How do we build a sense of belonging? Today’s column is the fourth of a six-part series about belonging and engagement as individuals and as a parish. Here is where we are in the discussion: although many people would suggest a range of characteristics as being the most critical to have an engaged parish that is “good soil” in the lives of the faithful who call this their spiritual home – many studies have shown that “belonging” is the critical characteristic. There were nine statements that best described people who are spiritually committed and have a sense of belonging to their parish:
- My faith is involved in every aspect of my life.
- Because of my faith, I have meaning and purpose in my life.
- My faith gives me an inner peace.
- l am a person who is spiritually committed.
- I spend time in worship or prayer every day.
- Because of my faith, I have forgiven people who have hurt me deeply.
- My faith has called me to develop my given strengths.
- I will take unpopular stands to defend my faith.
- I speak words of kindness to those in need of encouragement.
Studies show that 18% of people with a faith/church affiliation are spiritually committed. But in parishes in which there is a strong sense of belonging, almost 39% of individuals are spiritually committed! But what about people not in parishes? Can’t they be spiritually committed? Is belonging really critical? That’s a fair question.
We live in an age when we are more likely to hear: “I’m spiritual, but not religious…” meaning they do not belong or affiliate with any organized church. Commentators tell us that this is the “fastest growing segment” in “post-Christian America.” The conclusion is that churches just weren’t “spiritual enough” and should not be surprised at their declining attendance. Yet, there is a huge industry of books, videos, seminary, programs, and the like all focused on deepening individuals’ spiritual lives. It is hard to imagine a time when there has been more emphasis on individual spiritual growth and commitment than is true today. Yet we increasingly hear, “I’m spiritual, but not religious…” Yet….the same studies note that only 5% of people with no faith/church affiliation are spiritually committed.
But if the nine characteristics above are indeed the measure, then only 5% of people without a sense of belonging to a family of faith can truly say “I’m spiritual, but…” and point to the intrinsic effect it has in their lives. Again, it points to the importance of belonging to a community of faith.
Belonging is when people speak of their communities as “family.” Those churches/communities are places where an individual knows he or she is valued – and not just by parish leadership. Places where a person’s gifts are recognized and nurtured to enable the person to make a meaningful contribution and be part of something greater than themselves. Places where their sense of belonging creates the environment that draws people to want to belong. Places where spiritually committed persons come together to make an engaged parish. How do we build a sense of belonging as a family?
I don’t have an answer for that as of yet, but I do know that there are four outcomes that are the most relevant indicators of a parish’s spiritual commitment/engagement: its parishioners express a fuller satisfaction in life, invite others to join them in worship, give generously of their time serving inside and outside the parish, and make giving to their community of faith a priority. One looks at those outcomes, and it can be said, “That is a good soil church. People who plant themselves there take root and blossom.”
How do we build a sense of belonging as a parish? We need to prepare the soil.
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