Sunday, April 23, 2006

Survey Results #2

In a comment on my first post on the survey results, Zach asked "Why do 56 not feel they have a strong sense of belonging? How do we reach out to those among us?"

I think that there are a number of factors that at times contribute to a lack of sense of belonging. Pat Keifert used an illustration at our initial PMC meeting that may shed some light. He said that a typical congregation can be described in a set of 3 concentric circles, with Family comprising the inner circle, Inside Strangers comprising the second circle, and Outside Strangers comprising the outer circle...

Family are generally those who feel a strong sense of belonging, are involved either directly or through influence in decision-making, and know how to be involved both socially and in the activities of the congregation.

Inside Strangers are members, often very active members, who don't perceive themselves as a part of the inner circle. This may be by choice, may be due to a lack of ability to navigate the soci0-political structure, or may be because family members are protective of status quo, whether by design or unintentionally.

Outside Strangers may or may not consider themselves members. They may be relatives of members or may be outsiders drawn in for specific needs or activities - a grief recovery class or a hurricane relief project.

This framework can be useful to understand some of the dynamics at work within a congregation. I think 15-20 years ago it was fairly evident who was family at Skillman. Today, I'm not so sure; I would not be surprised if a large number would describe themselves as inside strangers if they were asked to place themselves in one of the three categories.

That's not necessarily a bad thing if we are seeking to become more missional. If our focus is inward - wanting the church to meet our needs - then the further we are from family the less we feel connected. But if our focus is outward, then we naturally migrate more toward the outer rings - that's where our mission is.

I don't know that I've actually addressed Zach's concern - I do not mean to imply that we don't want to reach out to those among us or that it is not important to feel a sense of belonging. I do believe that one factor that contributes to the development of a sense of belonging is sharing in a common mission. Another is participating in conversation. I look forward to the opportunity to do that next Sunday afternoon.

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