Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The Search to Belong

I've been reading through the book The Search to Belong: Rethinking Intimacy, Community and Small Groups by Joseph R Meyers. I thought I would review a few chapters here on the blog to give you a sense of the book and to help me create some good review notes for my studies as well. Scott McKnight does this all the time with a number of books over at Jesus Creed.

Chapter One: The Myths of Belonging
The title of the book tells us that the book is about the search to “belong.” It is not necessarily a how-to book on small groups. In that way (although definitely a Christian book) it is actually more sociological than theological.
Community is a complex creature.
He starts the chapter by telling about his own (negative) small group experienced in a very organized and institutional small group ministry, with planned icebreakers, a preformatted covenant and published small group material. The group made him angry because "This group was expecting more from me than I wanted to deliver and this group was trying to deliver to me more than I wanted." He then goes on to describe the false assumptions people have about belonging.

6 Myths of Belonging
1. More time = more belonging
- time has little to do with belonging
- belonging is often the result of spontaneous connections
- sometimes two people (or a group) just don't click
2. More commitment = more belonging
- When we search to belong we aren’t really looking for commitment. We simply want to connect.
- To experience healthy community we need significant relationships – significant is not the same as close or committed
3. More purpose = more belonging
- Looks at Tom Peters "In Search of Excellence" and the focus on “teams” and purpose statements
- The assumption is that people who strive together toward a common goal connect closely to one another.
- This can happen (and in my experience it often happens) but not necessarily
4. More personality = more belonging
- The more extroverted the more you connect with people and deeper relationships result – not really true
- Extroverts often contribute more in small groups but introverts tend to connect more deeply with people
5. More proximity = more belonging
- Close proximity gives more opportunity for connectedness but it doesn't always translate into belonging
- just look at neighbours – sometimes good relationships develop and sometimes not.
- Proximity is also not about geography – especially with technology (texting, instant messaging, internet, facebook, blogging, etc.)
- it is more about connecting over shared interests even though you are 1000 miles away
6. Small groups = more belonging
- Small groups deliver only one or two ways of connecting to others
- For many people it is not sufficient or does not scratch where they itch
- Typically only 30% of congregation will participate in a small group

"Belong before you believe" has become a current concept within emerging movement. It means that people often want a sense of belonging to people of a group before they will accept everything it stands for. Do I like these people? Do I get along with them? Do I feel accepted. Only after those questions are answered do people actually begin to incorporate the belief system of the group. This has strong implications for how we do church.
In what ways does the concept of “belonging” play a central role in our lives?
How do we communicate belonging? And how should we?
Can we allow people to belong before they fully understand what they are getting themselves into?

Edward T. Hall coined the term "proxemics" for the interrelated observations and theories of man’s use of space. He describes Four Spaces used to develop personalities, culture and communication.
a. public space (12 feet +)
b. social space (4-12 feet)
c. personal space (18” to 4 feet)
d. intimate space (0-18”)

Belonging is multidimentional – people belong to us on different levels
Space is not just real estate – we employ specific spaces to communicate belonging

The value of this chapter to me is that in many ways we have deified small groups as the be all and end all of good community. Meyer points out that many people don't connect with the typical church constructed, contrived small group system and have different ways of feeling connected.

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