Social capital

We’re in Oklahoma for the Christmas holidays, traveling around visiting relatives and revisiting the places of our past.  Part of it has me feeling melancholy, as I see beloved locations rich with memory falling into neglect, disrepair, and decay.

My wife, who has been studying the social sciences, introduced me to a term that helps me understand what I am seeing:  Social capital.  This refers to what builds up a sense of community, relationships with neighbors, and social networks.   The small towns whose residents have stopped painting their houses, with rusty junkyards on mainstreet, with empty storefronts with broken windows–these have lost their social capital.  Yes, it’s a problem of economic capital too, the loss of jobs and the deprivations of poverty, but the loss of social capital too inhibits the rebuilding of economic capital.

This happens in big cities too.  I notice a decline of social capital in Tulsa and Norman, with things looking and  feeling run-down.  (I could be wrong, since we weren’t there for long.)  And yet, Oklahoma City seems to be growing in social capital.  The new NBA team, the Thunder, which is having lots of success, has created civic pride.  Then there is Bricktown, a re-development of an old warehouse district that is now an entertainment hot spot, with music clubs, restaurants, night spots, and even a river walk.  But what seemed most telling to me is that the overpasses and sound screens along the highways are being decorated with Native American-style buffalo and shields and abstract designs.

And even some of the small towns, equally poor as the others, are building social capital.  For example, Vinita, where I grew up, has a remarkable number of houses and stores with Christmas decorations.   Even the most humble abodes and neighborhoods are adorned with lights and yard art and nativity scenes.   This is a sign, my wife observed, of social capital.

How else might this concept be applied?  For example, in churches?

HT:  Jackie

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Booklover

    “How else might this concept be applied? For example, in churches?”

    I know a man who quit his small-town little church and began attending a mega-church in the nearest big city. His business grew by leaps and bounds. The small church floundered until they opened up a pre-school and daycare. This would seem to fit part of the definition of “social capital” which stated:

    “social contacts affect the productivity of individuals and groups”

    I hate to refer to the growth of a church as the “productivity of individuals and groups” rather than the work of the Holy Spirit, but there you have it.

    I also see this concept of social capital with the Mormon church nearby. Their social contacts are interwoven in business, school, church, society; this seems to be a great boon to their children. It’s like everywhere they go there is a huge social network that welcomes them with open arms and encourages them to “succeed.”

  • Booklover

    “How else might this concept be applied? For example, in churches?”

    I know a man who quit his small-town little church and began attending a mega-church in the nearest big city. His business grew by leaps and bounds. The small church floundered until they opened up a pre-school and daycare. This would seem to fit part of the definition of “social capital” which stated:

    “social contacts affect the productivity of individuals and groups”

    I hate to refer to the growth of a church as the “productivity of individuals and groups” rather than the work of the Holy Spirit, but there you have it.

    I also see this concept of social capital with the Mormon church nearby. Their social contacts are interwoven in business, school, church, society; this seems to be a great boon to their children. It’s like everywhere they go there is a huge social network that welcomes them with open arms and encourages them to “succeed.”

  • Booklover

    It also seems as if, with the development of Facebook and entertainment culture which can be brought directly into homes via computers and such ilk as Google TV, one seems to possess a vast worldwide “social capital,” while in fact one’s *local* “social capital” is withering into slug-like form.

  • Booklover

    It also seems as if, with the development of Facebook and entertainment culture which can be brought directly into homes via computers and such ilk as Google TV, one seems to possess a vast worldwide “social capital,” while in fact one’s *local* “social capital” is withering into slug-like form.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    I prefer to think of our “heavenly capital” in Christ :D

    More to the point, the church ought to be vibrant with social captial, to the extent that the social capital you described is a by-product of the gospel, and not a replacement of it (as I’ve seen before in churches, where the church becomes nothing more than a concert/city hall with cheerleading for good works).

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    I prefer to think of our “heavenly capital” in Christ :D

    More to the point, the church ought to be vibrant with social captial, to the extent that the social capital you described is a by-product of the gospel, and not a replacement of it (as I’ve seen before in churches, where the church becomes nothing more than a concert/city hall with cheerleading for good works).

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    It is huge for churches. I know when I first got to the congregation I serve the building had been neglected. It needed paint etc. It told me what I was in for right off. And the rest of the community was warned by the building to just stay away. It definitely reflected what was going on with the congregation internally. It’s been kind of fun for me to watch the building transform as the congregation does too.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    It is huge for churches. I know when I first got to the congregation I serve the building had been neglected. It needed paint etc. It told me what I was in for right off. And the rest of the community was warned by the building to just stay away. It definitely reflected what was going on with the congregation internally. It’s been kind of fun for me to watch the building transform as the congregation does too.

  • Tom Hering

    Uh oh, Bror. You’re just asking for A. Amos Love to jump in here. I mean, where in the Bible do Christians paint and make improvements to buildings, hmm?

  • Tom Hering

    Uh oh, Bror. You’re just asking for A. Amos Love to jump in here. I mean, where in the Bible do Christians paint and make improvements to buildings, hmm?

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Right, everyone. A “dead church” has nothing to do with size or activity. A church is dead when it departs from the Word of God, which connects us to the only source of life. And our life itself is hidden with Christ in God. But I have known churches that just seem to not care anymore, to just give up, in which even their pastor is dismissive of his own congregation. I think a pastor, as Bror is illustrating, can plan a big part in building up that social–and spiritual–capital again. (Maybe “spiritual capital” is a concept worth exploring.)

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Right, everyone. A “dead church” has nothing to do with size or activity. A church is dead when it departs from the Word of God, which connects us to the only source of life. And our life itself is hidden with Christ in God. But I have known churches that just seem to not care anymore, to just give up, in which even their pastor is dismissive of his own congregation. I think a pastor, as Bror is illustrating, can plan a big part in building up that social–and spiritual–capital again. (Maybe “spiritual capital” is a concept worth exploring.)

  • Abernathy

    Racially and ethnically integrate.

  • Abernathy

    Racially and ethnically integrate.

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    I thought a “dead church” was one that hadn’t yet replaced the chancel with a performing arts stage. That’s what people keep telling me, anyway.

    Anyway, I was thinking “social capital” for churches might include more potlucks and ice cream socials, and youth groups that have camp outs and bowling parties all the time.

    But painting the building and making it look nice? Nah.. whitewashed sepulcher…

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    I thought a “dead church” was one that hadn’t yet replaced the chancel with a performing arts stage. That’s what people keep telling me, anyway.

    Anyway, I was thinking “social capital” for churches might include more potlucks and ice cream socials, and youth groups that have camp outs and bowling parties all the time.

    But painting the building and making it look nice? Nah.. whitewashed sepulcher…

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Tom,
    Yes, absolutely. Where does it say that? Hmmm?
    But to tag on what Veith has said here. Definitely the church dies when departing from the word of God. Spiritual capital can only be gained by the gospel and the love the gospel exudes. It’s never perfect as I am learning grapple with today.
    Church always has to fall back on forgiveness. I have found though that as the congregation learns to forgive and love each other, they learn to love and take care of their building too.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Tom,
    Yes, absolutely. Where does it say that? Hmmm?
    But to tag on what Veith has said here. Definitely the church dies when departing from the word of God. Spiritual capital can only be gained by the gospel and the love the gospel exudes. It’s never perfect as I am learning grapple with today.
    Church always has to fall back on forgiveness. I have found though that as the congregation learns to forgive and love each other, they learn to love and take care of their building too.

  • Cincinnatus

    I hate the term “social capital.” It’s an attempt by empiricists (the same folks who have ruined most other branches of the social sciences) to quantify something that is absolutely unquantifiable.

  • Cincinnatus

    I hate the term “social capital.” It’s an attempt by empiricists (the same folks who have ruined most other branches of the social sciences) to quantify something that is absolutely unquantifiable.

  • Tom Hering

    Social capital in a church equals relationships in a church, which equals Christians loving one another. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. Our part is to encourage the mortification of the Old Adam in every member – to put to death those fleshly attitudes that create a class structure among members (which is not the same thing as a hierarchy of functions). That class structure is usually based on status in the outside community, financial means and level of giving, involvement in church programs and activities, quality of clothing worn to services, and ethnic appearance. A congregation has to consciously work against worldly attitudes – as the Scriptures command in a number of passages.

  • Tom Hering

    Social capital in a church equals relationships in a church, which equals Christians loving one another. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. Our part is to encourage the mortification of the Old Adam in every member – to put to death those fleshly attitudes that create a class structure among members (which is not the same thing as a hierarchy of functions). That class structure is usually based on status in the outside community, financial means and level of giving, involvement in church programs and activities, quality of clothing worn to services, and ethnic appearance. A congregation has to consciously work against worldly attitudes – as the Scriptures command in a number of passages.

  • trotk

    In many areas, we can do physical things to transform the deeper nature or heart. If we put our money in the right place, our heart may eventually follow. If we train ourselves liturgically, the heart will eventually follow. Obviously these rest on the grace of God, but He has commanded them.

    Similarly, on a purely human level, when we clean up communities, we view them differently. This was why NYC spent so much energy removing graffiti from the subway system. It changed the crime rate.

    As Christians, we ought to be cleaning up our communities in physical and tangible ways, because it is a means of loving those who live there. No cynicism should stop us from painting the church, because it is loving to the church’s neighbors. We should not hesitate to pick up trash on the road and volunteer our time in other areas.

  • trotk

    In many areas, we can do physical things to transform the deeper nature or heart. If we put our money in the right place, our heart may eventually follow. If we train ourselves liturgically, the heart will eventually follow. Obviously these rest on the grace of God, but He has commanded them.

    Similarly, on a purely human level, when we clean up communities, we view them differently. This was why NYC spent so much energy removing graffiti from the subway system. It changed the crime rate.

    As Christians, we ought to be cleaning up our communities in physical and tangible ways, because it is a means of loving those who live there. No cynicism should stop us from painting the church, because it is loving to the church’s neighbors. We should not hesitate to pick up trash on the road and volunteer our time in other areas.

  • Porcell

    A church building, as well as town or city buildings, tell a lot about the social capital of the people. In many ways some of the old New England towns with a church building at the center of town including a beautiful town common surrounded by an array of well designed and built wooden stores and residences showed a lot more vibrant social capital than modern towns with their vulgar commercial strip malls and garish advertising.

    In Europe, I love the old medieval cities and towns with, again, a church and a bell tower at the center and a combination of commercial and residential places that are beautifully designed along with fine commercial places including clever but understated, aesthetically pleasing advertising. Truth to tell, Europeans on average have a far better sense of community than Americans.

    Robert Putnam, the Harvard philosopher, wrote a book Bowling Alone, regarded as a classic book about social capital, warns that the very fabric of our social connections has declined radically, impoverishing the lives of many Americans.

    However, Putnam claims that at the turn of the twentieth-century America reinvented itself with better communities in many places and that with effort we could do this again. The subtitle of his book is The Collapse and Revival of American Community.

  • Porcell

    A church building, as well as town or city buildings, tell a lot about the social capital of the people. In many ways some of the old New England towns with a church building at the center of town including a beautiful town common surrounded by an array of well designed and built wooden stores and residences showed a lot more vibrant social capital than modern towns with their vulgar commercial strip malls and garish advertising.

    In Europe, I love the old medieval cities and towns with, again, a church and a bell tower at the center and a combination of commercial and residential places that are beautifully designed along with fine commercial places including clever but understated, aesthetically pleasing advertising. Truth to tell, Europeans on average have a far better sense of community than Americans.

    Robert Putnam, the Harvard philosopher, wrote a book Bowling Alone, regarded as a classic book about social capital, warns that the very fabric of our social connections has declined radically, impoverishing the lives of many Americans.

    However, Putnam claims that at the turn of the twentieth-century America reinvented itself with better communities in many places and that with effort we could do this again. The subtitle of his book is The Collapse and Revival of American Community.

  • Tom Hering

    Porcell @ 13, I’d highly recommend Bernard Rudofsky’s book, Streets For People: A Primer For Americans (1969). It’s a classic that looks at Old World streets, and the way they – unlike American streets – actually enhance social life (and have been doing so for thousands of years). Also check out James Howard Kunstler’s book, The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America’s Man-Made Landscape (1993).

  • Tom Hering

    Porcell @ 13, I’d highly recommend Bernard Rudofsky’s book, Streets For People: A Primer For Americans (1969). It’s a classic that looks at Old World streets, and the way they – unlike American streets – actually enhance social life (and have been doing so for thousands of years). Also check out James Howard Kunstler’s book, The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America’s Man-Made Landscape (1993).

  • DonS

    The erosion of social capital in our society is reflected in our government’s priorities — a transition from public infrastructure and public works to transfer payment programs. Look at the respective responses to serious economic downturn in the 1930′s vs. 2008-10. The focus in the 1930′s? Works Progress Administration (WPA). We’ll build stuff to keep the unemployed busy and provide a subsistence for them. The focus now? Extending unemployment benefits to as long as three years. Give people “stimulus” checks. Sure, there have been some allegedly “shovel-ready stimulus” projects funded as well. But, notice that many of them have not yet been started, because of the choking red tape and regulation which stymies most building projects today. And the ones that are under way are almost all merely maintenance programs for heretofore badly neglected public works infrastructure mostly built in the 1950′s and 60′s, when we built stuff and had a vision for the future.

  • DonS

    The erosion of social capital in our society is reflected in our government’s priorities — a transition from public infrastructure and public works to transfer payment programs. Look at the respective responses to serious economic downturn in the 1930′s vs. 2008-10. The focus in the 1930′s? Works Progress Administration (WPA). We’ll build stuff to keep the unemployed busy and provide a subsistence for them. The focus now? Extending unemployment benefits to as long as three years. Give people “stimulus” checks. Sure, there have been some allegedly “shovel-ready stimulus” projects funded as well. But, notice that many of them have not yet been started, because of the choking red tape and regulation which stymies most building projects today. And the ones that are under way are almost all merely maintenance programs for heretofore badly neglected public works infrastructure mostly built in the 1950′s and 60′s, when we built stuff and had a vision for the future.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    “Social Capitol” sounds like another way of saying “if you don’t respect yourself, nobody else is going to do it for you.”

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    “Social Capitol” sounds like another way of saying “if you don’t respect yourself, nobody else is going to do it for you.”

  • http://simdan.com SimDan

    According to George L. Kelling and James Q. Wilson, it doesn’t take much to start the decline of social capital. All it takes is something small such as a single broken window left untended to. They write:

    “Social psychologists and police officers tend to agree that if a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken. This is as true in nice neighborhoods as in run-down ones. Window-breaking does not necessarily occur on a large scale because some areas are inhabited by determined window-breakers whereas others are populated by window-lovers; rather, one unrepaired broken window is a signal that no one cares, and so breaking more windows costs nothing. (It has always been fun.)”

    They further write that this effect can, if left untended to, ruin whole neighborhoods.

    For further reading, see The police and neighborhood safety: BROKEN WINDOWS.

  • http://simdan.com SimDan

    According to George L. Kelling and James Q. Wilson, it doesn’t take much to start the decline of social capital. All it takes is something small such as a single broken window left untended to. They write:

    “Social psychologists and police officers tend to agree that if a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken. This is as true in nice neighborhoods as in run-down ones. Window-breaking does not necessarily occur on a large scale because some areas are inhabited by determined window-breakers whereas others are populated by window-lovers; rather, one unrepaired broken window is a signal that no one cares, and so breaking more windows costs nothing. (It has always been fun.)”

    They further write that this effect can, if left untended to, ruin whole neighborhoods.

    For further reading, see The police and neighborhood safety: BROKEN WINDOWS.

  • Booklover

    What Cincinnatus said makes sense to me.

    Could we just say that those who love and serve their neighbors tend to have flourishing neighborhoods. Those who don’t will suffer the consequences of their neglect.

  • Booklover

    What Cincinnatus said makes sense to me.

    Could we just say that those who love and serve their neighbors tend to have flourishing neighborhoods. Those who don’t will suffer the consequences of their neglect.

  • http://steadfastlutherans.org/ SAL

    Social Capital is an attempt to capture a reality.

    Human links have value to societies.

    I can’t buy a friend or a neighbor but I am worse off without them.

    Besides the subjective sense, social capital also relates to the economic value from a densely inter-meshed society.

    I was trained in the Institutional school of Economics and social capital is often something we emphasize more than the mystical Austrians would prefer.

  • http://steadfastlutherans.org/ SAL

    Social Capital is an attempt to capture a reality.

    Human links have value to societies.

    I can’t buy a friend or a neighbor but I am worse off without them.

    Besides the subjective sense, social capital also relates to the economic value from a densely inter-meshed society.

    I was trained in the Institutional school of Economics and social capital is often something we emphasize more than the mystical Austrians would prefer.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg
  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg
  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    More church and social capital.

    proverbs14verse1.blogspot.com/

    http://www.visionforumministries.org/

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    More church and social capital.

    proverbs14verse1.blogspot.com/

    http://www.visionforumministries.org/

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    I have linked this before.

    https://socialcapital.wordpress.com/

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    I have linked this before.

    https://socialcapital.wordpress.com/


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