Belonging is key
Children will stay longer and own their faith to deeper levels if they sense they belong.
We want our kids to stay and be part of our church. We don’t want them to leave. In order to reduce the risk of this happening one of the keys is to help children sense they belong.
ARTICLE: Series: Belonging is key! #00
Growing a sense of belonging is a key in encouraging healthy faith development in children, We all benefit as we value their contribution to our faith development as households and churches.
Belonging is more than just a warm feeling. There is much the church and our households can understand about belonging in order to foster it.
There are many factors involved in belonging.
These will be explored briefly here. Before that though, think of a group of people you ‘belong’ to. How do you define your belonging? How do you talk about it? Is it a feeling or vibe? Is it a belief? Can you say how it is you know you belong? Do you have a legal, inherited, genetic, social, ethical or moral understanding of what it is that suggests you belong? Can you belong without the feeling or having the knowledge of belonging?
It is complex, but worth some exploration in order to review how we as households and churches can help play a part in fostering a sense of belonging.
There are a few things worth noting about belonging.
Belonging is more than the relationships that connect us to one another although connections are a part of belonging. Someone might have a range of significant relationships and still not feel or think he belongs.
Belonging is more than an ability, a capacity or opportunity to participate in a group although this may form a part of belonging. Even if a someone participates in major ways in the life of a group, they may not sense they belong. Sometimes an employee of a group or organisation, for example, may feel this way.
Belonging is more than adherence to a set of beliefs or forms of activity or a set of faith responses although this is part of it.
Belonging is more than the sum of the parts.
Belonging: An individual’s perception and a key in a church’s strategic thinking
Belonging has to do with a range of feelings and thoughts arising from the perceptions of an individual based on his experience. It is subjective. Different individuals will perceive the same situations differently and may or may not be able to use talking, writing or drawings to articulate there feelings or understandings.
Belonging also has to do with the host group or organisation who mediates a set of experiences for the individual. A group’s practices, policies and norms may be applied in different ways to different individuals depending on defined or undefined criteria. The focus of this discussion is children. The way churches or faith communities mediate a set of experiences to children are also the particular the focus of this discussion. Youth are included in the sense that the legal understanding of a child is someone less than 18 years of age. From this point, the personal pronoun ‘his’ will be used.
A child is in a process of negotiating his relationship with his church. It happens over time and as he grows. His needs and his capacity to perceive what is happening also changes and develops. This is true for the child who is born into the church as much as the child who enters a church later on either on his own or with his family.
The church either considers the complexities of belonging for each child or it doesn’t. A faith community has a choice as to how they will work with individual households to ensure a child’s experiences of faith community is as helpful as it can be in building his understanding and experience of belonging. Or they may choose not to review their current practices. A church doesn’t mean to exclude or alienate children in their actions and language but sometimes they do. There are many reasons for this. Partly it is often perceived as too hard and too complex for time and effort to be given to it. A child’s sense of belonging is not valued by action, effort, time and resources. Advocates for children and their faith development in this respect are often ignored despite their prophetic voice pointing to the stats that children are leaving the church in droves at significant transition points because, amongst other things, that they don’t feel or think they belong.
It is important to stress that a sense of belonging is subjective.
It is about how a person feels or thinks. It’s about what a person says about their experience of a sense of belonging to a group. Sometimes an individual does not have the language to express this sense of belonging and observing their behaviour may help define what belonging means to them.
On the other hand, it also has as much to so with how a group feels, thinks, says or provides an experience of belonging. A parent or worker’s role is to foster an environment where opportunities exist that allows for a greater possibility of a sense of belonging for a child. Whether a child can articulate it or not, providing for a child’s sense of belonging can be a part of a child’s experience of church.
Sometimes the only clue an individual senses about belonging is ‘a vibe’. If someone has the language to describe it they may say something like, “Yeah, I reckon I belong” or “This is where I feel I belong for now.” It is not necessary dependent of any quantitative or qualitative level of contribution. Sometimes one might sense or know he belongs even though he connects with very few and contributes very little.
Even when a church or parents have been faithful in providing a positive environment there are no guarantees. Children, youth or young adults still may not sense they belong. Even though their are strong connections and high levels of participation, a child key feelings, thought processes or actions may indicate a lack of any sense of belonging.
It is complex.
What have you seen or heard of or experienced that relates to this?
• What are times and contexts where you have experiences a deep sense of belonging?
• How has that been of benefit to you?
We gratefully acknowledge the following sources.
• Author: phildup55 • Date: 03/09/2014
• Personal pronouns used as required in this article: he/him
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