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  • Understand how to create a hospitable environment where everyone feels a sense of belonging and has the ability to contribute. 
  • Reflect on the ripple effect that creating a sense of belonging can have.
  • Learn how to assess spiritual gifts and invite people to use theirs. 

Anchor verses:

“Do not take advantage of foreigners who live among you in your land. Treat them like native-born Israelites, and love them as you love yourself. Remember that you were once foreigners living in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” –Leviticus 19:33-34

 “God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another.” –1 Peter 4:10

W hen you don’t feel like you belong, your gifts don’t always feel valued or welcomed. On the other hand, true belonging often inspires service. So it is important to create spaces where people feel they belong before you expect them to serve. Even one small change can have a large effect. Imagine throwing a smooth stone into the water. The ripples extend beyond where the stone dips below the surface. 

The first step toward belonging is welcoming people in. The space must be set for invitation and belonging to happen. This is the start of the ripple. 

How Jesus intentionally welcomed Zacchaeus 

The story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) provides a great example of the way Jesus not only welcomed people but invited them to contribute their gifts. Zacchaeus had a strong desire to be with Jesus. However, there were multiple barriers standing in his way. 

For one, Zacchaeus was short. In a big crowd, he’d have a hard time catching a glimpse of Jesus. So when Jesus came to town, Zacchaeus took it upon himself to arrive early and climb a tree. This way, his height wouldn’t prevent him from seeing Jesus. But that still didn’t ensure Zacchaeus would be welcome. He was also a tax collector. And that meant he was a sinner who wouldn’t generally be welcome in a respected religious figure’s circle.

Yet Jesus saw Zacchaeus and called him by name. He then went above and beyond by asking Zacchaeus to host Jesus at his home. This would have been considered outlandish in the culture of the time. Jesus wasn’t supposed to be associating with Zacchaeus, let alone staying at his home. 

This phenomenal inclusion gave a path for Zacchaeus to receive the grace of Jesus. Jesus genuinely loved and included Zacchaeus into his community. And Jesus invited Zacchaeus into mutual hospitality, honoring Zacchaeus for what he could contribute. 

Jesus didn’t ask Zacchaeus to stop being a tax collector or change his ways before welcoming him in. Yet, in response, Zacchaeus gave even more than Jesus asked of him. He promised to give half his possessions to the poor and pay back four times over anything he had taken unjustly from others. This is the power of radical, inclusive hospitality!

Are there people you would never desire to eat at the same table with, or go to the home of for an evening of building friendship? Consider the lengths Jesus took to include people into his world. How can we duplicate what Jesus modeled? 

This inclusion paves a path for an outsider to feel like an insider and belong. This is the ripple effect in action. 

What does it mean to belong?

Sense of belonging: Believing that you are a part of a group, family system, team, work place, etc. Being a part of something brings value to a person. The desire to belong is deeply rooted in all of us.

Studies have shown that having a sense of belonging leads to a 56 percent increase in job performance, a 50 percent reduction in turnover risk, and a 75 percent decrease in employee sick days ( This works in the world and in the church. If people don’t feel like they belong, they will leave the church.

Belonging vs. including

Terry DeYoung, the RCA coordinator for Disability Concerns, explains that “‘Belonging’ is different from ‘including.’ Someone can be included in a group or physical space without ever feeling connected to or valued by others. But when someone belongs, they’ll be noticed, they’ll be known, and they’ll be missed when they’re not present.” 

Terry DeYoung goes to on say from his own personal insight: 

What usually gets in the way of this belonging and serving are barriers—barriers of access, barriers of socialization, barriers of attitude…

When combined with an impairment that may be sensory, or intellectual, or physical, or emotional—then barriers of access and attitude may prevent our full participation on an equal basis with others. And when there’s a barrier that’s within our power to remove so someone can participate, contribute, and belong, disability equity demands that we do so.

I’ve lived with a disability since birth. My disability is physical—and it’s visible to anyone who sees me when we’re not on Zoom—but about 80 percent of disabilities are hidden or invisible. Which means you’re not likely to discover someone lives with a disability unless you get to know them or they disclose it to you. But of all the barriers that people with disabilities face, the biggest barrier of all is our attitude toward people with disabilities. 

What often keeps people with disabilities isolated from others, and on the outside of churches looking in, and on the outside of church leadership roles, is being known only by their disability—seeing them only as “the Blind,” “the Deaf,” “the Schizophrenic,” “the Guy with the Cane.”

These represent a THIN understanding of a person—identifying them by a single characteristic. But a THICK understanding knows someone by name, what they enjoy, what their gifts are, and how they enrich our life together. A THICK understanding knows who they are so they can truly belong—and in belonging, serve.

When we belong, we will be valued and seen as a full participant in the kingdom of heaven. We will be treated as image bearers of God. That means we have worth and our gifts and contributions are valued.

How Jesus includes people in the Bible

The story of Zacchaeus is far from the only example we have of Jesus inviting outsiders and misfits to belong and serve.

Throughout the New Testament, Jesus called people to him and invited them to belong as his followers. Matthew 4:18-22, Mark 7:37, Matthew 5:1-16, and Matthew 26:6-13 all illustrate how Jesus drew people in from the margins and invited them to join him. Jesus often extended a grace-filled invitation to belong, then followed it with a request to contribute or to pay it forward. Because Jesus first offered them love and inclusion, many were glad to join Jesus in serving and caring for others.

One story that exemplifies this took place right after Jesus’s resurrection. A group of women, including Mary Magdalene, went to the tomb in order to finish anointing his body. But when they got there, Jesus was gone. 

The women knew they belonged with Jesus. Because of that, they were the ones to care for his body after his death. Mary Magdalene had been with Jesus, was at his crucifixion, and now she was there to care for his body. But when Mary and the other women got to the tomb, Jesus was gone. He had risen from the dead, and Mary became the first named person to see the resurrected Jesus. He appeared to the women and called upon Mary to tell others about his resurrection. 

Because of this appearance, Mary Magdalene is considered the first missionary and teacher of the Good News of Jesus. She knew she belonged to Jesus and she used her gifts to care for him and then share the good news of his resurrection. She belonged and she contributed using her gifts. Even though Mary and the other women weren’t the sort of witnesses most people would have expected, they were the group Jesus chose. They belonged with Jesus, and Jesus called upon them to serve.

Jesus calls and invites. Who are you inviting into your spaces? Who do you practice a THICK understanding of belonging with? 

Remember: A thick understanding is when you know who someone really is so that you can invite them to truly belong—and in belonging, serve.

How can you create a sense of belonging?

1 Peter 4:9-11 (in the Amplified Bible) states: 

Be hospitable to one another without complaint. Just as each one of you has received a special gift [a spiritual talent, an ability graciously given by God], employ it in serving one another as [is appropriate for] good stewards of God’s multi-faceted grace [faithfully using the diverse, varied gifts and abilities granted to Christians by God’s unmerited favor]. Whoever speaks [to the congregation], is to do so as one who speaks the oracles (utterances, the very words) of God. Whoever serves [the congregation] is to do so as one who serves by the strength which God [abundantly] supplies, so that in all things God may be glorified [honored and magnified] through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

Take a moment and consider how your community can create a space where people can feel a sense of belonging and are invited to contribute. Evaluate how you can convey belonging emotionally and physically. Sometimes we unconsciously communicate that not everyone is welcome. Be conscious of cliques and the instinct to stick with people you already know and trust because they are more comfortable. Newcomers often pick up on this, even if it’s subtle. 

Consider how a room full of men can welcome a woman into their conversation. They can open up their circle physically, but that alone doesn’t signify welcome. It’s also important to show her with their body language and their words that they want her to be part of the conversation. Asking the woman questions, introducing her to those in the circle she doesn’t know, and making eye contact with her are simple but important ways to invite her in. 

Tools for inviting people to belong in your context

We all have blind spots. If something isn’t a barrier for you personally, you may not always realize how it can prevent others from belonging in your community. 

This accessibility audit can help you evaluate how accessible your church or faith community is for people who have disabilities. The audit only takes a few minutes, and it prompts you to consider aspects of accessibility you might not normally think about. When you finish the audit, you’ll get personalized suggestions for becoming more hospitable to people with disabilities. 

Increasing your cultural intelligence will help you to recognize ways you can create a sense of belonging across cultural differences. As you become more aware of your own cultural background, assumptions, and biases, you’ll be better equipped to respect and honor the perspectives of people who have different cultural backgrounds than you. SIGNI, founded by Shane Treadway, helps churches and organizations develop their cultural intelligence so that they can be more diverse, welcoming communities. 

Questions to consider:

  1. Who do you desire to welcome into your doors? 
  2. Is there a population in your neighborhood that is not represented in your church?
  3. If so, what do you need to do to equip yourself (and your church) to welcome them in?

When people feel like they belong, they’ll naturally desire the chance to serve. Is everyone in your community already serving? Create a culture of service. Help current members know their own gifts and how they can contribute and develop a sense of belonging. This foundation will create a culture where others coming in will want to join and serve.

How to discover your spiritual gifts and contribute 

“There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us.” –1 Corinthians 12:4-6

Everyone has gifts and talents. Everyone has something to give. Yet sometimes, whether it’s due to past trauma or a simple lack of awareness, we may not understand or believe in our ability to use our gifts to show hospitality to others. It’s important to create a space where everyone has the opportunity to participate, contribute, and belong. Every member of Christ’s body is essential and fulfills a unique function in the body.  

When we belong, we feel a sense of being home. When you are at home, you not only enjoy the amenities that your home provides, but you use your gifts to contribute to the household. When you belong, you don’t just sit back and enjoy the benefits, but you contribute to the community. You give back. The ripple effect continues.

In your church, you can begin by ensuring current members understand their spiritual gifts and have opportunities to contribute.

Steps for finding your spiritual gifts

Remember when you were in elementary school? You did not start your education by learning algebra or reading complex sentences. Instead, you started with learning your letters and numbers. Each year of school, you would build on what you had already understood. 

Understanding how to contribute is similar to starting off in school. We start simply. This starting place is different for everyone. You can begin by asking yourself (or others in your church community) some questions. Take a moment and jot down the answers to these questions:

  1. What brings you joy? Do you enjoy being around people or by yourself?
  2. What do you enjoy doing? (e.g., do you like inside activities or being outdoors? What types of things do you do for fun?)
  3. What specific experiences have you had with contributing in a church setting or outside the church? Have you held any formal ministry responsibilities or leadership roles? If so, did you enjoy them? If not, take a moment and discern what about it was not enjoyable.
  4. What kind of work (i.e., job, vocation) have you enjoyed the most? In what types of work have you found success? Consider how aligning your work or vocation with your natural abilities can help you contribute.

Once you have pondered and journaled these questions, ask yourself, “where can I contribute?” You might want to brainstorm for a bit and consider different places within your community. 

To continue to discern your spiritual gifts, consider seeking out a spiritual gift assessment. Discover your Gifts, created by the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA), is one specific tool we’ve found helpful. Our She is Called Bible study group recently used it and found it so valuable as a way of exploring how the Holy Spirit was leading us to live into our callings. Knowing our gifts gives us confidence in our purpose and what we have to contribute as a member of the body of Christ!

Get outside your comfort zone

As you grow, challenge yourself to contribute outside of your comfort areas. Oftentimes, your sense of belonging will deepen as you contribute meaningfully to a community. 

It’s not always easy. Even the apostle Peter struggled with leaving his comfort area. Peter had a vision of who Jesus would be; he thought he understood what signing up to follow him meant. So he struggled when things didn’t go the way he expected, as Matthew 26 and John 18 tell us. Peter fell asleep when Jesus asked him to stay awake with him and pray. Upon Jesus’s arrest, Peter attacked the high priest’s slave with a sword. Then, fearful of what was to come, Peter denied being one of the disciples on three separate occasions. 

It was quite an evening for all of the apostles, but the story written of Peter shows his heart. He knew he belonged with Jesus and he defended Jesus, but he also made plenty of mistakes. He wasn’t perfect. Yet, after Jesus’s resurrection, Jesus restored Peter (John 21:15-17). 

So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”

He said to him, “Feed My lambs.”

He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”

He said to him, “Tend My sheep.”

He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?”

And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.”

Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.”

We all make mistakes. That’s okay. It’s part of our journey and growth. A healthy community will work with you as you find your spot to contribute. And as part of a healthy community, you’ll show grace to others when they make mistakes. Even leaders like Peter are not above everyone else. Peter had growing to do, and so do we. Peter also had sheep to feed and tend. He had a contribution to make. So do we. 

 “God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another.” –1 Peter 4:10

Consider your talents and use them well to serve others. 


  1. Take time to answer the four questions above about what work you enjoy and thrive in. Meditate on your gifts and talents.
  2. How does contributing go hand-in-hand with having a sense of belonging?
  3. In what ways have you seen God use others to build a sense of belonging?
  4. In what ways has God already put you in a place to build a sense of belonging in others?
  5. Before Mary Magdalene and others contributed, they needed healing. If there is an area of your life where healing is needed, spend time in prayer. Consider wise counsel, meeting with a counselor, or journaling about it. Is there something keeping you from feeling like you belong with others? 
  6. Read Romans 12:6–8; 1 Corinthians 12:4–11; and 1 Corinthians 12:28. What do you learn about gifts in these passages? 
  7. Read 1 Corinthians 16:10. In this passage, we have a multigenerational friendship where Paul is asking for the Corinthian congregation to welcome Timothy in. Where in your organization can you welcome multiple generations?
  8. Spend time in prayer meditating on areas where you can contribute and help others feel like they belong.