Chapter Four of the Search to Belong (continued from Thu Nov 6th.)
Jumping into chapter four we hear Joe asking, “Why do we promote small groups as the most significant way to build community and congregation? Why have they become a fad of our time? Why do we lead our congregants to believe that small groups deliver the community they seek?” The effects of this is to promote only two possible environments of belonging in the church- either the public (worship service) or the intimate (small group), thereby excluding healthy belonging in all four spaces of public, social, personal, intimate. What we need is a healthy balance, a harmony, b/w all four space in our lives, at Church, and even with God.
This first of all means that we need to understand and have “competencies” in all four spaces. (The competencies outlined in this section are worth the price of the book, but too detailed for me to outline.) The point here is that some people may be competent in one space, but not in another. They therefore might value personal space more than public, thinking that real life only happens in personal space, not in public. But this might reveal a lack in their own public competencies (which is how I spent much of my life, bashing “small talk” b/c it didn’t connect with “real life.” But actually I’m just really bad at small talk and am therefore incompetence in the public space.)
Spontaneity and Environment
Next, it is important to understand that community emerges within all four spaces, and that this happens spontaneously. Belonging/community cannot be forced or programmed, it just comes about spontaneously. We need to move away from “forced belonging” where we have expectations of intimacy, moving people inappropriately from one space to another, sometimes explicitly, sometimes implicitly (and therefore confusing and manipulative). Given this, “If we would concentrate upon facilitating the environment instead of the result, we might see healthy, spontaneous community emerge…we must switch from being group programmers to becoming group environmentalists.” We must pay better attention to the environment, we must cultivate the soil from which healthy community will grow, rather than engineer the results in a synthetic fashion. And this primarily means growing people’s competencies so they can form healthy connections, and creating a harmonious ratio b/w the spaces.
The last implication of this shift from being programmers to environmentalist is a change in how we measure success. It is very easy to measure how many are in small groups, or attend our larger, public worship services, but very difficult to measure spontaneous, healthy connections or the sense of belonging people have. These connections are measured through stories. This also changes our definition of “congregation” allowing for whoever tells a story connecting with a church/group to count as part of the congregation, even if they never, or rarely, attend.
The next chapter concerns how people/relationship can move in and out of the space. until then…