I was invited to join a new Facebook group. This one has to do with gourmet ice cream. I quickly “liked” it! There seems to be a lot of focus on groups these days. Besides a few Facebook groups, I’m a part of two small groups that actually meet face-to-face. I have groups included in my email contact list. I know of bird watching groups, reading groups, tennis groups, gourmet cooking groups, fitness groups, biking groups, running groups, fantasy sports groups. Many reality T.V. shows are based on relationships formed in groups and then who gets booted out of the group. We seem to have an innate desire to belong to groups. Then I remember back to those school days when we could be so brutal to one another in determining who was in our group--or not. Remember being the last chosen when picking teams for the recess kickball game? How about not being invited to the “cool” party or not being asked to have a locker next to the group you wished you could be a part of? How about being excluded from a group going to the prom together because you didn’t have a date? Painful!
As I observe community life around me, I see that over time groups can tend to be more “exclusive” rather than “inclusive.” There seems to be a tendency to gradually build up walls around our group when deciding who fits and who doesn’t. Rather than reflecting Jesus’ inclusive love toward those around us, we find reasons to be exclusive.
What does it take for a person to feel included in your church’s community life? Consider the three “B-words” when evaluating this: Behave, Belong and Believe. Think about a newcomer to your church or small group. In what order are these words prioritized in order for a person to feel included? Which comes first? Must a person have all the proper behaviors down before they can actually belong? Must they understand and accept all the doctrinal beliefs before belonging to your faith community? A careful look at Jesus’ life teaches us that he was very inclusive of people from all walks of life and backgrounds. He invited them to belong to his “group” as part of his strategy to form disciples regardless of their behaviors or lack on understanding. I’m thankful that he shows me that same kind of inclusive love.
Inclusive community means that we allow all people to feel accepted and safe, or to belong, in our small groups and churches so that they discover who they are in Christ. It may mean putting up with some challenging behaviors or whacky beliefs, but still they belong. I love this quote by R. Richardson from his book Evangelism Outside the Box:
Evangelism is about helping people belong so that they come to believe. Most people today do not “decide” to believe. In community they “discover” that they believe, and then they decide to affirm that publicly and to follow Christ intentionally. People are looking for a safe, accepting place to develop their identity and sense of self in community.