Religious belonging in wards

A few years ago I read a great book by Nicholas Christokis and James Fowler called Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks. There are a few points about social networks that I’ve been thinking about as relates to our social networks like the church, Facebook, and the blogs we frequent.

Given the findings of the book, the most important aspect of our church life is our local ward. At work we used to say that to an employee, their direct leader was the whole company, for good or bad. The same can be said of our local wards: to members, the experiences in those local wards are the whole church experience (or nearly so). Having a ward you like and where you feel accepted is therefore pretty important.

Human beings cluster in communities of about 150 (Dunbar’s number). Even if a community has more than 150 people in it, we really only mentally keep track of about 150 anyway. When people lived in small towns, this made it easier for the community to self-police, to know who was safe and who wasn’t. With urbanization, people stopped knowing their neighbors and crime became harder to manage. With the internet, we find our virtual networks maxing out similarly. Likewise, when you consider the people you really know at church, 150 is probably about the maximum range, even if the ward is much bigger. Most people only have 4 “strong” ties in their network (people who truly know them intimately). Weak ties (our broader social network) are how information and ideas are passed along and adopted. In networking, weak ties are actually the most important.

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