Why Belonging Is So Important For Children and Students

Belonging and fitting in are different. Too many of us try to fit in when we really want to belong.

Providing a sense of belonging to children and students is extremely important because research shows that newer generations form their beliefs when they feel they belong.

Sixty years ago, students might have known what they believed, and looked for belonging in a group that supported their beliefs. For years, that was how the church grew – a family and foundational connection.

More recently, the order began changing. Now, students might look for a place to belong and form their beliefs from that place. This has huge implications for children’s and student ministry in the local church and also has a major impact on the home. In each case, students seeking a place to be themselves can begin to catch a hold of faith.

Children may feel they belong in homes that marginally live out faith in Christ. But when faith is modeled as a few Christian behaviors without concrete beliefs, children will learn that faith is a small part of life—and in time, each generation will lose more authenticity.

It isn’t easy for the church to shift toward welcoming students and allowing them to experience Jesus through you and others. We are accustomed to transactional faith. We want to share the story of Jesus, we want them to respond, and we want it to be cut and dried – at least we act that way. It’s too easy to condemn and push away students acting up, living wildly, or not living up to our expectations. Those students want to know we will love them no matter what – like Jesus would do.

Too often, we expect students to be like Christians before they believe. Instead, programming must include time for students to show up without expectations.

What would happen if we planned an event solely designed to invite students to belong without anything of Christian substance? That would be an intentional investment before taking the next steps with devotions, Bible, and prayer. While we don’t want to focus on fun all the time, there is something about having fun that invites students to belong.

In her book, Daring Greatly, Brené Brown shares the distinction between belonging and fitting in that a group of eighth graders presented to her:

“Belonging is being somewhere where you want to be, and they want you. Fitting in is being somewhere where you really want to be, but they don’t care one way or the other.

Belonging is being accepted for you. Fitting in is being accepted for being like everyone else.

I get to be me if I belong. I have to be like you to fit in.”

Parents and the church must intentionally give children and students a sense of belonging.