Belonging: Church, Barre Class, and Tribes

The Dailey Method

You might not know this about me, but I am a pretty disciplined fitness gal. I don’t do anything crazy, but for the past 10 years or so, I’ve tried to work out 5-6 times a week, starting with the elliptical in college to running to gym rat to Jillian Michaels DVDs , to a yoga studio membership when I lived in Pasadena. I couldn’t find any good yoga studios near us here in Arvada, but I started to get really curious about barre classes. I kept seeing these amazing testimonials (tip: don’t ever read the testimonials page on a barre studio’s website) about women getting in the best shape of their lives by going to barre class 4 times a week. I was completely sick of running and also very interested in getting in the best shape of my life, especially by way of bourgie barre classes.

For Christmas, Robert picked up on all my hints/demands and gifted me one unlimited month to the Dailey Method, a barre studio about 15 minutes away in a trendy neighborhood in Denver. And you know what? I loved it! I loved it so much that I became “trade staff,” working a few shifts a month for a heavily discounted class rate (otherwise I wouldn’t be able to afford it!). I love showing up and not having to think for an hour–just doing whatever exercises the instructor tells us to do, all to the tune of upbeat pop music.

But I think what made me really want to stay is the community vibe there–I’ve never been to a gym or yoga/barre studio with such a welcoming, down-to-earth environment. It’s really incredible. There’s no competitive or comparing vibes, women are quick to make room for latecomers or pick up others’ equipment. There’s childcare offered, so there are a lot of mothers there, commiserating about parenthood and carpools and postpartum. Honestly, being at the Dailey Method is the first time since moving to Denver that I’ve felt a sense of belonging.

That’s all very nice, but it’s also had me thinking about church, and why I haven’t felt that sense of belonging there. Robert and I were going to one church for about 6 months, since we first moved here, and just couldn’t connect to people there. Even when we joined a house church, after 6 weeks it was cancelled. We would show up to the candle-lit church basement where they held services, sing and listen to a sermon, and then shuffle out as everyone else greeted each other enthusiastically. We started going to a different church about a month ago, and are enjoying it, but again, we feel like outsiders. We want to jump in and get to know people, are looking for ways to serve and get involved, but in the meantime, it’s painful.

And it has me wondering, why is connecting so complicated at church, and so simple at barre class? At the barre studio, I feel like there is a real chance of making a couple of girlfriends there. At church, I’m not so sure. We already tried to join a couple of small groups–one ended up being 45 minutes away, the other was full. At barre, I feel like I could strike up a conversation with any of the women there, fellow students or instructors. At church, it feels like the most awkward thing in the world to strike up a conversation with someone–during greeting time, if I introduce myself instead of just saying “good morning” as I shake someone’s hand, they seem caught off guard. Once service is over, people avoid making eye contact and it feels so unnatural to just say, “Hey, great sermon huh?” I don’t know. Maybe it’s my own issue?

Or maybe it’s so much easier at barre because we actually have a lot more in common than our fitness choices. We’re all women, for one. Second, we’re mostly between the ages of I’d say late twenties to late forties. Most are mothers and wives. We generally come from the same socioeconomic status, because, let’s be honest, barre class itself is kind of a stereotypical upper-middle-class activity. So, is this sense of belonging stemming from the fact that these women are, more or less, my “tribe”?

But shouldn’t my fellow Christians at church also feel like my “tribe”? That’s the thing about Christianity, though, even from its earliest days–it attracts people who would otherwise have absolutely nothing in common. In the early church in the Roman Empire that meant Jews and Gentiles, slaves and their masters, learned and uneducated, women and men. Christians’ diversity was actually so confusing to the Roman government that they concluded they were groups of political dissenters plotting to overthrow the emperor. They thought, what else could possibly bring such an odd assortment of people together?

So what does that mean for us today? How do we bridge the gaps between us in the place where we ought to be experiencing the most radical unity possible? How do we reach out to each other in a 90-minute church service, or make it easier to connect in smaller gatherings throughout the week? I always thought “small groups” were the answer, but now I see just how hard it is to find and join one! What do you think? Have you ever been in a situation where you felt the type of belonging you wished the church offered? Or are you part of a church that does offer that sense of belonging? How is it done well?


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