Have you ever stopped to think about the spiritual encouragement your parish offers you, especially the ways in which your parish leads you to grow in faith and follow Jesus Christ?
Those of us who already feel deeply rooted in our parish community would say the parish is a home –God’s home —where we feel we are a part of God’s family.
Those who serve as parish leaders have the added responsibility of fostering an environment where everyone, as Pope Francis says, can be “touched by the comfort and attraction of God’s saving love.”
That means our own actions and the way we involve the whole community must make the parish feel like God’s home for others as well, a place where people can encounter Jesus’ love, feel they belong, and know their gifts are welcomed.
In fact, extensive research studies of parish life reinforce these facts:
1. Belonging is not the same thing as being a member or registering in the parish. Instead, belonging occurs when the parish comes to have an important place in a person’s life.
2. There is a remarkable relationship between people’s experience of belonging in the parish and their openness to an encounter with Christ. Consider this amazing insight: “In most cases, believing does not lead to belonging, but rather, belonging leads to believing.” 
3. People with a deep sense of belonging in their parish are likely to become missionary disciples. Parishioners who feel that they belong to a faith community more frequently report these signs of discipleship:
- Praying daily
- Being satisfied with the circumstances of their lives
- Forgiving others when they have been hurt
- Speaking words of kindness when needed
- Taking a stand on account of their faith
- Inviting others to their parish
- Giving of their time and financial resources
These findings echo the experience of the early disciples described in the Acts of the Apostles. After the disciples’ encounter Christ, they form a community with other believers that leads to and further strengthens their belief.
Unfortunately, some may people have not had this positive experience of belonging to a parish community—a parish that welcomes and values their personal gifts.
Parish leaders and staff can use their particular roles to ensure that all people feel a sense of belonging in the parish and grow in faith. By grasping this simple yet important concept, we recognize our great privilege and responsibility to touch others with the love of God by how we serve in ministry.
For more about how people grow in their sense of belonging, read The Four Questions of Belonging.
 Albert L. Winseman, Growing an Engaged Church, (New York, Gallup Press, 2006) p. 44.