (http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2009/fall/wallsdotalk.html) and she noted that “he explores the importance of space in the Bible and how we can apply it to our own modern Churches. Metzger urges church planners to ask the question, ‘what space will help us have the greatest gospel impact– not just quantitatively (how many people can we accommodate?) but also qualitatively (how is this space forming people spiritually?).’ He questions many churches decisions to neutralize sacred space in order to comfort unchurched people, asking what are we giving up in return. An example he explores is coffee bars inside the foyers, are these fostering meaningful relationships that help these people further impact the kingdom? Or are they an outlet for comfort, consumerism and further division in the church? ‘Churches with coffee bars may have to work harder to ensure they are fostering community around the values of Christ rather than casual consumerism’.”

I responded that while I agree with much of Metzger (e.g. we need  a space that creates an atmosphere for the supernatural to be experienced), I also disagree somewhat with his observations that “… coffee bars inside the foyers, are these fostering meaningful relationships that help these people  further impact the kingdom? Or are they an outlet for comfort, consumerism and further division in the church? ‘Churches with coffee bars may have to work harder to ensure they are fostering community around the values of Christ rather than casual consumerism’.”

What I have found is that these coffee bars can create an important fellowship space (if done right).  My church has a coffee bar, but only with a few tables that are either too big for conversing (round and 8 feet in diameter) or too uncomfortable (low tables with hard back chairs).  But, Dan Kimball in an article titled, I Was Wrong About Church Buildings tells about how the church he pastored turned a fellowship hall in a former Presbyterian church into a coffee bar that is filled with people almost every day.  (See this link for a picture: http://www.vintagechurch.org/news/theabbey).

I think the idea should be to help a church become what Ray Oldenburg (1991, 1999) calls a “third place,” where people form social networks in a space that is not at home (their first place) and not at their work (the second place).  Oldenburg sees secular businesses capitalizing on these “third places” via bars, private fraternal organizations (Elks, VFW, etc.), sports bars (remember the TV show “Cheers”?), coffee bars (remember the “Friends” TV show), etc.

In my mind, I think the church could fulfill this third place part of the time.  You see, I don’t want to see us abandon the “third places” out there were we interact with non-churchgoers. But, I want to see the church be one of these third places where people can connect with other Christians for discipleship in an environment that is not at home or at work.

For an example of how one mega-church pastor and student of mine applied the Third Place concept, see this posting titled: FELLOWSHIP & A Cast Study of How On Mega-church Pastor/Student Created Oldenburg’s “Third Place”

Ray Oldenburg, The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community (Washington, DC: Marlowe & Company, 1999).