On a recent trip to Austin, our family visited a brand new take on the old-fashioned art museum. It was called Wonderspaces and it absolutely lived up to its name. Imagine your typical sterile hallways, lined with framed art and oddly-shaped sculptures. But completely replaced by unique, technology-driven art installations where people are invited to not just observe but engage. In this dynamic world, we were invited to step into the mind of the artist. We were invited to appreciate the original art that belonged to them. Simultaneously, we were being challenged to see how the art could belong to us. It was as if there was this unspoken trust that was established that gave my daughters the freedom to interpret and interact with the art in a way that built their confidence and sense of wonder. It was completely messy, immersive, and unpredictable.
If we’re honest, the faith process is similarly complex.
Yet, it’s no secret that we have a generation of adults who grew up with the idea that as long as they believed and behaved correctly, their place in the family of God was secure. You’ve probably noticed there’s often this very linear approach to finding and developing relationships in the local church. It might look something like this:
You find a church that aligns with your personal theology. Your behaviors match those beliefs. And as long as the first two stay intact, your belonging is solidified. As adults, we know that our personal and professional relationships tend to be a little messier than this. But we continue to follow the membership formula as best we can.
Giving Kids and Teens a Place to Belong
However, when it comes to the faith of our kids and teenagers especially, we know that the opposite is true. Kids need a wonderspace. A messy, immersive, and unpredictable experience in the context of a loving relationship. And it’s primarily in this safe place of community where Jesus begins to change their beliefs and behaviors to align with His. It’s a jumbled ball of questions, doubts, great and not-so-great life choices – anchored by belonging.
We also know that the Church was designed for this. While Jesus was here, He modeled for us the importance of prioritizing relationships. He showed up, asked questions, and lovingly pointed people back to the Father in every interaction. What we don’t see is Jesus being unwilling to challenge longstanding structures. For the most part, He didn’t carry the weight of ministry alone. He was never concerned about having enough time to carry out His responsibilities effectively. Jesus ensured people had a place to belong.
Relationships Matter in Creating Sense of Belonging
Church leaders have to be willing to invest in the time it takes to ensure not only that relationships matter. But that they matter most. Studies continue to prove over time that belonging has a direct effect on students’ social and emotional well being. It will allow them to grow in empathy and resilience – two proven skills necessary for life today. We have to recognize that discipleship and authentic faith are intrinsically linked. As leaders, we must accept that true belonging happens over time. Faith is growing during the walks hand-in-hand to the drinking fountain. It grows in the seventeenth round of Would You Rather. And it blossoms in the silent prayers for test anxiety. This is certainly not the easiest route but we believe it has the most potential to impact generations long after us.
It’s no surprise that even big brands have prioritized belonging. Many have recognized that it will take much more than a good product and five-star ratings to have influence with the next generation. While we’re living in a time of unprecedented connectivity, people are still lonely. Major corporations have discovered that perhaps the most important way to connect and build trust is to be personally invited into a real story. To be offered hands-on experiences and given an opportunity to engage and be known.
It’s why a clothing brand like Lululemon offers online yoga classes.
And it’s why a motorcycle manufacturer like Harley-Davidson produces special ride events exclusively for members.
It’s why a 133-year-old magazine like National Geographic hosts live historical expeditions each year.
And it’s what the local church was designed to do. Big business has figured it out. But, as Carey Niewhof says, “Nobody should be able to out-community the local church.”
Small Groups to Help Kids Find Belonging
How do we ensure people feel more connected in our churches than at a company trying to sell them yoga pants? What could happen if relationships mattered most and simply became a part of ministry culture?
We believe the best place to start is to rethink the way belonging is prioritized. And the way to ensure every kid has somewhere to belong is to place every kid in a consistent small group.
If your ministry to kids and teenagers still feels like The Met, you might consider asking yourself the following questions:
How can we improve our structure so relationships matter most?
In what ways can we empower our leaders so relationships matter most?
How can we redesign experiences – even the virtual ones – so that relationships matter most?
When done artfully, creating a small group culture has the potential to revolutionize every aspect of your family ministry. Belonging can help a kid move from a passive faith to an active, vibrant faith. It gifts a parent with another caring adult who will see their child the way they see them. And it will transform the way volunteers see themselves and the power of their influence.
After two years of social isolation, sickness, tension, and uncertainty, there is no better time than now to step into the messy, meaningful space of belonging and give every kid someone and somewhere.
That’s why we created the Creating a Small Group Culture Orange Masterclass. Join Trey Mcknight, Lisette Fraser, and Tom Shefchunas as they provide insight and practical steps to help you transition your ministry into a small group culture so your ministry is a place where every kid and teenager belongs.