Friday, December 10, 2004

By Joseph R. Myers © 2003
Pub. emergent/YS and Zondervan
181 pages

the search to belong

With the continuing popularity of small groups as a primary means of developing community, Myers’ book offers an important corrective in our understanding of belonging. By expanding our notion of community and by working to develop nurturing environments rather than programs, we will develop the front porch atmosphere that is required for the natural development of community. Even if one does not agree with all of Myers’ assumptions and conclusions, the book provides an excellent resource for discussion in ministry teams.


The myths of belonging. While it is assumed that more time, more commitment, more purpose, more personality, more proximity, and more small groups mean more belonging, this is not necessarily the case. The notion of belonging is much more complex. According to the proxemics of Edward T. Hall, belonging takes place in four spaces: public (12 feet +), social (4-12 feet), personal (18 inches to 4 feet), and intimate (0-18 inches). The conversation about belonging must take place in all four spaces.

Longing to belong. Belonging happens when one person feels a connection with another person. This feeling need not be reciprocal. The culture of individualism has made the search to belong more important. The way we speak about belonging must fit the true nature of belonging, because people are finding connection wherever they can get it.

“Give me some space.” We communicate our understanding of belonging by the words we use: family, visitor, guest, etc. Our understanding of belonging is also in our perceptions. For example, while the size of an elevator seems to indicate intimate space, we all know it is public space and act accordingly. We all connect, are committed, and find connections significant in all four spaces, though the means to accomplishing this differs by space. In fact, in order to find harmony we need more public space than social, more social than personal, and very little intimate.

Group chemistry. While churches usually offer opportunities in all four spaces, too often, they communicate a belief that ‘true belonging’ takes place in personal and intimate space. People need to belong in all four spaces and they need to develop competencies in all four spaces. Community happens naturally in all four spaces and is inhibited if forced. The key to creating community is creating environments where community can naturally occur. Community is more chemistry than program design. Start by developing a nurturing environment. Assess effectiveness by hearing stories, not by counting groups and heads.

Trading spaces. A healthy relationship does not stay in one space throughout the lifespan of the relationship. In fact, even in the most intimate relationship of marriage needs belonging in all four spaces to be healthy. Because we need to belong in all four spaces and because every relationship trades spaces at some time, we need to develop skills in transitioning.
Searching for a front porch. A front porch is a median space where we experience social and personal space. Developing a front porch space provides an opportunity for people to court our community rather than simply shop for a community.

What now? Finding harmony. To help your church develop healthy community discover how your church defines community, chart all your groups in the four spaces, and then develop a plan to create a nurturing environment for the space most needing balance.


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