Fall Newsletter Excerpt | Seeing, Hearing and Belonging

From the Community Flourishing Team

The church saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself.” This has been a sentence that stood out to me the last few months. Are we the type of church that has people leaving with these words in their minds?

This line comes from one of the stories from a church who participated in the Community Flourishing Project last year. The story goes like this: The deacons at the church were doing their best to support a single mother through her challenges, but over the years the best they could come up with was providing financial help for groceries and offering some meals.

One of their limitations was that when they saw this person – they simply saw a need.  In their conversations it became all about how they could meet her needs, or fix whatever problems were immediately in front of her, but they never invited her into giving to the community. They had figured she was someone who had too many needs to be able to think of contributing.

A turning point came when they were encouraged to look at the strengths and gifts of people in the community. When they asked her she said that she loved baking. Taking note of this, they invited her to provide some treats at a church bake-off event. She joined and her baked goods stole the show. She was able to showcase her passion and fill some stomachs at the same time. It was a great event for her to connect with people as someone who was contributing, not just being handed things – but a part of the community who was appreciated for her gifts and her passions.

After the event she had so much encouragement around her delicious goods – that she worked up the courage to start her own small bakery. This was something she could do part-time and helped her in making ends meet. What’s more, it gave some direction and dignity for her in the work she was doing.

Looking back on it, she could see that the church’s investment and listening to her helped nudge her towards flourishing in her life. She is someone who could say, “The church saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself.” What a beautiful testimony of a church coming alongside people in its community.

What I found challenging from this, was that the story of success wasn’t about how the church added a new ministry and completely transformed their community through their efforts. It wasn’t a story about how people were flooding into the church because of how innovative their new programs are. In fact, no new ‘ministry’ was produced. Instead success was seen through a new lens empowering and belonging. Success was seeing something in a person in their community and being able to support that in them – even when she couldn’t see it herself.

A few values that made this a success story:

  1. She went from helpless to empowered.

When the church community only saw her as a need and directed all of their questions in terms of what she needed – they never saw her strengths or the things that she longed for. They were unintentionally backing up assumptions that she had that she was not able to contribute, that she needed handouts to make it through. When she was invited to participate it empowered her and validated her strengths and things that she could contribute to the community.

  1. She went from being served to serving with others.

This has been a huge focus for how we think missionally. So often we get stuck in seeing what sorts of services we can offer. We focus on filling certain needs. The unspoken goal in this creating consumers – “if we have a good enough product we will get these people to show up.” However, this doesn’t inspire deeper connection. People feel like they belong and that they are seen when there are opportunities for them to use their gifts and that they are ‘part of’ the event (not just a bystander).

  1. Her sense of belonging deepened.

A key part of belonging is participating, being invited, knowing your passions, knowing how you can contribute. In the short term, belonging can be found through having a welcoming atmosphere but for a sustained sense of belonging there needs to be a deeper sense of service.

These are some of the things we have been exploring as the Community Flourishing Team and this has motivated us to look more deeply at who is in our community and how we can continue to foster a sense of belonging through listening and nudging people towards flourishing through living into how God has gifted them.