By Nick Brzozowski
This blog was taken from Nick's message at Anchor's 2nd Birthday. If you'd like to listen to the message instead, you can listen to it here.
When you were a teenager, did your friends ever pressure you into anything? Leading into high school, peer pressure was the scariest thing for me. But, no one ever pressured me to steal or do drugs. Not even just to skip one class. Although, I did have a friend who talked me into joining the church choir.
Now, this wasn’t a youth choir. We were the only teenagers and everyone else was in their sixties or older. And I learned a lot - how to read music notes, the challenges of retirement, and that I was what you call.... tone deaf.
But, since everyone was so nice, I stayed around. So, for one whole year, I just whispered the songs under my breath. I was welcomed in the choir, but did I belong?
Creating a community of belonging is a tricky thing.
Over a year ago, Hannah and I were at a training where they posed the question: “What could your church could be the very best at?” And in that moment, we decided that there was one thing that we wanted to be the best at: we wanted Anchor to be a place where people belong.
It was so clear to us, because…
We are all pretty lonely. The amount of time the average American spent with friends was about 6.5 hours per week in the years of 2010-2013. In 2021, that number dramatically dropped to 2 hours 45 min per week — that's a 58% decline in less than 10 years. We are lonely and that is affecting our mental health.
No safety = No growth. There are so many challenges and questions around what it means to follow Jesus today. It doesn't help when we are too scared to ask those tough questions. In fact, the very act of sharing and being vulnerable is one of the best ways we can grow — but we won’t be vulnerable in a judgmental environment.
Church is more than a sermon. After to moving to Champaign, I sat down with someone and asked why he didn’t go to church. I’ll never forget him looking uncomfortable by the question. Eventually, he shared, “I was just getting tired of being preached at every week.” There are two trends researchers are finding out about church. First, the last 20 years, there has been a steady decline from church attendance. Second, the number one reason people attend church is for the sermon. What if Anchor could pioneer a new way to experience God? What if one reason people are leaving church is because church’s aren’t offering a life-giving community, people who will love you, support you, pray for you, think about you, accept you, eat with you, and bless the community together.
So, deep in our hearts, we desire to be a church of belonging, marked by these two things:
There was an urban legend that I heard years ago. A man walked into a church with long hair in the 1960's. An usher promptly looked him up and down, walked him downstairs to the church basement, and gave him a heart cut.
How traumatic! This man finally worked up the courage to come to church and someone judges him so harshly that he literally alters someone else's physical appearance.
As the church, we have to remember that we have a responsibility to happily welcome people in, regardless of their past or what they look like.
Think about how much healthier you are when you are around accepting people. Don’t you want the people you love to be in communities of acceptance?
Ephesians 2:12-13 says, "remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ."
One of the reasons, Jesus gave up his life for the church to be a place of acceptance. He gave up his life so that people on the outside would be welcomed in.
Acceptance communicates that you are enough.
Warmth takes a step further than acceptance. Warmth tells you that you are more than enough that you are important.
Author of the classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie saw "the desire to be important as a craving just like sleep and hunger. The only difference is that, unlike sleep and food, our hunger for importance rarely gets satisfied."
Our world is starving for people to show warmth.
It makes me think of Jesus and chocolate. These two things come to mind when I think of perfection.
Now, hear me out. Jesus is like chocolate. If you mix that chocolate in with warm milk - then it makes it even better.
It's like you just improved on something perfect.
That's what happens when your relationship with Jesus is mixed with the warm community of the church. It's like drinking some hot chocolate on a cold winter night in front of a fireplace - it's even better than perfection.
Philippians 2:3-4 says, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others."
How do we create a community of belonging?
We can be organized — This is why we have a host team that greets you at the door when you come to Anchor. We have meal trains for people who just had babies or lost a loved one. Finally, we have our connection team, who is meeting new people from Anchor for dinner or coffee throughout the month. All three of these have to be organized in order for them to succeed. They don't just happen because we want them to. They happen because we schedule, we ask, and we invite others into ministry with us.
We can be organic — Here are five powerful ways to invest in relationships:
Remember names. It's the most important thing to know about a person.
Use the acronym FORD (Family, Occupation, Recreation, Dreams)
Have experiences together - ask another couple to go bowling or ask someone to go on your Target run with you.
Serve one another. If you find out there's a need, don't wait for someone else to fill it - if you can do it, do it!
See someone down in the dumps? Encourage them! Send them a hand written note in the mail or text them how they've helped you grow lately.
Before Jesus’ death, he changed up the whole game. He said:
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
When Jesus said this, I can't help but think of Matthew - the tax collector in the group. The occupation that made him hated by all and yet, Jesus asked him to follow him. How could Matthew possibly love others in the same way? It must have seemed like an impossible task to love like Jesus loved him.
Next, I think of Jesus washing the disciples feet that night and what warmth that must have brought to the room. The fact that their teacher, their leader was stooping down to the ground and washing their nasty feet. It's a sign of importance of warmth.
I'll leave you with this: How can we love one another if we don’t know one another? How can we love one another if we only see them at an event every week? We have to take it a step further. That's why I strongly encourage you to get involved with Anchor Groups - this is where we can take warmth and acceptance to the next level in our church.