Friday, April 04, 2008

Belonging before Believing?

“[Americans] are among the loneliest people in the world.” –George Gallup Jr., The People's Religion

A couple of years ago I attended a gathering made up of church leaders and thinkers.
Brian McLaren, who was one of the facilitators at this gathering, suggested that people long first to belong before they will make a decision to commit (or believe). Interestingly, Joesph Myers, in his well-received and useful book, “The Search To Belong” (which I highly recommend), also mentions this statement in which he overheard Leonard Sweet and Brian McLaren discuss (probably in more detail than the statement I heard) how postmoderns (and I would also include moderns, post-post moderns, neo-moderns, and all the other categories that one could be a part of J ) wish to belong before they believe. However, as I have wrestled with this statement, Myers’ book on belonging has challenged me to question, defend, and re-think, how I/we approach Formation, Discipleship, and Community.

For example, Myers confronts Six Myths about belonging:

Myth #1: More Time=More Belonging
The greater the amount of time spent in relationship with another person, the more authentic the community will be…Belonging is not controlled by time, and time by itself does not develop belonging.

Myth #2: More Commitment=More Belonging
People often believe that there is a significance relationship between commitment and community…a relationship that involves commitment does not necessarily promote a greater experience of belonging.

Myth #3: More Purpose=More Belonging
Sometimes people who have a common passion and purpose do connect. But a common purpose or vision or goal does not guarantee that people will connect.

Myth #4: More Personality=More Belonging
Many people believe that some have a natural ability to belong. They assume that if a person is more gregarious, more extroverted, he or she will have little trouble experiencing community, whereas those who are shy will struggle to belong…But introversion and extroversion neither block nor enhance our experience of belonging. Healthy community can be experienced and developed by introvert and extrovert alike.

Myth #5: More Proximity=More Belonging
Randy Freeze states, “The simple fact is that in all place of effective community people live in close proximity to each other.” This statement is true (in the sense) that people who live in close geographical proximity may connect with one another. However, this statement is also false in that space in some sense is a matter of perspective (take all the tech and web connections, cell, texting, and so forth).

Myth #6: More Small Groups=More Belonging
The implication of many churches is that small groups are the best, if not the only way to ‘build’ authentic community. Just think of the many books and other marketing tools promoting small groups. Nevertheless, small groups can expect only about a 30 percent involvement at best from the congregation? Maybe the answer is that small groups do not accomplish the promise of fulfilling all facets of a person’s search for community…Small groups deliver only on one or two specific kinds of connection, and a person’s search for community is more complex than this…As a result, many congregations have gone down the small group road only to find they have circled a cul-de-sac and ended up where they began.

Rem Koolhaas states in Wired:
“Our old ideas about space have exploded. The past three decades have produced more change in more cultures than another time in history. Radically accelerated growth, deregulation, and globalization have redrawn our familiar maps and reset the parameters: Borders are inscribed and permeated, control zones imposed and violated, jurisdictions declared and ignored markets pumped up and punctured. And at the same time, entirely new spatial conditions, demanding new definitions, have emerged. Where space was considered permanent, it now feels transitory—on its way to becoming.”

[excerpt taken from The Search To Belong by Joseph Myers]