Chapter 3 of Joseph Myers’ book The Search to Belong is all about the four “spaces” in which we have a sense of belonging (public, social, personal, and intimate). Myers says that in all four spaces:
- We connect.
- We are committed and participate.
- We find the connection significant
So it’s not that we go from public to intimate in a journey of ever more valuable “belonging.” Rather, having a sense of belonging in all four spaces is essential for relational health. So what does it mean to belong in these four spaces?
- Public belonging is like being a Mac owner, or playing bingo every week with 200 others, or being a Hoosier basketball fan. It occurs when people connect through an outside influence, and these kinds of relationships can carry great significance in our lives.
- Social belonging is like knowing the barista at the local coffee shop or a neighbor you might ask to pick up your mail while you’re away on vacation. It occurs when we share “snapshots” of ourselves, of what it would be like to be in personal space with us. “Best foot forward” and “first impression” are operative words here. This provides space for “neighbor” relationships to develop, and a “selection space” for those with whom you’d like to develop a “deeper” relationship.
- Personal belonging is like a good friendship that just picks up where you left off no matter how much time you may have spent apart, or like a close friend with whom we share more about ourselves than we would an acquaintance, but not so much that they’d be uncomfortable.
- Intimate belonging is like marriage, or a very few close friends with whom we share “naked” experiences, feelings, and thoughts. These are people who know the “whole truth” about us and accept us nonetheless.
Myers asserts that “a healthy strategy for those working to build community entails allowing people to grow significant relationships in all four spaces–all four.”
Pushing people to get “intimate” isn’t necessarily the best way to cultivate community, in other words. Relational harmony means more public “belongings” than social, more social than personal, and probably very few intimate.
So, a few questions:
- Do you think churches try to push too hard for personal and intimate belonging, to the neglect or denigration of public and social belonging?
- As a church leader, do you trust people enough to allow them to belong in the space they choose?
- In your community, what spaces are well represented? What is lacking?
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