One of the most important tasks for any leader is the building of community for whatever group they might lead. Whether school, business, team or church, a deep sense of community is one of the most sought-after outcomes. It is also one of the most attractive to those on the outside of the group contemplating whether to explore the group.
So, what are the numbers behind building community? For example, if you have a church of 300 people, is community achieved if, and only if, all 300 are in a healthy and intimate relationship with each other? No. Healthy, sure, but not intimate.
The Numbers Behind Building Community
Does that answer surprise you? It shouldn’t. Every human life has a certain relational capacity. You can only know and be known by a limited number of people. Your social life has a biological limit, and that limit is approximately 150. Known as “Dunbar’s Number,” proposed by the British psychologist Robin Dunbar three decades ago, 150 is the number of people with whom you can have meaningful relationships. As Dunbar once put it, this is “the number of people you would not feel embarrassed about joining uninvited for a drink if you happened to bump into them in a bar.”
Writing about this in his book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell found that military planners have arrived at a similar rule of thumb in regard to functional fighting units—that they can’t be larger than approximately 200 men. He also noted how the Hutterites have been following the 150 number for centuries. They have a strict policy that every time a colony approaches 150, they split it in two and start a new one.