The Search to Belong: Myths of Connection
Over the next several weeks, I'm going to be posting a few times a week summaries of chapters from books I've read over the past few years. These are the books that have really informed my thinking on discipleship and small groups. Hopefully, they'll provide a good opportunity for you to think through some of these same thoughts.
Today, I'm looking at chapter one of Joe Myer's book Search to Belong.
Connections are important. Particularly, connections among believers are crucial for living out the life and mission Jesus designed for us.
Pastor Randy Frazee wrote in his book, The Connecting Church, "The development of meaningful relationships where every member carries a significant sense of belonging is central to what it means to be the church."
The Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesians, "Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future."
More importantly, Jesus said, "Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples."
The heart of Joe Myer's book, The Search to Belong, is that many churches have misunderstood what connection is, and as a result they have mistakenly attempted to create connection among their people using inappropriate methods. In the first chapter, Myer's points to six myths that many churches believe about belonging and connectedness (Myers uses the word "belonging", I'm using the word "connectedness").
More Time = More ConnectednessMore Commitment = More ConnectednessMore Purpose = More ConnectednessMore Personality = More ConnectednessMore Proximity = More ConnectednessMore Small Groups = More Connectedness
Buying into some or all of these myths, churches have attempted many of the following activities/ministries to build a more connected congregations:
- They add things to the schedule to get people together more. If the calendar isn't full, they schedule something new.
- They ask people to commit to more things. They want to see people committed to Sunday services, midweek meetings, weekend community service projects and some kind of ministry in the church. Those who aren't committed are viewed as less pious; and it is assumed that those who are well-committed are well-connected.
- They develop clever purpose statements and powerful vision statements so that people can feel they are connected to a greater purpose.
- They seek out and promote those who are charismatic and those who have leadership potential. People are encouraged to connect to the leaders instead of each other.
- Neighborhood groups are started.
- More and more groups are launched. The goal is to get 100% of people into small groups so that 100% of people will be connected.
Myers uses some of his own experience as well as a few stories to demonstrate that these myths can often keep a church from realizing that despite their best efforts, they are not connecting people.
I should clarify that Myers is not ANTI-small group. He writes in this chapter:
For the record, I am not against small groups. I am actually very much in favor of them. But I am against small groups being used and marketed as the "end-all" solution for answering the individual's search to belong.
I agree with Myers here. I think small groups are a wonderful tool for spiritual formation, but I think we really short-change ourselves if we buy into the myth that they are the ONLY tool for spiritual formation.
Myers is far more concerned about how to cultivate relationships and connectedness than he is about perpetuating any programs or ministries in the church. He suggests we begin to try thinking differently about connectedness. Instead of thinking of some people being "more" connected than other people, he tries to create a system which will enable us to understand that some people are simply "differently" connected than others (of course, it is true that some people are, by their own choice, not connected at all. That however, is a different discussion).
Myers identifies four types of connection that we all experience at different stages of life. The rest of the book is designed to unpack those four types of connections and examine what they mean for the church.
As you think about this issue, consider the following questions:
- Make a list of ten people to whom you are connected. Is your connection with each person the same? How would you categorize the different kinds of connections you have?
- Do any of the "connection myths" resonate with you? Do you disagree with any of them? Why or why not?
- If you had to describe the "ideal" connections for someone in a church, what would it look like?