What is Essential to Creating Your Own “Campus?”

Yesterday, Randy Elrod wrote a great blogpost on “Why We Call Our Community in Franklin, Tennessee ‘The Campus’.” He gave a little history about where the name came from.

“… the downtown Franklin community is very much like a college campus. Merridees is the snack bar, Starbucks at Five Points is the coffee shop, Puckett’s Grocery is the lunch room, Landmark Booksellers is the bookstore, McCreary’s is the obligatory pub and the sprawling historic homes are like fraternity houses for adults. We even have the campus police who ticket you for the slightest infraction of the law.”

Spence Smith, has written on it twice. The first time was over a year ago. It was when we first began calling our little community the “campus.” He says,

“You see… There are a few of us who are really close friends that live within a three block radius of each other in downtown Franklin. We are all friends on twitter and we are all friends in real life. We share meals together, work together, celebrate birthdays and special occasions together… we experience life together. We are much like family and we all support each other very well.

I mean… that’s what friends do.”

(Our campus has broadened since the writing of this post.)

Yesterday, Spence wrote about the “campus” again. “How To Start Your Own ‘Campus’” He distills the essence of our Franklin campus.

“Well I dare say that no two campus communities would ever be alike but the common thread behind our campus is something we can all share.

That common thread is community.

Community is something I think most of us long for. It’s a group of friends we can share life with through out the year. We share meals, gather at parties, go for walks, run marathons, half marathons, 5k’s and even triathlons together. (our collective sport [not so sure about that one, Spence])

We also share in our struggles and our successes.

We share life together.

That is the essence of our Franklin Campus.”

So, the question is, “Is it possible to create a campus anywhere? What must exist in order to have community like this?

Three years ago there was no Franklin “campus.” I did not know Randy or Chris. (We met at an open house to kick off a Downtown Franklin event.) I did not know Spence. (I met him through Randy.). I did not know Ian and Anne Cron. (I met them at a re:create conference. They lived in Connecticut until last month.) I did not know Patsy and Les Clairmont. (I knew Patsy remotely through Women of Faith, but she lived in Michigan until this summer.) I didn’t know Chris and Anne Jackson either. (I met them via Twitter.) The only couple I did know was Steve and Karen Anderson. We have been friends for twelve years, but only rarely did things together socially. There are many others who are now part of our little community. None of these relationships were planned but they were all intentional.

(I will add that most, if not all, of us Twitter and most have blogs as well—a very important component that helps us stay connected with each other.)

Here are some things that I believe are needed to create your own “campus”


I know that seems obvious, but notice that I didn’t say FRIENDS. The one ingredient that is absolutely necessary is PEOPLE. Do you have people where you live? Spence talked about us being friends. We didn’t start out being friends. That naturally evolved over time. If you already have friends then you’ve got a huge leg up, but they’re not essential. People are.

You may be naturally drawn to people with whom you already have something in common. You work together, you go to church together, you pass each other on the jogging trail every morning, you have a mutual friend. You can start there. Or you many just notice someone at a gathering and strike up a conversation. Open your eyes and see what PEOPLE are already in and about your life.


You have to want it. You need to know why you want a community. Answer that question for yourself. Recognize that God’s created us to be in relationships. Discover how satisfying it can be to have friends to share your life with. It will mean getting out of yourself and out of your safe little world. All kinds of things become possible when we embrace this way of life.


Intentionality begins with initiative—taking the first step. If you’re an introvert this can be very hard, but you’ve got to do it. Someone has to go first. God’s put this desire in you in order to stretch you. Lean into it.

You’ve got to invite and include. Everyone wants to be wanted. Don’t you? Do for others what you wish others would do for you.

Intentionality must also include the willingness to be fascinated with people, to want to know their stories. One of the things that makes these kinds of relationships work for us is that we’ve learned how to ask each other really great questions. It’s because we’re truly fascinated with each other.


A very practical way to be intentional is to build your own traditions. We all like times that we look forward to, anticipate. Times where we can put down the masks and just relax and be ourselves. Knowing that we’re valued, and accepted. As Randy mentioned we have Tuesday Mexican Night. Whoever’s in town comes. No pressure. We celebrate New Years Eve together each year. We celebrate birthdays together. We’ve tried different things, some stick some don’t. You have to experiment. You could meet once a month to talk about a book you’ve been reading – or, for less pressure talk about various books you’re currently reading.


Lastly, identify your favorite spots. Where do you naturally run into each other? Coffee shops, pubs, parks, the farmer’s market? Then get out and go to those places. You won’t build community staying at home by yourself. You have to be intentional about being where the people are. One of those favorite spots could even be your own house or apartment. Invite people to your place for pizza or to cook out hamburgers. Have a “Sundae Night” (i.e an ice cream sundae buffet) get-together or have a “Popcorn People” night. Make it a tradition. Have wine tastings or pot lucks.

I can feel the wheels turning in your head right now. Go for it.

Tell me what you’ve noticed. What’s worked for you as you’ve created a community? What obstacles do you intentionally have to overcome in order to build this into your life? Why is it important? What’s at stake?

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31 Responses to “What is Essential to Creating Your Own “Campus?””

  1. Awesome. Thanks so much.

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  3. Gail-
    Great post. Thanks for sharing how to develop a community. You are probably aware William Wilberforce was part of just such a community in London (the Clapham Community). They changed London and Great Britain for the better. Praying for great influence for you and your community in changing the world around you.

  4. Hmmm… I never thought about that — those years of experiencing community being a gift to now be stewarded. That gives a new purpose to “remembering” the old — i.e. not just to miss it, but instead to “mine the memories” for the essential elements and “essence” and then look for ways to nurture those in a new setting and with new people.

    Thanks, Gail. That’s good food for thought! (And if I ever get to Franklin, I’ll gladly take you up on that cup of coffee.)

  5. Gail, Thanks so much for this encouragement. I know the effort and intentionality will pay off yet it is all too easy to rationalize “not today.” With three young boys involved in all sorts of activities and a busy husband, I need to BELIEVE that this is God’s will for me and ACT on it even when I am not feeling totally jazzed about it in the moment! Waiting isn’t going to result in a day that feels just right, a day where my house is spectacularly clean, an ideal dinner is planned, and not a single nose in the house is running. I need to embrace the imperfection and opportunity of today!

  6. Hi Stephanie,

    You are right. It can totally “be attained anywhere!”

    I can’t wait to check out your blog: http://metropolitanmama.net/

    Thanks for your kind words,

  7. If you ever come to Franklin, let me know and I’ll take you for a cup of coffee.

  8. Hi Melody,

    I’m sure that must have been so hard loosing that community. And in the Philippines, no less. Wow.

    You’ve been given a gift in your past experience and now you must be a steward of it. Give it to others. And it sounds like the people you to whom you are near may need it more than anyone. Sometimes the people who live the closest to each other are the loneliest.

    “Freely you have received. Freely give.” (Matthew 10:8)

    (Also, see my comment above.)

  9. Your vision and hospitality has made it all possible.

  10. Hi Helen,

    You are totally right about how we live in such a privatized culture. So sad, because we all hunger for community, family.

    My daughter Mary, in her early twenties, has completely changed the dynamic of her neighborhood. She and her husband live in an older neighborhood that finds itself in a lot of transistion. (I’m trying to get her to write the story down so I can share it.) Not only has she gotten her neighbors acquainted, but these neighbors are from such different worlds— diverse economic backgrounds, ethnic backgrounds, some old, some young, some single, some married, etc., etc.

    For example, she had a “you’ll come” Thanksgiving dinner – open to anyone last year. She’s had bondfires in her backyard open to kids and all. She started a women’s bookclub which meets once a month. I could go on and on.

    And … as a result of reading “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle”, in that bookclub, she founded the very first Farmer’s Market in her area.

    See: http://www.woodbinefarmersmarket.com/

    Her goal for the market is not just to make local foods available, it’s to build community. This week she’s having a Doggie Costume Contest at the market!

    Anyway, follow your passion. You can do it!! Feel free to connect with her on that website. She’s an inspiration.

  11. I love the fact that you’ve been intentional about your intentionality. Action Plans. Specific steps. Love it!


    Life can get away from us before we know what’s happening. We don’t have to let that happen.

    Blessings to you and Chris.

  12. Hi Phyllis,

    You can totally do this! Living in a new town. Having to start all over. “What does this make possible?”

  13. Hi Barry,

    Thanks so much for giving me a little peek into your life. Sounds like you’ve been on quite a journey. If you were on campus here, I’d be asking you all kind of questions. Yours is a story that is definitely fascinating to me.

    Stay in touch.

    (And WHO TOLD YOU about the $20??!! Not fair!)

  14. That’s awesome, Travis. I’d love to hear more about your campus.

  15. Thanks, Spence,

    You add such a calming, supporting and steady dimension to our campus. (And you’re pretty funny too!) I’m so grateful we get to share this part of our life with you. I know you travel alot, but you almost always seem to be home on Tuesdays and for our other special get-togethers. Mike and I don’t take your friendship for granted. You’re a gift to us.

  16. Hi Kristie,

    Thanks for your thoughts. It does seem easier to have this kind of community if everyone lives in close proximity to one another. Most of us can walk to each other’s houses and to our favorite spots. I love that, especially for spur-of the moment encounters. But it’s certainly not essential.

    Several years ago Mike and I lived on an 88 acre farm. Our “next door” neighbor had 1000 acres. And yet we had an amazing community there. Some of our “campus” friends lived 30 minutes away. We didn’t have Twitter but we did have phones and email. Mike had a blog then, tho’ it was just called a website that was updated frequently. We met people online, even then.

    In this rural life, we had amazing sit-by-the-campfire discussions with our friends, Sunday potluck picnics, Fourth of July gatherings. We’d get snowed in at each other’s houses. One time we got stranded at a person’s farm because the creek rose and washed out the road. (Now I understand the statement “…if the creek don’t rise.”

    Our visits were probably longer. We’d get together for lunch and we’d linger all afternoon. Most importantly, we had all the ingredients: People, Desire, Intentionality, Traditions, and Places.

    We made a lot of new friends in those years. We’d meet each other’s friends and our “campus” grew. The secret ingredient, I believe, was that we were truly fascinated with each other.

    Get to know some people via Twitter or Facebook. Then invite them over and include your friends. Introduce them to each other. Come up with some great questions and be fascinated with each person. Perhaps their desire to engage and connect via social media will just grow naturally.

    (By the way, here are some GREAT articles on Twitter, expecially how to encourage others to twitter: http://snipurl.com/mhtwitter )

  17. Thank you so much for writing out specific tips, Gail! I first read about “the campus” on Randy Elrod’s blog and was fascinated by the concept. I yearn for that kind of community and I appreciate the reminder that it can be attained anywhere. As you stated so eloquently, it begins with people and intentionality.

    Also, I agree that blogging enhances & strengthens friendships.

  18. P.S. I’ve wanted to visit Franklin for quite awhile now. This makes me want to even more! (Although I realize that the greatest beauties of a community usually lie below the surface of a cursory glance. Unfortunately, I’m not free to MOVE to Franklin at the moment!)

  19. After coming from 14 years in one of the most amazing community experiences one could have… your post reminded me that community doesn’t just “happen” — it needs to be built.

    Our family enjoyed 14 incredible years of community at a small mission center in the northern Philippines. We (the center community) worked together, schooled together, worshiped together, played together, went through crises together, welcomed each other’s babies together… It wasn’t all wonderful, of course (hello! the first ingredient of community is “people”!) but over the years, I came to realize what a rare community experience it was.

    And what a system shock it’s been to leave that community (actually, it disbanded) and find ourselves located now in a huge metropolis. Thankfully, some elements of community have re-emerged — though more scattered, less homogenous, more “multiple-community” (i.e. church, school, neighborhood, work all present various community opportunities). But your post reminds me that community can be nurtured.

  20. Love this post!! Our “Campus” is one of the greatest things that has ever happened to me. It is a beautiful thing. Someone once told me, “It’s the people, stupid, it’s the people!” That is so true. Thanks, Gail.

  21. Ah, this sounds like something I’ve been longing for in my own life but have not yet quite achieved. In addition to all the elements you have listed above, I’m also longing to live in close proximity to a group of people with whom I share a particular mission–such as, having an impact on a local neighborhood or area. But the “campus” you’ve created sounds idyllic to me! And I also agree that intentionality is critical. We live in such a privatized culture now, where people don’t gather on front porches as much as they hide in their back decks, where people are so busy that it’s hard to make time and effort to experience the type of community you are talking about…to our loss and detriment! Thank you for giving us a window into what community and friendship can look like in our increasingly overscheduled and isolated lives.

  22. Gail, Spot on. #2 & #3 were critical for us as several years back when my wife, Chris, our 2 boys, and I moved away from her parents and home town to Indiana. My mother-in-law didn’t speak to me for 2 years! It was tough for us to find community in Indiana and we so needed it. So, we had to WANT it and be INTENTIONAL about it. We were intentional and created a great community with folks from our church. We have since moved back to Roanoke, VA, and have once again found ourselves wanting to get back the community we had in Indiana.

    As a result of BCE2010, Chris and I have taken up a couple action plans to be more intentional at building a community. This weekend is our first activity with some of my son’s buddies (action plan from Daniel Harkavy’s parenting class) and next week, Chris is hosting some of our new neighbors in our community at the house for coffee…Exciting.

    With people (#1), I do think that shared interests are very important…

    Thanks for sharing. John

  23. I just moved (with my husband) to Franklin at the end of June. I keep in touch with friends and will get to visit but until I read this, I couldn’t put my finger on what I’m truly missing. It’s this sense of community – I was lucky to have that before and it’s nice to hear how you’ve done it in my new adopted hometown.

    Lovely post.

  24. Very well written and timely. This is something I have felt is missing in my life right now. My youngest of three has gone off to college, I work from my home office, and I often find myself missing the friendlship of people living close by. Although remarried two years ago, I have had full custody of my three children since 2000. Hiding behind the role of a single dad kept me preoccupied. Now, it is a new dawn and finding a new path.

    Interesting enough twitter has been playing a part in my search. I have connected with some college and high school coaches. One in particular mentioned a book by Coach John Wooden – called One-On-One. Basically it is 60 days of thoughts by the coach and also Jay Carty. It is followed with a listing of readings from the Bible (Old and New). For 60 days, each morning I read. Never missing a day. Not to babble on, but it has had an effect on me. I have continued reading. Here is the ironic thing. Every morning I read even if section sited the new testament. I am Jewish! While still strong in my Jewish faith, it opened my eyes to a better understanding. (Ok, maybe once in awhile I looked up for lightening 😉 )

    All of a sudden I am having discussions with my neighbor, my father-in-law (current wife not Jewish), and others about religion. Open, honest, non judgemental.

    Your post hit me because I realize that the community I will look for will be different since my readings.

    Thanks for sharing and you can slip Michael a $20 now for his comments 🙂

  25. Can you believe that I am married to this women? She is just as awesome as she sounds. Really!

  26. This post is amazing. I’ve been a part of what you’re talking about and I’m now part of a building process going for the same thing. Thanks for posting this. It’s really clear.

  27. Oh Gail!!! Now this really nails it! See!! I knew you were the ultimate question-asker. You really know how to get down to what the foundation of how this campus was built. You are so right. I couldn’t agree more.. it starts with people. I can totally see you asking questions that lead to this great post as if we were sitting around talking about how our campus started…

    we are intentional. we have found those places we like to haunt and those traditions that make each week and each new year a blast!

    I love it. Thanks Gail!

  28. Thanks for posting this Gail. I am blessed to have some strong communities yet I long for this small downtown aspect of life. My friends are spread out over a large geographic area and there is a real reluctance to use Twitter and even Facebook to keep up with one another. I think there’s a feeling that there’s something superficial about these sites. Maybe I should just encourage my friends to give it a try. I guess at one time I probably thought it sounded a little strange too.

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