The Difference Between Inclusion and Belonging

We often hear the words ‘inclusion’ and ‘belonging’ when talking about welcoming more people with disabilities into our churches and ministries. But the difference between these two is not always clear. As it’s December, let me use a Christmas example to try and explain. 

Most of us will have different Christmas traditions, such as a certain time to open presents, reading the Christmas story or dressing up in our best and going to a Christmas service. Whatever our unique Christmas traditions are, one tradition that many of us have in common is gathering with close friends and family. You might have an aunt who always brings the pavlova, someone else their ‘famous’ glazed ham and that one person who will always laugh at the bad Christmas-cracker jokes. 

When close friends and whānau gather, there is likely to be a number of inside jokes. If someone is not able to make it, their absence is deeply felt and their typical contribution is missed (especially if they bought the pav!). This is belonging. 

If someone new came along one year, they would most likely be welcomed and invited to join in with the fun and games. They may contribute to the conversations or bring a yummy dish to share. By the end of the day, you may even look back and think that was fun having them come. 

But they wouldn’t get the inside jokes or understand the specific nuances of your whānau’s unique traditions. If they did not come again next year, there might be a moment when their absence is noticed, but it won’t be with the same deep longing that grandma’s absence would bring. Their contribution will not likely be missed either. Your Christmas celebrations will continue as they have every other year. This is inclusion. 

You see, someone can be present, made to feel welcomed and included in the activities, but until they are truly a part of the whānau, where their absence and contribution are missed, they will only ever be included.  

God offers all of us a part to play in His family (Romans 12: 3-13). We as the church and wider Christian community need to honour God’s desire and actively extend this invitation to everyone in our church. Only once people are able to join in on the inside jokes and contribute to the Christian community, will a sense of belonging be possible. 

By Siobhán Jansen 

Training and Seminar Coordinator