If you want to get healthy, you just might not want to go to a doctor. You might instead, go to church. The power of community to create health is far greater than that of any physician, clinic or hospital.
–Mark Hyman, MD, practicing family physician, bestselling author, speaker, educator, and Director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine
Searches for a definition of “community,” yield these results: “a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals,” and “a unified body of individuals.” The desire for a sense of belonging and connectedness is an integral part of human experience, and feeling a sense of connection and belonging has the potential to transform a person’s motivation, happiness and health. Researchers who study belonging have found it to be strongly related to a sense of general well-being.
Add to that the knowledge that people tend to get healthy in groups (i.e. groups can be a powerful means of changing health-related behaviors), and it makes sense that an integrative approach to health is incomplete without the inclusion of community.
This knowledge lies at the core of one of the most widely used and longest-running treatments for alcoholism. Bill W. and Dr. Bob S. founded AA, in part, based on the principle that people get healthy in groups, that a sense of fellowship with others who share a common struggle can be life-changing, and that when a person gets healthy, a good way to stay healthy is to help someone else get healthy.
“The feeling of having shared in a common peril is one element in the powerful cement which binds us.”
― Alcoholics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous – Big Book
Working together with Dr. Mark Hyman, Pastor Rick Warren used the same principle to help transform the health of the congregation at Saddleback church, through a program which has now become a bestselling book, The Daniel Plan. According to the Saddleback website the Daniel Plan uses the combination of “Faith, Food, Fitness, Focus, and Friends.” The program, administered through small groups, helped this congregation of 30,000 lose a quarter of a million pounds during the first year.
Both of these programs also integrate mental, physical, and spiritual aspects of wellness. AA identifies “stinkin’ thinkin’,” for example, and spirituality is, of course, central to its 12 steps. Mental transformation and exercise are highlighted in the faith-based Daniel Plan. Both provide helpful examples of the mind-body-spirit-community connection in action.
Today, take a moment to assess your sense of community and belonging. How are your relationships, or your experience of being part of a group, impacting your overall well-being? Are you allowing yourself to receive support from your support systems? Are you giving back, encouraging the health of those around you? Are you part of a community that is adversely affecting your health, because unhealthy behaviors are encouraged within it? Do you need to seek out a new community in order to be healthier?