Why Believing Before Belonging is Almost Impossible

Written by Bill Whitt
September 25, 2023

We have to help people feel safe belonging to a new tribe before their brains will even begin to let them consider believing new ideas and behaving in new ways.

Research is now proving what we have long experienced — people’s minds are incredibly hard to change. That has huge implications for our work in church renewal.

  • The explanation goes like this: The brain’s primary job is to help us survive. While believing correct facts is important, something else is even more important for our survival — belonging to a tribe.
  • If changing beliefs means losing your support system, the brain is perfectly happy to shut the door to new ideas. When faced with the choice between believing and belonging, the brain’s decision is easy. There’s nothing worse than losing your people.

This dynamic has huge implications for church renewal ministries. Can we really expect people to believe the right things and to behave the right ways before they can belong in our group? Research and experience say, “No!”

  • We have to help people feel safe belonging to a new tribe before their brains will even begin to let them consider believing new ideas and behaving in new ways.

Here are a few ideas for how we can allow people space to belong before they believe and behave.

 Five Ways to Help People Find Their Tribe
Idea 1: Website Photos
  • If I visit your church’s website, would I get a sense that I could fit in?
  • All too often, our websites are heavy in text and light in pictures. Good photos can communicate to a potential visitor, “You can find your tribe here. You can belong!”
Idea 2: Social Media Ads
  • Are you advertising on social media? When you promote a Facebook post, the people who see the ad will also see which of their friends currently likes your page.
  • No longer are you just some random organization. You are the church their trusted friend calls home — a place maybe they could call home too!
Idea 3: Invitation Cards
  • Word of mouth is still the most powerful form outreach, but are we empowering our congregations to make that invitation? A simple card is all it takes to tap into the power of social networking.
  • In a survey by the Billy Graham Association, more than 80% of non-Christians said they would visit a church if invited by a friend.
Idea 4: Sensitive Sermons
  • When an unchurched person visits, what will they experience? In our sermons, we would be wise to speak to the doubters, skeptics, and non-believers.
  • We should know their objections to the faith better than they know them themselves. (No straw men allowed!) Even more importantly, we should speak with respect and charity, so they feel safe exploring new ways of believing and behaving.
Idea 5: Groups for Skeptics
  • Would a newcomer to faith feel welcome in your small groups? Offering groups designed for those starting or restarting their faith journey is a great way to create a safe space for honest questions.
  • These groups could be the most critical piece of the puzzle in helping people find a new tribe. Once they know they have a place to land, they may feel more comfortable exploring new beliefs and behaviors!

To read more of the fascinating research behind this article, check out James Clear’s blog post, “Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds.” I’d love to hear what other implications you find in it for the work of church renewal!

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