To build an interfaith movement requires bridge people, individuals who are rooted in one faith community, but who have close friends in at least one other.
If you are very active in a faith community you may have noticed that many if not most of your closest friends are within that community. This may not be true if you have only recently become an active member, for in that case you likely had some close friends outside it. However, as you spend more and more time in a community of faith and get to know the people there very well, significant social relationships to persons outside tend to wane. This is a serious problem for the vitality of faith communities. It matters little what their respective theologies are. Just from this tendency of members to pour so much energy into relating to each other, over time faith communities get disconnected from the larger community.
Innovative ventures spring from relationships between persons who are well connected, that is, in contact with a wide variety of persons with diverse skills and interests . If a community of faith’s one-to-one relationships are confined mostly to its own circle, it has little social capital, and almost no comprehension of what the larger community needs and wants. Inward social focus stifles vision, and without vision, the people perish.
This is why bridge people are so very important not just to the interfaith movement, but also to the vitality of their respective faith communities. Because bridge people have close friends outside their own faith circles they bring insights and perspectives back which would not otherwise be recognized, let alone appreciated. Furthermore, they bring back a familiarity with persons beyond their own circles who have skills and interests required to address the needs and wants of the larger community.
Shrinking communities of faith are prone to become more and more ingrown. Fearing that faithful members may leave if they develop significant relationships outside their own circle of faith, they discourage would-be bridge people from reaching out. This fear is unfounded. Interfaith activists testify that making friends outside their own traditions does not weaken, but rather strengthens their faith, because it makes them more aware of its distinctiveness and the ways in which it has nurtured and blessed them.