I read not too long ago that there are two things we desire as humans: aspiration and affiliation. We aspire to do something significant in our lives. And we want to be affiliated – we want to belong. If that is true then the church is in the perfect place to meet those desires. Unfortunately, especially in the case of affiliation, cultivating a sense of belonging seems to be tough to come by in a lot of our churches.
I tried to join the Rotary Club. I say I tried because after struggling for 8 months to belong to the group I gave up. I had been attending the meetings fairly regularly and had sat at a number of different tables in an attempt to become acquainted. At each meeting I had to go around and reintroduce myself to a group of about thirty Rotarians. Few remembered my name. It was obvious that, except for a couple of people, they didn’t care if I was there or not. I sang their silly songs. I repeated the pledge. I applied for membership. I was even willing to contribute financially to the causes they espoused. I thought I was a part of the group even if they didn’t. The Membership Chairman contacted me via email to tell me that I was accepted as a member. The next meeting I happened to go up to a couple of older guys, like me, to enter into their conversation. When I was asked who I was I told them my name and proudly stated that I was their newest member. One of the men looked at me with suspicion and said, “Have you been formally inducted?” I replied, “No.” To which he said haughtily, “Then you are not a member.” He then turned away from me to continue his conversation with a “real” Rotarian.
Do we do the same in church? There is a real desire among us to belong. Our communities are full of people who know that living a fulfilled life means sharing that life with others. We want to belong. Many want to belong to the church. But, sometimes we in the church give the impression that belonging is only possible when we fulfill the expectations of others. Could it be that there is someone who feels a closeness, a connectedness, to your church who has not formally become a member? If so, what is our attitude toward them? Are we inclusive or exclusive? If someone were to say, “This is my church home?” Do we respond by asking them, “Well, have you been baptized?” Or, “Have you joined our membership?” And to conclude, “Oh, then you’re not a member.”
Don’t misunderstand me. I am not advocating for open membership. We do have to respond to the requirements of Scripture. We need to be baptized and declare formal membership. But for all those who want to belong, who even feel they belong, shouldn’t we make them feel welcome? Shouldn’t they feel included? Jesus lived out His faith that way. Whether it was a tax collector, or a disreputable woman, He gave them the sense that they belonged.
Yes, we need to make sure that everyone knows the requirements of membership. But, in the meantime, can’t we also make sure everyone knows they’re welcome?