Community.com

You probably heard a lot of buzz surrounding Howard Dean'

You probably heard a lot of buzz surrounding Howard Dean’s innovative grassroots campaign (amassing more than $45 million in donations; half were for $200 or less). But you might not be familiar with one of the major reasons behind its popular appeal: Meetup.com.

An online social networking service, Meetup.com was the organizer behind thousands of salon-style gatherings of Dean supporters in cafes, bars, and restaurants around the country. But the cyber-nexus has also garnered a rapport with a more diverse spectrum of seekers—demographics that should cause people of faith to incline their ears.

The site is free and user-friendly. Visitors enter their zip codes and choose their area of interest (knitting, Sufism, Chihuahuas—the variety of topics listed are legion). Meetup.com then connects users electronically with others by city and topic. There are very few rules—on a predetermined date, a volunteer convener welcomes visitors at the venue of choice, voted on by all members of the group. At that point the floor is open for conversation over a coffee or a beer among the five or 10 people who show up.

It may sound like a simple concept, but it’s struck a cultural chord. More than 1 million people in 612 cities in the United States and around the world are coming out of the woodwork and creating community by their own initiatives using this format.

BESIDES GRASSROOTS political organizing, some of the most popular meetups are attended by disenfranchised religious (or irreligious) types. There are scores of ex-Mormons, shamanists, pagans, and atheists meeting up, hoping to find comradery. Interestingly enough, there are comparatively few evangelical or Catholic listings on the Web site.

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Sojourners Magazine May 2004
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