It was like a scene from a Disney movie—carefully coiffed trees dripping with fairy lights, happy teenagers chatting with their friends, sweet music playing in the distance. Beyond the dazzling display a sign beckoned: “A place to belong.” Then another sign: “Welcome home.” My daughter had been invited by friends to an evening program at another Christian church. The program was engaging and spiritual. In the weeks that followed she received invitations to similar programs and a number of affirming messages from the organisers.
The need to belong is a big part of what makes us human.
I was impressed. These people knew how to help teenagers feel loved and accepted. They also understood the value of the “follow-up”—keeping the conversation going long after the program has finished.
So what’s your church like? Is it a “place to belong”? Do the teenagers feel nurtured and accepted? Do attendees feel safe to be themselves, warts and all? How about the single dad sitting in the back pew? Is he experiencing a sense of belonging or does he feel a little awkward and disconnected, only really attending church for the sake of his kids? And what about the elderly gentleman who attends church faithfully every Sabbath but struggles to hear what’s going on—does he feel that he belongs?
It’s encouraging that some of our churches are really making a big effort in this area. Take Fox Valley church (NSW) for example. Its members keep an eye out for visitors who are sitting in front or behind them. They say hello and endeavour to introduce them to others. I was visiting the church recently and one of the song leaders actually walked off the stage between songs to come and greet my son and I. Now that’s a way to make people feel special and noticed!
But for Fox Valley it’s not just about affirming people each Sabbath, inviting them to the potluck lunch and forgetting about them the rest of the week. Indeed this active church has what it calls “connect groups”, which meet most days of the week. Whether you have a passion for writing or for mountain biking; want to learn more about the Bible or be part of a parents’ group; are keen to explore the city with a group of walkers or ramp up your exercise at a boot camp, there’s something to appeal to a diverse range of interests. And the good news is that the groups are not just catering for church members; there are a number of people from the wider community who also attend and experience that feeling of belonging while the church sows the seeds of friendship and discipleship.
“Belonging is something that we rate as very important,” Fox Valley pastor Mark Baines explained. “There’s a welcome sign in our church foyer and when I look at it, it’s a good reminder that this is what we are all about and we need to follow through with action.”
The need to belong is a big part of what makes us human. Whether it’s at church, work, school, with our families and friends, most of us want to feel included and supported. For those who are struggling to find acceptance, it’s comforting and reassuring to know that there is Someone who dearly wants us to belong to His family. As Christian author Max Lucado explains, “We are Jesus Christ’s; we belong to Him.”
Tracey Bridcutt is head of news and editorial for Adventist Media.