Creating Belonging

Have you ever walked into a space, met a new group, and knew within the first thirty seconds that these are my people? Often, it’s a common interest that causes that bond to form - whether sports, wine, fitness, fashion, games, children, or mutual awkwardness - there is something that draws us together. As wonderful as that moment is, in it's excitement, curiosity and genuine relief at finding someone to talk to, I would contend that belonging is only the beginning. In Braving the Wilderness Brenè Brown writes that,

 “True belonging is not passive. It’s not the belonging that comes with just joining a group. It’s not fitting in or pretending or selling out because it’s safer. It’s a practice that requires us to be vulnerable, get uncomfortable, and learn how to be present with people without sacrificing who we are.” 


Whenever I'm asked to be vulnerable I seem to respond with the opposite, but the idea of true belonging is one which we all crave whether we admit or not. Daniel Coyle, in his book The Culture Code, studied successful organizations and attempted to diagnose the consistent parts in each. From basketball teams to the Navy SEALs to tech companies, they all provide case studies for Coyle’s consideration, and the overriding takeaway is the simple truism, “we are all in this together.” However, he doesn’t leave it there. What he recognizes in each successful culture are elements which make up the language of safe connection - Belonging Cues - intentional behaviours which create safe connections within groups. 

Belonging cues answer THREE questions:
  1. Am I Safe Here?

  2. What Is My Future With These People?
  3. Are We Connected?

We process these questions within the initial interactions of every new environment. Our unconscious brain is deeply obsessed in its search for these belonging cues. They lead us to a place where our brains are notified that they can stop worrying about dangers and shift into a connection mode. It is termed psychological safety and is scientific, but so simple. Consider the scenario, that when we feel safe, that we have a future, and have connected in an environment we suddenly open ourselves to the possibility of true belonging.

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These simple belonging cues invite others to truly be themselves and be present in that created space. SO WHAT PART CAN WE PLAY?

The phrase “belong before you believe” gets tossed around a lot. I love its premise of inclusiveness, but I think we are often guilty of putting all of our energy into the believe portion and just expect the belong to happen. It's as if we think we need to convince everyone to believe, instead of trusting the Holy Spirit and presenting an invitation for all to hear. We make it all about the construct of a Sunday service instead of also valuing the moments around a dinner table. Those moments of real relationship and intimacy actively cause a community to start feeling like home. What would happen if instead of having these belonging cues occur by chance, we considered those moments in our families, our friendships, our communities, our churches and our cities? They are the elements creating space for the Gospel to speak LOUDLY

We’re going to need to intentionally be with people who are different from us. We’re going to have to sign up, join, and take a seat at the table. We’re going to have to learn how to listen, have hard conversations, look for joy, share pain, and be more curious than defensive, all while seeking moments of togetherness.” -- Brenè Brown, Braving the Wilderness

To intentionally create spaces for people to belong is a sacrifice of our own comfort and convenience in the pursuit of togetherness. To do it together is to increase our capacity for impact, for reach, for seeing more people discover life in Jesus. I want to be part of such a community. One in which belonging and discovery coexist to unapologetically proclaim who Jesus is through word and action. A brief sense of belonging isn’t enough though. We are designed to require repetitive signalling to strengthen neural pathways. This is why a sense of belonging is easy to destroy and hard to build. So it can't just be one time with a quick handshake at the door checking the box of welcoming someone. It must be intentional belonging cues all throughout Sunday gatherings, dinner parties, our workplaces, and social or outreach events [the list is endless] for everyone and anyone you come across to feel like they belong. Each of us has to individually carry a level of awareness of the environments we are in. 

Consistency in our intentional cues is compound interest into THE LIFE OF EACH INDIVIDUAL WE COME ACROSS.
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I'm not contending that belonging has a rigid formula to follow. However, my heart is that we would so value the need for belonging in our communities that we would intentionally and practically work to create opportunities for it to happen. When belonging moves from a footnote to a headline it has the capacity to spark something explosive and contagious.

May the idea of “belong before you believe” be more than a catch phrase. May it be a call to steward each moment intentionally. If it is about everyone discovering life in Jesus, then may our lives and communities communicate an urgency for the Gospel, in intentionally, practically and passionately creating space for everyone to belong. That is where discovery begins.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. - Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV)