Here are twelve ideas for increasing belonging, with a bit of a personal belong story first…
When I first started attending Westminster Chapel, back in 2004, it took over a year for me to really get to know people and feel some sense of belonging. London is a lonely city in which we’re typically conditioned to keep ourselves to ourselves (e.g. the unofficial rule of ‘do not talk to anyone on public transport). I’m also a shy introvert. So, I literally began on the back pew at Chapel and slowly moved forward.
As I look back, I can see that one of the reasons it took longer to get involved was that I wasn’t as involved as I could be. Someone had to politely challenge me about that. I wasn’t making the effort (I sometimes thought I was) to hang out after the service with people or regularly attend mid-week activities. As I started to do that more, I began to get to know people more and be known by them.
A breakthrough moment was inviting people around to my tiny flat in Bermondsey to pray together. Only one person came… but it was a start (and we shouldn’t despise ‘small beginnings’). Subsequently, others would come. I also found more community washing up with people on Sundays and being part of the Hosting team (great ways to get to know people). We didn’t have the option of training and serving as a barista in New Acre Cafe back then, otherwise, I definitely would have done that (always good to have a backup career and be able to make your own chai lattes).
In those days, the then preacher, the great Greg Haslam, would often quote Proverbs 18:24 in his sermons: “A [person] who has friends must himself be friendly…”
It used to annoy and grate with me, but in retrospect, it was what I needed to hear. It helped me to keep coming out of my introverted comfort zone. Perhaps, we should be referring to it more often in our sermons today.
God sanctified me through this process. I learned to trust in him more. I learned to face some of my fears. He grew me through the grit and grind of growing friendships. I think the community I found was more precious as a result because it didn’t just happen; I had to cooperate with God to see it come about. There were things I needed to die to in this journey so I could more truly live.
Some of those close friends have now moved on from Chapel, such is the transitory nature of central London life, and I try hard to keep in touch with them, because they are life-giving to me (and I hope I to them). Others have thankfully remained, and others, I trust, are arriving (for that is the upside of living in London).
In this Sep-Oct Belong season, we have the opportunity to deepen our and others’ sense of belonging. Having given some of the big picture background, here are twelve more specific ideas:
- Hang out in New Acre Cafe before and after services; arrange to meet someone there or just show up, introduce yourself and say hi to people. Also, some Chaplers work online in the cafe Mon-Thu, so feel free to pop in rather than work from home, and you might find a bit more community that way.
- Come regularly on Sundays. It’s hard to build friendships if you’re irregular (e.g. only coming in person every other week). Say hello to people during the 3-minute break in the service. Stay for lunch, and chat with people over great food.
- Be a regular and committed part of a Life Group. The more you’re there, the safer you and others will feel about sharing (giving a greater chance of deeper friendships forming).
- Be proactive about spending time with people from your Life Group socially. Arrange a trip to the cinema, or a walk in a park with a few of them.
- Join us for pizza, prayer and praise at Freedom Friday, on Friday 4th November, 7pm. Arrive on time to spend more time with people.
- Come to the Men’s and Women’s ‘hop’ events – and meet some more people. Men’s Event – 25th November, 7 for 7.30pm start. US-England World Cup Match. Pizza. Table Tennis. Table Football. Pool. Women’s Event, 2nd December, 7 for 7.30pm. Christmas Fun and cool craft.
- Join and connect with people in the 18-30s (there is a Whatsapp group), 30s+ and families (there is a Facebook group) social groups. Prioritise going to any events they put on – or arrange to hang out with people from these groups informally in your own way.
- Invite some people to join you for a slot in our restorative, worshipful prayer room. Book here.
- Ask some people to join a Grow Group with you; if you’re not sure who to approach, chat to a leader.
- Share some things and meet some people at our Bring and Share Sunday on 6th November, 1pm.
- Get involved in a serving team. Find out more here. Arrange to hang out with people in your team outside of normal church time.
- Invite someone round to your home, or invite yourself round to theirs (assuming it doesn’t come across as if you’re inviting someone on a date!). Hospitality massively helps to build community. I have a lot to learn about this but am trying. We invite every new church member for a meal at our home; we also host Life Group, elders and wives gatherings, and some staff team waffles and prayer times.