Chapter Onethe myths of belonging
Our old ideas about space have exploded. The past three decades
have produced more change in more cultures than any other 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. The words and ideas of architecture, once the official language of space, no longer seem capable of describing
this proliferation of new conditions. But even as its utility is questioned
in the real world, architectural language survives, its repertoire of concepts
and metaphors resurrected to create clarity and definition in new,unfamiliar domains (think chat rooms, Web sites, and firewalls). Words that
die in the real are reborn in the virtual.
Rem Koolhaas, in a guest editorial for a special issue of Wired
When our pastor rose to make the announcement, I
suspected we were in for it again. "We're going to be a
church of small groups," he told us, like a child pleading for his parents
to read from the well-worn book one more time. "A church of
small groups instead of a church with small groups."
My heart sank. Been there; done that.
I remembered attending a small group several years earlier. It
was the next step in my process of growing deeper in Christ and in
community. "Everyone in a small group" was the church-wide goal.
So my wife, Sara, and I hopped in our car and began our eight-week
We were greeted kindly at the door. It was not so much a
friendship sort of kind as it was a salesman's type. "This is the first
time," I told myself, "so relax and enjoy."
Once gathered in the "family" room, we played several silly,
juvenile games in the hope of opening the door to relational bliss.
Next, we were asked to agree to and sign a Group Covenant.
The covenant seemed harmless enough. It established a purpose
for the group. It enlisted everyone to the 100 percent attendance
policy. It explained a code of group life. It requested that we enter
into accountable relationships with our new "friends."
The covenant was very organizational and institutional. Its
purpose, values, and vision were all clearly stated. Everyone signed
on the line. Our well-trained leader promised that eight weeks later
we would all arrive at a closer walk with God and with one another.
Sounded promising and hopeful, so we started. By the third
week I had had enough. I did not want to return to share my deepest
thoughts. I did not want to give obvious answers to predictable questions
from the published small group material. I did not want to play
one more icebreaker game.
I was not getting closer to anyone. Instead, I was getting angry.
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.
A church of small groups? Sounded like forced relational hell to me.
Others tell of similar experiences. When a friend asked Miguel
to help start a men's small group for the new year, he agreed at
once. Through a contact in the hotel business, Miguel found the ideal
meeting place and time: Holiday Inn at 6:30 a.m. on the second and
fourth Tuesdays. The men would meet for breakfast, pray, read from
a study book, and by 7:30 be on their separate ways to work.
The group was launched and continued through the spring,
summer, fall, and even the winter. Sometimes as few as four
gathered, sometimes as many as seven. Every second and fourth
Tuesday at 6:30 a.m., often on cold and dark mornings, they met.
Through vacations, travel schedules, traffic tie-ups, the group met.
As the second summer approached, someone suggested, "Let's
take a breather for a few months." Everybody agreed. When
September arrived, not one person suggested starting again.
+ Common Myths of Belonging
Community is a complex creature. Many factors contribute to
finding successful community. With the erosion of the geographically
close family and the heightened mobility of our culture, many people
struggle to learn healthy competencies for community.
Schools, service agencies, churches, and other organizations are
making a concerted effort to help. Yet several common myths surround
the search to belong, myths that dilute and confuse the definitions
we employ to describe our journey to connect.
More time = more belonging. The first myth is that the
greater the amount of time spent in relationship with another person,
the more authentic the community will be. This is a pervasive
myth. In reality, time has little to do with a person's ability to experience
significant belonging. Many people tell stories of first-time,
episodic introductions from which a spontaneous connection
emerges. Have you ever said, "I just met you, but it seems like I've
known you all my life."
Contrast this with Teri's feelings about Maggie. The two roomed
together in college years ago, and ever since have exchanged Christmas
cards and the occasional letter. Last summer Maggie invited herself to
spend a few days with Teri.
When Teri got the phone call, she immediately went to her pastor.
"I didn't like her then," she groaned. "I put up with her. Her side
of the room was always filthy. She's domineering. I don't want her to
come here. What do I do? We roomed together for four years, but
we were never really friends."
Or, for still another perspective, Rose describes an experience
at her church:
About a month ago a woman named Sandra began attending.
She is 56 years old. She came to our group last night. She
has zero church background. Four years ago she was alone on a
week-long vacation to Mexico. One morning by the pool, she
struck up a conversation with the young woman sitting next to
her. She learned that this young woman was there on her honeymoon.
When the bride's husband joined her by the pool, Sandra
tried to excuse herself, but they just kept talking with her.
Sandra said that off and on during the rest of her vacation, she ran into this couple. They mentioned they attended a
Vineyard church in California. Sandra was quick to mention to
me, "It wasn't like they were trying to recruit me or anything; it
just came up in one of our conversations that they were
Christians and where they went to church."
Sandra was so impressed with how kind they were, and she
liked how they treated each other. She went away from them
thinking they had something-values or a lifestyle-she found
She told me probably once a year for the past four years
she has thought about going to church. She looked in the
phonebook for a Vineyard church (because she had no idea
where else to go) and found us.
A short connection around a swimming pool had significance
years later. Belonging is not controlled by time, and time by itself
does not develop belonging.
More commitment = more belonging. People often believe
that there is a significant relationship between commitment andcommunity. This is, however, a romantic view. When we search to
belong, we aren't really looking for commitment. We simply want
A relationship that involves commitment does not necessarily
promote a greater experience of belonging. A married couple may
feel very committed to their relationship, yet still feel the strain of
"not belonging to each other." Every month I am reminded of my
commitment to my financial responsibilities, yet I never experience
belonging because of those commitments.
I have similarly observed that people equate close relationships
with committed relationships. They use words such as "authentic,"
"deep," or "intimate" to express significance. And since we are all
searching for significant connection, we fool ourselves into a pattern
of trying to make all or most relationships close, sometimes in inappropriate
To experience healthy community we need significant relationships.
"Significant" is not the same as "close" or "committed." My
wife, Sara, practices the ancient craft of rug hooking. "Hookers," as
they call themselves, gather around the country in small guilds, in
weeklong schools, and for conferences. Every fall Sara attends a
weekend conference in northern Ohio. This conference is very significant
in Sara's life. She finds help with her craft. She connects
with those who have the same passion. Mostly, she finds a respite
from her busy life. Yet neither the relationship with the conference
nor the relationship with the participants can be accurately called
Sara is by no means committed to the conference. Every year
the discussion is repeated: "Should I spend the money and time or
should I stay home?" Even though she has attended several years in a
row, the conference cannot count on her commitment. What theycan count on is her passion for the craft. And that she will make her
decision to attend at the very last moment.
She has no committed relationship with any of the participants.
She is just now beginning to remember their names from year to
year. She rarely connects with them outside of the conference. She
has never called any of them on the phone to chat.
These relationships cannot be described as close or committed.
Still, they are significant to Sara's healthy experience of community.
More purpose = more belonging. During the 1980s Tom
Peters led The Search for Excellence revolution within the business
community. Mission, vision, and purpose statements were prescribed
to ailing and healthy organizations alike. Groups were started
to help people with their search for community, and the first order
of business was to write a statement of purpose. After all, people
who strive together toward a common goal connect, right?
We even changed our language. We no longer asked people to
attend committee meetings. They were now part of a team. And this
simple change was all in the hope of helping people connect in significant
Although many positive accomplishments sprang from this
newly focused approach, in reality this strategy has very little connection
with the community experience. Sometimes people who
have a common passion and purpose do connect. But a common
"Abandon Committees, Skip Teams and
Does it seem to you that congregations are late adapters to
some trends? It does to me. It appears at times that congregations
are just getting around to adapting to certain trends as
the next trend is emerging. For example, organizing congregations
according to teams rather than committees is now in its
ascendancy, just as in the world at-large, teams are fading in
favor of communities.
It is a positive step that congregations are abandoning committees
for teams, but what if congregations were to skip the
team phase and embrace communities? Too radical? Perhaps
so! Too cutting edge? Hardly!
Leadership communities and learning communities are the
next wave of congregational governance and empowerment.
Are you ready? Consider these seven differences between
committees, teams, and communities as you think about making
Difference One-Formation: Committees tend to be
elected or appointed in keeping with the bylaws, policies, or
polity of congregations. Teams are recruited or drafted to
work on a specific task or set of tasks. Communities are voluntarily
connected in search of genuine and meaningful experiences.
Difference Two-Focus: Committees focus on making
decisions or setting policies. Teams focus on maturing to the
point that they become high task performance groups.
Communities add qualitative relationships, meaning, and experiences
to the organizations, organisms, or movements to
which they are connected.
Difference Three-Membership: Committees tend to
have a fixed term of membership. Teams may have a defined
term of membership, or may serve until a certain set of tasks
is completed. Communities have no bounded membership and
people tend to come and go based on their continuing interest
in the journey.
Difference Four-Outside Assistance: Committees seek
high quality training events or consultants, if they need outside
assistance. Teams partner with respected practitioners or
coaches. Communities align with champions or advocates who
come alongside them in long-term relationships.
Difference Five-Recruitment: Committees look for people
of position who can bring to the committee or council
influence to get the work of the committee respected by people
of power in the congregation. Teams look for people of
expertise who have the gifts, skills and preferences to complete
a certain task or set of tasks. Communities look for people
of passion who want to have fun helping to bring exciting
experiences to congregational participants, and a spiritual
strategic journey to the congregation.
Difference Six-Benefits: Committees benefit congregations
by building ownership and loyalty for the mission of the
congregation. Teams benefit congregations by providing more
effective action more quickly than committees. Communities
benefit congregations by providing more enthusiasm and
meaningful relationships within congregations.
Difference Seven-Style of Work: Committees focus on
making decisions that are lasting and manage the resources of
the congregation efficiently at the best price. Teams focus on
debating the strengths and weaknesses of the various choices
to complete a task, and typically end up with the highest
quality product or outcome. Communities dialogue, engage
in discernment activities, and arrive at the best solutions for
a particular opportunity or challenge.
Is your congregation ready to embrace communities?
George Bullard, "Abandon Committees, Skip Teams
and Embrace Communities"
People come to a church longing for, yearning for, hoping for this
sense of roots, place, belonging, sharing, and caring. People come to a
church in our time with a search for community, not committee.
We make the mistake of assuming that, by putting people on a
committee, they will develop ownership for the objectives of the
church. People are not looking for ownership of objectives or for
functional, organizational, institutional goals. Their search is far more
profound and desperate than that.