Strong cultures help people support one another, share their passions, and achieve big goals. And such cultures of belonging aren’t just happy accidents - they can be purposefully cultivated, whether they’re in a company, a faith institution or among friends and enthusiasts. Drawing on 3,000 years of history and his personal experience, Charles Vogl lays out seven time-tested principles for growing enduring, effective and connected communities. He provides hands-on tools for creatively adapting these principles to any group—formal or informal, mission driven or social, physical or virtual. This book is a guide for leaders seeking to build a vibrant, living culture that will enrich lives.
Winner of the Nautilus Silver Book Award in the Business and Leadership Category.
Great food for thought. However, I found the most value not in the meat of the book -- where the author breaks down seven "principles" or hallmarks of a community -- but rather in the storytelling portions of his introduction and appendix, where he describes how he struggled to fit in throughout most of his life and then, in graduate school, learned to build a new community from scratch by hosting weekly dinners in his home. His discussion of "principles" is sensible and includes helpful modern-day examples, but it's a bit theoretical and academic, and just not as illuminative as his real-life experience. If I were the author's editor, I'd ask him to put the theoretical stuff in the appendix, and shift his weekly dinner narrative from book's margins to its core.
I had a hard time getting past how religion focused this book is. The author by no means preaches or converts but the lens through which everything is taught is very much that of someone who is deeply involved with some religious affiliation.
The most valuable lesson (still taught through a religious lens) is that of novice community members being concerned about their gains and the most experienced caring about the world as a whole. This is largely explained through a rather lengthy summarization of the film The Karate Kid.
Overall the content is far from bad, but there are definitely more in depth and strategic books available.
The author presents some very interesting ideas, which tell the importance of rituals, symbols and gatekeeping. These ideas are illustrated with real-life examples, which are both grand as well as personal to the author. The middle section of the book slows down dramatically in order to present scripts for aspiring community leaders, which is a little too hands-on for my taste.
Overall would recommend the book, especially the introduction of the principles.
The value of this book comes from its simplicity. It does a good job of defining what does and does not constitute "a community" and what one should consider when creating or joining a community as a participant/member.
This was the first book I've read about the topic and I think it's a good introduction because of how general it is. As other reviewers have pointed out, there are other books (which I will read) that cover ideas in this book more comprehensively and from alternate angles.
The author's educational background is apparent in the content of the book, primarily because religious institutions are good examples of structured organizations that foster community, but that shouldn't deter the non-religious reader as there's plenty of good ideas in it to use for secular community-building.
Having read a lot of books on community, coming at it from a variety of perspectives, I found this book to be a good overview but didn’t particularly add to my own body of knowledge. That being said, if you haven’t done much study on community yet this might be a good place to start. It it, as I said, a good overview with some solid principles and “real-life” examples.
A wonderful book that is helpful, insightful and to the point. A book on community has to have both a grounded level of theory around community, as well as practical pointers and structures handed to give form. I think it balanced this really well, it gives practical pointers and on top of that is incredibly inspiring to contribute or even start a community on your own.
Charles writes with passion, precision and purpose about community, as someone who once felt like an outsider and was able to create a thriving dinner community at Yale. He balances religious and non-religious examples in a way that is appropriate around this topic, making it accessible to religious and non-religious community leaders. The online element was insightful, however here I would love to see an updated version of his work with elaboration on this topic, due to the pandemic and how much the world has transitioned to online community. As well, a was pleasantly surprised that a part was included on what a cult is and how to recognise and avoid in creating a community of that sort.
I will be returning to these ideas whenever I (will) get to lead a community or contribute. It's a useful framework for starting or improving a healthy community. Any community leader or future leader should read this work.
There’s some good stuff in here. But it’s tinged by the fact that the author has latent (& self-admitted) imposter syndrome together with a fear he doesn’t belong. This leads to, in my opinion, a take on community that has a shadow side, that whilst well-meaning has too many ego-offset mechanisms to create truly good community. Too much emphasis on status and inner sanctums of specialness are examples of this. At its best it at least acknowledges digital communities and offers some thoughts about this. I thought some of his Christian background brought a useful emphasis on some of the more “nuanced” aspects of community like ritual. Still looking for a good book on community with sufficient relevance to my interest in digital communities.
I guess I had big expectations from this book because I heard of it a couple of times from people who run communities in a way or another. If this was the first lecture in community building, I think the impact would have been different. Being one of the many books I came across since wearing the community builder hat (since 2011), the value I got is thinner. While I resonate with most of the author's general principles, I wanted so depth, going the extra mile if you wish.
I recommend it mostly for people in the early days of building a tribe, offline or online; it does not matter because most of the advice applies to both worlds.
Reading about people being on a quest to make it into an inner circle, and there always being a more inner circle helped me see individuals I thought were elitist in a whole new way. I have a little more compassion for their strife, and also realized I needed to restructure work groups with the principles laid out here.
3.5 stars. By far the best book I've read for our office bookclub so far. Interesting way of looking at communities as intentionally built groups that goes far beyond the traditional understanding of communities. Interesting and I've already discussed some of the 7 principles in social contexts.
This book is an excellent introduction to creating a functional community and understanding group dynamics. While the author has the most experience in religious communities, he makes sure to feature online and informal communities, discussing the principles present there in depth.
I read this at the suggestion of a member of my church, and it's definitely helped me understand part of why my church is struggling. The leadership of ADF would benefit from reading and discussing this book.
Overall, I personally didn’t find this book very valuable, but that is due in large part to my expectations. I had hoped for more concrete guidance on how to create community. There is tons of detailed insight that describes characteristics of communities. However, I did not find this helpful in heading toward community. For example, it is very interesting to note the characteristics of temple (place) or token, but that doesn’t necessarily help me achieve community. Looking back on communities I’ve been part of or helped create, they've definitely had these elements; but these organically evolved from the community, not the other way around. Vogl—to his credit—does not make any claims that throwing these ingredients in a pot makes community. However, the result is a primarily descriptive book that I had expected/hoped would be a bit more prescriptive. My sense based on his wide experience and knowledge is that Vogl has much to offer in terms of his insights on how to build community; my only lament is that those insights did not come through in the book. It could be a matter of editing, adjusting levels of clear steps and questions to consider, or even just tweaking the title to set expectations that this is a detailed analysis of community characteristics, not a how-to guide.
All that said, if you do not come expecting a lot of clear guidance, you still may gain some guidance. Just the act of considering this descriptive survey of characteristics of communities may help you increase your awareness of some of the dynamics in your community.
I also want to highlight a bit of pure gold in the book. I heard Vogl speak years ago, and he told the story (also in the book) of the community dinners he helped create and the person whose life—he found out years later—was deeply touched by these events, even though he rarely attended. In his presentation, Vogl shared a key lesson from this on the power of invitation in creating a sense of belonging, even if the invitation is declined. I’ve brought that point up in my work several times in the years since. I’ll always be grateful to him for this fantastic insight.
I was asked to work on creating a campaign centered around loneliness and so I began to look up books on community to see if it cold help me frame the campaign. I guzzled Art of Community like a sailor during fleet week.
I love Charle's stories about how he found community and his step by step process of designing a community. I download his free worksheets from his webpage and worked through them all to design a campus club and it was well worth the effort.
If you care about designing a community that meets needs, gives structure and allows participants to clearly move about in that community, The Art of Community is a wonderful book.
In my never ending quest to study the development of community, I came across this book. It can be applied in both secular and religious contexts, and the author draws examples from both. The most striking thing I took from this book is that community is not hard to build. All it takes to begin a community is a group of people who care about each other's well-being. Of course communities grow and evolve from there, but often times the overcomplicate what we need to start a new community. All it takes is an investment in each other to begin that process. This is a valuable book that I would certainly recommend.
I loved the book because it was succinct and yet seemed quite complete when it comes to group structures and dynamics. I thoroughly enjoyed that the author talks about communities in a general context that can be applied to many different group settings, be it hobby groups, neighbourhood groups, online communities as well as corporate teams.
Some examples are taken from religious communities, related to the author's background and experience, however he manages to draw general principles from this and by no means does it pose a problem to non-religious readers, at least not to me.
An excellent short read on the characteristics of strong communities of all kinds. In a way, it is a reverse engineering of community building. Vogl deconstructs everything from clubs to cults to large organizations. Apt, pithy, and illuminating.
Some interesting points, but the insistence that the reader is going to apply this knowledge to be a (better) community leader feels like a PowerPoint presentation at an assistant managers' conference.
A very short book that provides a very good intro to Community Management, but leaves a taste for more / feeling of being very basic, almost like there should be another 5 chapters of going deeper into this topic…
In The Art of Building Community, Vogl lays out what it takes to make a successful community. He notes that a community "might look successful on the outside….[with] lots of members, events and funding. But communities that look strong and healthy are sometimes poorly organised. Many do not have a clear vision about what they do or where they're headed. They don't know how to make their activities more sophisticated, effective or rewarding. They may not know how to connect newer members in a meaningful way with current members. And they may have trouble finding the right prospective members and helping them get involved".
Vogl defines a community as "a group of individuals who share a mutual concern for one another's welfare". This makes it distinct from a group of individuals connected by shared ideas, interests, proximity etc but who lack concern for one another (e.g. museum members, the Goodreads "community"). Communities are therefore bound not only by shared values and shared identity, but also by shared connections and moral proscriptions on how members should behave and treat others. Understanding what the core values of the community are is important, because only then can you figure out what initiatives might resonate with members and help to grow and strengthen the community. Vogl cites the example of a company running an online community. If they were to start a programme to help gamers improve their skills, this might be a wasted investment if the community's core value is connecting gamers with one another. The converse is true.
Vogl lays out 7 principles to help grow and strengthen communities.
#1: Boundary: There has to be a recognised demarcation between insiders (members) and outsiders to make insiders feel safe and "confident that they share values and that they understand one another better than outsiders". This boundary must be regulated and maintained, whether by a formal or informal authority, based on the community's values. Gatekeepers are important for helping visitors across the boundary, giving them access to the community and explore whether there is a good fit.
#2: Initiation: The initiation is an activity that provides official recognition and welcome into the community. It helps members understand clearly who is part of the community and can be as simple as a telephone call or providing a badge, to elaborate processions and dances.
#3: Rituals: Rituals are practices that make a time or event as special or important; they are tools to bring meaning into our lives. Think family rituals or rites of passage, for instance. We can create new rituals for our community that reflect our current time and context. Vogl outlines the foundational form elements of a ritual: Opening (welcome, intention, reference a tradition, explain events and instructions); Body (share wisdom and invite participation); Closing (acknowledgement and sending)
#4: Temple: A temple is a place where people with shared values enact their community's rituals. Places of worship are clear examples but a CrossFit gym could also be regarded as minor temples. But we can create temporary sacred spaces by establishing spatial boundaries, inviting people important to the ritual into the space, wearing special clothing to the temple, creating specific lighting to draw attention to areas where it is wanted; raising up objects/people that are important, etc.
#5: Stories: Stories are how members, future members and outsiders learn the values and the value of the community. These include origin stories, stories about how the community's values are expressed and how they affect people, personal stories and vulnerable stories to build connection and trust.
#6: Symbols: By quickly reminding us of our community's values, identity and commitment, symbols are powerful tools in building community. We can offer tokens (a kind of symbol given to a person as a keepsake to remember an idea, event or set of values) to remind people of their belonging to a community. We increase the power of tokens through intention (telling the receiver why we are giving it to them); symbolism (explaining what it represents); connecting to the future (explaining how you hope it will support, change or serve them).
#7: Inner Rings: Vogl describes the journey from the periphery of a community to its inner rings as such: visitors - novices - members - elders or senior members - principal elders and skilled masters. Vogl warns that "the endless striving for the next ring can be a dangerous trap. In mature and formal communities, there is a much more satisfying and healthy way to relate to inner rings. Mature and strong communities create different levels of inner rings that members can enter (not to be superior snobs but to serve differently). At each level, members gain some benefits related to their maturation or formation.
Vogl notes that "strong communities offer a progression into successive inner rings. While some members may choose to stay at a particular level, mature communities provide opportunities to progress in their series of inner rings. In the best examples, the progression reflects a journey of growth or maturation….One type of growth can simply be a level of skill or competitive achievement…Evaluating improving skill is one way to evaluate the journey across levels. But skill improvement….is a superficial measure that may usefully organise a group, but not a community. The most powerful journey reflects "maturation" of growing concern for others…The irony is that the smaller and the more exclusive the ring to which we belong, the broader our concern for others." So while a visitor or novice is primarily concerns about their individual self, whether they are having a fun or meaningful time, whether they are securing personal legitimacy, the principal elder may be seeking to help the community fit within and serve the larger community it sits within. Vogl adds that mature and strong communities offer opportunities for external and internal growth.
A useful read for anyone interested in community-building work.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
If you're an individual looking for more ways to build community in your daily life, do yourself a favor and read The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters instead. I did enjoy The Art of Community and I think beautifully illustrates what makes law school so utterly miserable. I am seriously considering giving it to some of my law school bound acquaintances. At least it will prepare them for the awful social isolation and anxiety headed their way. But as a general book about building community, I did not find this one super helpful. At least not on an individual level, maybe I would feel differently if I was trying to figure out how to build community in a major organization. The book beautifully describes the micro isolation human can feel when not in community. Then it turns around and presents a macro solution, by primarily focusing on world religions or huge corporations like CrossFit. While I thoroughly enjoyed the use of C.S. Lewis's "inner rings" to describe how we establish community, I found the seven principles fairly unhelpful for personal application. If I gleaned any inspiration, it primarily came from running this book lens of The Art of Gathering. I do want a copy of this one (like I said, if nothing else, it beautifully describes the plight of the law student) and I might give a copy to my Mom since she works for a church, but I don't really see myself incorporating any of his suggestions into my daily life any time soon.
[In fairness, and upon reflection, I should add that I don't know if this book was intended for individuals. Maybe it is just for big corporations. In which case, I thoroughly admit I read it with the wrong expectations.]
We read this in a work-sponsored book club and to give you an idea of how that went: we sat pretty silently for ten minutes until someone finally said “did y’all have a really hard time trying to get through this” and then we spent the rest of the time talking about how ego-driven and cult-like this book was.
Vogl has a strange way of turning the concept of ‘making friends’ into something so vastly over-complicated, self-serving, ritualistic, and vaguely manipulative to the point where he has to dedicate a disclaimer chapter to clarify the difference between his tactics and cult tactics
He splits this book evenly into: stroking his ego, stroking the readers egos for being like him, talking down on (or telling you how to reject) people who are not like him, and name-dropping.
I actually left an organization years ago while I was working on my degree in Comparative Religious Studies focusing on cults and realizing that this organization was engaging in cult-like tactics. This book reminded me so much of what I was taught that I ended up finding my training material and comparing the 8 steps of that organizations “master plan” to Charles Vogl’s “7 principles” and they were almost identical
If you do read this book, literally just read the chapter titles and I promise you that’s all the info you need, the rest is just repetitive examples so the author can point out more cool people he knows.
This book is a frame work for how to build a community around you and what all communities need to thrive and do well. This book really only had actual information up until page 143. After that, the rest was supplemental material.
I really expected more from this. This really had a ton of abstract applications and I understand that all community building is an art and that it will be different for everyone, but somehow I feel cheated I did not get more from this. I found the ideas very interesting and this was clearly written, but I expected so much more from this.
This is not the first business book I have read, nor will it be the last; but, I don't feel this will be memorable in the long term.
We actually read this as a book study in my adult Sunday school class to better understand the ways in which successful communities are built and maintained within our church and the larger Christian community. Vogl focuses on defining values and establishing boundaries, while giving members the ability to grow within and outside of the community. I'm hopeful that we can apply these concepts to our class and our church in the year to come, especially as we work on rebuilding and repairing a community after Covid.
I feel like it's a handy guide for community leaders. The book is a good guideline and a great facilitator for discussion in a book club.
The principles are pretty straight-forward and I like the example he used regarding his dinner parties.
As I read the book, I kept drawing and relating the principles back to my own experience with communities and groups. I think I would review this book if I am interested in becoming a new community leader or to improve a community.
Short but pretty dense! I think it'll be important to take your specific community and break out what parts have the overlap, but I appreciate the broad purview Vogl took to understand the attributes of professional, religious, and voluntary communities and the commonalities across all three. It's insightful without necessarily being riveting. Recommended for professional and personal development.
Exactly what I've been looking for all these years. At once general and full of great examples, Vogl lays out a roadmap for taking an organization or set of shared personal characteristics into being a community of people who care about one another and the organization. If you're looking to create a book club, fraternal organization, or activist group from scratch, I've never seen a better resource.
This book is short. It compiles a number of keys to building community with an eye to lessons from religious practices. O far prefer The Art of Gathering as a source for building community, though Vogl's inner rings and guardians are important reminders on how to maintain community.