Here’s something I’ve found helpful for thinking about mission, networks, relationships and community: The Four Spaces of Belonging. The ideas come from Joseph Myers’ book “The Search to Belong,” about the ways that people connect. And here they are….
First there is the Public Space. This is a large-scale shared experience, where you feel you are part of a great number of people on the same wavelength, but you are still free to remain anonymous if you choose. E.g. A shared worship experience in a big church, a footy game, a movie theatre, a forum for Commodore or Mac owners, St Paddy’s Day…
Next is Social Space. This is where we cluster around a common interest or focus (e.g. a BBQ, local pub, workplace, school event, party or function). Here you connect on a superficial level, sharing snapshots of yourself – who I am, what I enjoy, where I live, where I work… This is a natural space to be introduced to new people, ideas, invites – a great springboard to the other spaces.
A little more intimate is our Personal Space. This is a smaller group of our friends and family, close work colleagues, mums group, etc. Here we know each other well and share more privately, reflect together on faith, share our lives, pray for one another, care for one another. Jesus had this connection with his twelve disciples.
And finally there is our Intimate Space. This is only shared with a few people – our spouse and one or two close friends. These people know us as we really are – the good and the ugly. In this space we feel safe and secure to share the naked truth about ourselves, what we think, what we struggle with – the deepest parts of ourselves. Jesus shared some things only with his closest friends – Peter, James and John.
The idea is that healthy community is a combination of all of these spaces, not just the deep, intimate ones. So you’re in danger if you’re connecting in the public space but not anywhere more personal. And you’re also missing out if you connect in deep intimate relationships but avoid larger settings where you might run in to new people.
Churches have tended to view the deep, personal settings (like accountability groups, one-to-one discipleship and mentoring) as the places where spiritual growth happens and so have worked to push people towards the inner spaces. Myers calls us to value each of the four spaces equally and recognise that God is active in shaping us at every level.
What about your church? Does it focus on any spaces more than others? What are some ways that it could adapt to value all four?
What about you? Which spaces do you feel most comfortable? Are there any that you’re missing out on? What changes could you make so you can find a sense of belonging at every level?