Fandom and Belonging
By Anthony Casperson

Through the airwaves comes a radio broadcast. A famous musician is the guest. They open up the line to callers and some shrieking individual squeals from their phone. “I love you so much. I can’t believe I’m talking to you.” They go on, nearly incomprehensibly, to say that one of the artist’s songs means so much to them. It changed their life…

A twitch stream plays in the background. The streamer’s playing a video game and conversing with their audience. Up on the screen, a donation notification appears. Giving voice to the message, the streamer reads the thank you sent their way. The donator desired to give thanks because of something the streamer said or did. It changed their life…

Several special guests sit before a mass audience. They’ve spoken for some time. But now, audience members race to the microphones set up for Q&A. The first person jumps excitedly. Words of gratitude pour out of their mouth as they thank one of the speakers. “I’m such a huge fan!!!” They want to thank the persona on stage for some previous words of encouragement. It changed their life…

I’ve seen this over and over again. People running up to their favorite actor, musician, author, podcaster, streamer, etc and gushing about how much the celebrity means to them. Why is it that fandom is able to lead to life change for so many people?

I believe it has to do with thoughts of belonging. Verbally or internally, we question ourselves. “Where do I belong? Does anybody understand me?” And as we live our lives, a scene, song, or statement comes up that strikes a chord. It stares us in the face, mirroring our emotional state. Mimicking us as we stand in disbelief.

Someone finally gets us. We’re not alone. We’ve found our people. Our home. We belong. And there are others like us. Other people who stand behind the same artist. Others in the fanbase to speak with. People who speak our language are here. No translation required.

A stray statement or artistic expression can affect our thought processes, sure. But does being a fan cause us to change our lives? I don’t think so. Truly life-changing experiences come about when we feel free to express ourselves in ways once thought unimaginable. We stand free of fear because those around us encourage change.

When we belong to a people who call us to something greater, then lives can be changed. It’s a community thing. We grow together. Stand strong together.

A person I know often spoke to me about the value of the church being more like a fan club than a business or a governing body. And though I don’t still 100% agree with him (about the fan club thing, I agree with the rest of it), I think that there’s something we followers of Jesus can learn from fandom.

When we know we belong, our lives will be forever changed.

Our job as followers of Jesus isn’t to make people change. No human being can make another person make any long-lasting change. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. We’re playing God when we try to make changes in a person’s life outside of our own.

Rather, Jesus calls us to love others, live beside others, accept others. We help them feel as though they belong. We get them. They’re not alone. They’re a part of us. We’re a family together. We speak their language.

We’re all sinful people, those who have been far from God. We followers of Jesus know what it is to strive to be like him. And we know what it is to fail at it. We’ve all been there. But then why do people around us (both those not following Jesus and those new to the experience) feel like they have to walk in perfection before they belong to the “in crowd?”

We followers of Jesus often lose sight of our love (fandom?) of him in our pursuit to keep pure the truth of God. And this growth makes us forget what it was like before God performed that change in our own lives (no matter how small a change it was).

So, when we see a person who has come to discover the life-changing love of God, let’s join with them in jumping up and down excitedly, giving graciously, speaking nearly incomprehensibly. But most of all, let’s help them feel as if they belong.

Life-change comes after belonging to the club.

No, not that kind of fandom.