The role of the individual is accorded basic significance because the success of the community depends ultimately on the individual’s response to the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh. This role is expressed principally both in the initiatives taken by the individual to acquaint others with the Faith and in efforts to assist in building a united, functioning community. The role of the individual is of unique importance. It is the individual who manifests the vitality of faith upon which the success of the teaching work and the development of the community depend. Each believer has an inescapable responsibility which cannot be transferred to, or assumed by, any institution of the Cause. The individual alone can exercise those capacities which include the ability to take initiative, to seize opportunities, to form friendships, to interact personally with others, to build relationships, to win the cooperation of others in common service to the Faith and society, and to convert into action the decisions made by consultative bodies. Shoghi Effendi underscored the absolute necessity of individual initiative and action. He explained that without the support of the individual, “at once wholehearted, continuous and generous,” every measure and plan of his… Spiritual Assembly is “foredoomed to failure.”
The Universal House of Justice has explained that “a community is of course more than the sum of its membership; it is a comprehensive unit of civilization composed of individuals, families and institutions that are originators and encouragers of systems, agencies and organizations working together with a common purpose for the welfare of people both within and beyond its own borders; it is a composition of diverse, interacting participants that are achieving unity in an unremitting quest for spiritual and social progress.” Bahá’ís are at the very beginning of the process of community building.
The flourishing of the community demands a pattern of behavior in which the collective expression of the virtues of the individual members and the functioning of the Spiritual Assembly are manifest in the unity and fellowship of the community and the dynamism of its activity and growth. This calls for the integration of the component elements—adults, youth and children—in spiritual, social, educational and administrative activities; and their engagement in local plans of teaching and development. It implies a collective will and sense of purpose… It involves the practice of collective worship of God. Hence, regular devotional meetings are held in local Bahá’í Centers, where available, or elsewhere, including the homes of believers. In addition, local Bahá’í communities meet every 19 days for a “Feast,” a gathering that includes consultation on community business as well as devotional and social portions. Of the 19-Day Feast, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has written, “The Feast is a bringer of joy. It is the groundwork of agreement and unity. It is the key to affection and fellowship.”
The Bahá’í community’s collective life is administered by a local Spiritual Assembly, a nine-member consultative institution that is democratically elected, without nomination or electioneering. Spiritual Assemblies must exercise of their responsibilities as “channels of divine guidance, planners of the teaching work, developers of human resources, builders of communities, and loving shepherds of the multitudes.” They realize these prospects through increasing the ability of their members to take counsel together in accordance with the principles of the Faith and to consult with the friends under their jurisdiction, through fostering the spirit of service, through spontaneously collaborating with other institutions of the Faith, and through cultivating external relations.