How do you measure how strong (not how large) our faith communities are? Humour me - I know that people think that there are some things which aren't measurable but I think most things can be evidenced if not measured even if that is taking a photo or asking a simple question or often by just observing.
I have been moved to think about this when eavesdropping on some conversations and reflecting on what has happened - I will only reflect on 2010 but these sorts of things have been going on for years.
K has been out walking with V and her new dog. K takes her daughter too - people getting to know each other know and share their love of animals. For our monthly walks we have had four since January ending up at people's houses where the inhabitant has catered for many hungry walkers - inviting people into their personal space and having their homes on show. A newish member B had a significant birthday and a surprise party to which we were invited - she was thrilled. Another B, J and others bring in plants, flowers and vegetables for people - I have something growing in my garden which has come from someone else's. D sends flowers and cards to people for their birthdays and special occasions from us all - but she and her husband pay for these. I have occasionally been surprised when we've been thanked for some flowers when I have been unaware that we have sent any. Three women have decided to take off to distant shores and are having a great time planning this together - two of the women are relative newcomers.
We share genuine friendship and this is made real by the many little kindnesses and the connections within the bigger whole. The network which is our community is strong at each link. Can you manufacture this? Can you encourage this? One way surely is to spend time together - our monthly lunches and monthly walks (plus harder walks for the fit ones including our minister) are times when individual friendships are forged and they take on a life outside of the larger community.
So I think that the strength of communities can be measured although I suspect we would not want to do it. But we could measure how many times people text, phone, write, email each other. How many cups of tea are shared with a fellow traveller? How many birthday cards and greetings we get from each other? How many holidays are shared? We could measure it but perhaps just evidencing it with conversation, photos and blogs is enough.