When I think about church and whether or not people choose to attend, for me it always comes back to a place of belonging. Do I belong here? Do you belong here? Do they belong here? The “churchy” answer is “Yes, everyone belongs here,” but how do we make that evident so that everyone feels it’s true?
I’ve been the new person at church before. I have “church-shopped,” and I don’t know why we kind of fumble over admitting that it’s awkward. It’s the grown-up version of walking into the lunch room on the first day of school. Your eyes scan rapidly for a familiar face, even that lady that lives down the street that you know goes to this church, but you don’t know her name. In this instance that lady is gold to you because she may help you not feel so alone. But you don’t see her, so you choose a non-discreet, not too close to the back, not too close to the front, seat and blend. I get it. I even understand hoping that the hospitality team stops at warmly shaking your hand and welcoming you to the service. They have the best of intentions, but when I was new the last thing I wanted was the hospitality team huddled around me drawing more attention. I certainly was not going to stand to accept a welcome bag in the service, my goal was to blend.
Blending though only gets us so far. If we start attending said church and we get to know the personality of the pastors and the culture and atmosphere that the service creates, we begin to feel an ownership and if you’ve just been blending it’s a whole new kind of awkward when after being there for 4 months someone shakes your hand during the meet and greet and says “is this your first time?” Your time of blending is over, now it’s time to belong.
Belonging means that you have to be willing to be seen and to be known.
One of my favorite instances of belonging happened this summer on the mission trip we took to Atlanta with the Sr. High. It was nearing lunch time and we had exited the freeway in search of food. The boys in the vehicle that Dan and I were adults in were growing restless and their blood sugar was low. When it became apparent that their one goal was to see which one of us would lose our cool first, the following conversation took place:
Dan: “You’ve got some real Num-chucks in this youth group, Lauren”
From the backseat: “Hey! We’re your Num-chucks too!”
Even in our agitation with them, and after Dan’s witty pass at placing responsibility and leadership solely on me, the boys were communicating Dan’s belonging. Dan had only recently gotten to know them well and was still in the transition of churches because of our relationship.
You see the other hard part of belonging, is allowing yourself to be vulnerable enough to be affirmed, but the sooner you do that the sooner your belonging takes root in the life of the church and the life that God called you too. It’s my prayer that if you don’t have a church home, you will find one soon that affirms you and recognizes you as a growth of their family in Christ. In case no one has spoke this to you recently, let me say that you do belong. You are seen and known and loved by a God who always has room at the table.