I’ve been to countless seminars and read probably dozens of books on small group ministry. For the past couple of decades, we have consistently heard that the right small group programs will grow our church, create fully-devoted Christ-followers, ease the burden on pastors, return us to New Testament Christianity, etc., and I’ve said those things myself.
Yet as I have tried to implement them, I’ve found that either it doesn’t work as well as advertised or there must be something wrong with me (which is quite possible!). Sure, there have been many people helped through small groups, but the small groups have also been accompanied by frustrations. Balancing fellowship-vs-study/accountability is always difficult; many people just aren’t ready for that level of intimacy and accountability; and it usually isn’t the ideal next-step for newcomers; and how do small groups do mission and grow? On the other hand, the relationships built there are often very important to people. But now there’s a fresh answer to help make some sense of it all.
Joseph Myers’ The Search to Belong: Rethinking Intimacy, Community, and Small Groups is a timely and refreshing look at what community really is. He explodes some of the myths of belonging that we have often believed. He helps us see, through research and experience, the four different “spaces” of belonging: public, social, personal, and intimate. What’s more, he helps us see the value of each space, how relationships are carried on in each space, and how to balance them. Bottom line, people can feel a substantial level of belonging to a church on many different levels. Understanding people’s genuine community needs, and working with it and affirming it will get us a lot farther than trying to fit everyone into the “intimacy” mould.
Myers has an inspiring chapter on “Searching for a Front Porch” in which he challenges us to find ways to interact with others in the in-between land of social, neighborly friendships–not “out there” in the public world, but also not “in here” in my private home. The book is probably worth it just for that chapter.
Not only are the principles in “The Search to Belong” applicable to church leadership, but understanding the four spaces of belonging goes a long way toward understanding our other relationships – in our marriage and family, neighbourhood, work, etc. Good stuff; worth the read.