Discipleship Deep, Rich, & Rooted: Belonging
The word "belonging" can bring to mind the phrase as much at home as a fish in water. When we belong we swim effortlessly, in unison with others, perfectly at home in our environment. Words associated with belonging include inclusion, connection, affinity, association, hospitality, partnership, friendship, and trust. The following Bible passages demonstrate the importance of creating space and place for people to belong.
- Romans 15:1-7
- Matthew 25:35-40
- Acts 2:37-47
- Romans 14:7-9
- 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
- 1 Corinthians 9:19-23
- Hebrews 11-12
- Revelation 22:17
Congregations become places of belonging when people find ways to connect and form meaningful relationships as they share their stories and their lives, offer or find compassion in times of crisis, and worship and celebrate together.
Belonging often precedes believing, so it's crucial for congregations to ask, How do we create "space and place" for people to belong?
It's through Christ's followers that people who do not know Christ get to hear his voice, feel his comforting touch, and sense the compassion of his heart. Some ways to provide space and place for people to belong are small groups, triads, care groups, shepherding groups, mentors, circles, and Sunday school.
Amid the daily hustle and bustle, we need to be intentional about helping people to belong. One study suggests that a person knows if he or she belongs within the first few minutes. That means churches need people at their doors to welcome people in. It requires members to consider how it feels for people to attend their church for the very first time. It means they need to be intentional about language and how they create opportunities for inclusion. (A natural place to do this is at the baptismal font and at the Lord's Table. Welcome children and adults and invite them to join in and celebrate with God's family.)
Being a member of the church involves belonging to God through Jesus Christ. It means belonging to the family of God, and for us it means belonging to a particular branch of God's family called the Reformed Church in America.
Companions on the Way is a 48-page booklet that outlines a process for congregations (especially pastors and elders) to intentionally evangelize and welcome new disciples to Christ and the church. Available from Faith Alive Christian Resources.
For lots of Reformed folks, the first question and answer of the Heidelberg Catechism is endearing and enduring:
Q: What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A: That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.
He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven. In fact, all things must work together for my salvation.
Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life, and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.
The Heidelberg Catechism takes many of us back to the days of rote memorization in a classroom on a Wednesday night. It can serve either as a pleasant memory of an opportunity to learn or as drudgery or punishment. Regardless of the memories it conjures up, the catechism reminds us that we belong.
In that first question and answer, we see that we belong to Christ, who knows us, loves us, died for us, and calls us to wholeheartedly give our lives in obedience to him. In our realization that we belong to God, we also come to realize the community of brothers and sisters.
We belong first to God, then to the wider church, and then to the Reformed Church in America. Belonging helps us claim our identity and our name, and it can provide a haven of safety as well as an environment in which we experience emotional and spiritual growth.
Tip: Ask people who are unfamiliar with the Reformed Church to read the brief What We Believe section of the RCA website. Invite them to come to you with any questions they have about what they've read.
In his book The Search to Belong: Rethinking Intimacy, Community, and Small Groups, Joseph Meyers writes about four types of belonging: public, social, personal, and intimate.
Public Belonging—You recognize these people on the street, at the grocery store, at church. You need many recognizable connections in your life to feel like you belong to a church or community.
Social Belonging—You know a "snapshot" about these people—where they work, how many kids they have, what they like to do on vacation, their hobbies, etc. These are the people that you invite to or see at gatherings or parties. Personal Belonging—You know their photo album, you know where they work, how many kids they have, and which associations they are involved with. These are people you might invite over spontaneously.
Intimate Belonging—These folks know the "naked" stuff about you—your goals, dreams, pains, joys, etc.
The church has tended to emphasize public or intimate belonging. At one extreme we have people we say good morning to on Sunday mornings or when we run into them in the community. And at the other extreme we have small groups in which we ask people to share their goals, dreams, fears, and hopes. The church needs to provide all four places of belonging because people are looking for ways to connect on their own terms.
In creating space and place to belong, we want to provide opportunities for each person to get a sense that he or she belongs to God, is embraced and loved in community, and is prepared and shaped to welcome and show hospitality to others.
Which types of belonging does your church do well?
List your congregational activities and programs that create space and place for people in each of these four categories of belonging:
In which areas may you need to be more intentional?
Which types of belonging need more attention?
Do you have other observations or reactions?
Questions for the consistory:
- What does it mean for the church to claim that it is the body of Christ?
- How does your church intentionally welcome people?
- How does your worship demonstrate hospitality and welcome?
- How do you follow up with people?
- How do you create space and place for inclusion?
- How do you make Christ known to those who may not have heard?
- Linked In, Facebook, Twitter, and texting serve as opportunities to create belonging. What are the pros and what are the cons of using them on behalf of the church?
- What kinds of things do you do in the community that show the church is a place where people can belong?
Read John 17:1-11.
What do you think Jesus meant when he prayed, "Holy Father, protect them...so that they may be one, as we are one"?
When someone feels like he or she belongs there is unity, trust, and a willingness to listen and learn from each other.
A man came to the pastor's office one day. The administrative assistant paged her. "Someone is here to see you. He says he is a member of the Reformed Church."
Pastor Kirsty De Pree came out of her office and met a man named Abraham. He was a refugee from Sudan. "While in Africa, he worshiped with a Reformed community," says Kirsty. "When he came to America, he went looking for a church that was Reformed, and he found us, or better yet God lead him to our congregation. When he saw our church sign he knew he would find a place to belong. He knew that he was family.
"He became a member of our congregation, and my lifelong friend, and he will always say he belongs to the Reformed Church.
"People often look for places to belong in places where they know they will be understood and they will understand what is taking place. I believe that when we take the word 'Reformed' out of a church's name, we may miss opportunities like this to show love, welcome, and hospitality."
Celebrating the Milestones of Faith: A Guide for Churches, by Laura Keeley and Robert J. Keeley. Faith Alive Christian Resources.
As children, youth, and adults travel on their faith journey, it's important to mark the milestones along the way and to thank God for his faithfulness. This book helps you and your church identify faith milestones and celebrate them together. It includes a "Faith Milestones Sourcebook" filled with practical ideas for celebrating baptism, first communion, profession of faith, and much more.
Expressing Faith in Jesus, by Ronald C. Vredeveld. Faith Alive Christian Resources (Friendship Ministries).
This resource kit and the companion book guide church leaders and friends with cognitive impairments through baptism, confirmation, and profession of faith. The kit contains a mentor guide, a study guide, and a keepsake certificate.
I Believe: Getting Ready to Profess My Faith, by Jessie Schut. Faith Alive Christian Resources.
Through discussion, action, and relationship-building, young people (grades 5-8) learn to grow in their walk with God and express what they believe. These resources (mentor's guide and study guide) include key teachings summarized in the Apostles' Creed and review God's will for our lives as expressed in the Ten Commandments and Christ's summary of the Law. The eight sessions also highlight the importance of prayer and Bible reading, explain what it means to participate in the sacraments, and more.
Re:form. Sparkhouse (see Augsburg Fortress).
re:form is a fully customizable curriculum that's rooted in historic Christianity and speaks to teens on their level. It empowers youth to discover for themselves what they believe. The three components include two DVDs with forty animated short films, a hands-on Anti-Workbook, and an online gallery. Segments from the DVD (i.e., Does God Still Create Stuff Today?) can be viewed on www.youtube.com.