It’s widely understood that loneliness is as toxic to the human body in the same way that poor diet and lack of exercise are. We need each other, even while we often find other people annoying. I’ve been wondering how churches figure sort out hat problem and support environments where belonging and community flourish. Certainly, the common principals and values of the Christian faith are a bedrock for flourishing, but visit a few churches and you’ll easily see that those are simply not enough.
So, what else do we need to figure out how to belong? Does everybody get to belong? Or do we have to find our tribe first? Historically, this seems to be how it worked. Even in our Christian nation, we have been sorted between denominations, liberal and conservative, whites and people of color, and any other of a number of distinctions. But now, as the population of Christians is shrinking throughout the country, we’ve got fewer options for self sorting according to tribe. For many church communities, it’s either widen the small tent, or die.
Here are several ways we can create belonging that flourishes and lasts:
leverage change in the “fortress keepers” - teach, preach, communicate and advocate that your church is not a fortress, that there is no siege, and thinking that way is no longer acceptable or honored. Changing this mentality is imperative.
cultivate knowing and sharing - create opportunities for deeper conversations and sharing of history. Don’t miss opportunities to move small talk into wide windows of knowing.
create community that laughs - enjoy play and spontaneity together; celebrate children, pets, accomplishments and interests, and make connections among people that allow them to have fun and laugh
stay positive - remember the good and celebrate it, forget the dismaying as soon as it is address and stop rehearsing it.
love the newcomer - whether she is addicted, or he is mentally ill, whether they are an intimidating genius or a five year old motor mouth, welcome and love them as a new part of the community on their terms not yours.
I’m sure there are more factors for creating a community of belonging. But this is a start. Jesus’ community was fluid, diverse, and, I suspect, as full of joy and humor as it was a meaningful activity. I pray that we can all model that kind of attractive space in our churches. We don’t have to be big to be beautiful places for the Holy Spirit to dwell and human beings to flourish.