Location, location, location. That is not just a slogan for real estate salespeople, it is the reason for Nashville being one of the largest music hubs in the known world. Why? A one day’s tour bus ride in any direction out of Nashville can land you in over one third of the venues across America for your next gig. But if you are on the road for most weekends playing those venues, what do you do for church when you are back home in Nashville? Enter Henry and Alex Seeley, they have created a unique church home for just such people. [WM] caught up with the founding pastors of The Belonging Co at their home base
in Nashville TN.
[Eric Dahl for Worship Musician Magazine] How did you come up with the name The Belonging Co?
[Henry Seeley] I’ll tell you a little bit of the back story of the church. We moved to Nashville in 2012 and had been part of a big worship movement in Australia for a long time. We felt God steering us to move to Nashville, and we had no idea what that looked like. In fact, we had been asking God to give us some clear parameters as to what that would look like, and He just said, “Do you trust me if I tell you to go?”
The first year we were here I was traveling, leading worship and mixing records for people. We got to know quite a few musicians and artists here in Nashville that were traveling on the weekends. A lot of them felt disconnected from a local church family because they were not around on weekends. A lot of them were running on empty because they didn’t have anyone, or any family pouring into them. For Alex and I, that really struck a chord in our hearts of wanting to see these people find a framework that could sow into them and build a community – in the season that they were in.
We felt that God stirred us about just starting on Tuesday nights with a small group in our home. We started with a handful of people on Tuesday night, not knowing or expecting that it was going to grow much beyond that. For about a year we met on Tuesday nights and grew and grew. Out of that we saw that God was building something that we didn’t expect, and what seemed to be a church community.
We began to unpack this whole idea that Jesus gave people a place to belong even before they believed. The disciples didn’t really have a full understanding of who He was as the Savior, or the Messiah. But He still gave them the opportunity to have a sense of belonging long before they fully believed in who He was. That really resonated with us, from the viewpoint that the church sometimes wants people to get their life together before we give them a place to belong. I’m not certain this is Jesus’ way of doing things. He is about giving people a place to find that sense of belonging, and through that, get to know a deep understanding of who Jesus is.
The word “company” raises a few eye brows from time to time. It’s not company in the sense of a business word. The original meaning for “company” comes from a military term and this sense of a brotherhood of people who fight together and share a meal together. We were talking about that word, and it struck a chord for us, because that really is what the church is. We’re an army of believers who stand together, fight together for each other and break bread together through fellowship.
[WM] Were you and Alex both born and raised in Australia?
[Henry] Yes, we spent most of our lives in Adelaide (Australia) and in 2003 we moved to Melbourne (Australia). We were there in Melbourne for nine years, and we’ve been in Nashville for almost six years now.
[WM] What year was The Belonging Co officially launched?
[Henry] We started meeting in the basement of our house in November 2012, and continued through 2013 in our home. We officially launched as a church in February of 2014, and the church is about three and a half years old.
[WM] How did you get the word out about the church?
[Henry] Honestly, we did very little to get the word out. It was more just the word of mouth of people who had come and had a life changing encounter with God. Through that, God was just doing things in their lives, and we saw marriages get restored and people who had carried a lot of brokenness break free. People were getting physically healed, and God was doing things just as we came together and met and we gave Him space to do what He wanted. Through that, people were having a significant transformation in their lives and that was evident to the people around them. It was that testimony that got the word out.
[Alex Seeley] It was the testimony because people’s lives were changed. We only invited five people that we knew at the time, and the rest of the year we never invited another person. Yet we had hundreds of people visit in a year at our house. We never gave out our address, we didn’t have a flyer, we didn’t provide any details. It was literally people’s lives getting changed, and then talking about it to their friends, and their friends saying, “I must come check this out!” It was just like a domino effect. The church grew very organically, much like the Acts church. Where the Holy Spirit moved, people’s lives were changed, and they spoke of it. It was amazing!
[WM] So through testimony the word spread, and from five people it grew?
[Alex] And they just happened to be mainly creatives (laughter).
[Henry] Which is not hard in a town like Nashville.
[WM] For musicians, it seems like Tuesday would be a better fit, because on weekends you are either playing shows or traveling.
[Henry] That was what we really found. I met Jesus when I was 18 or 19 and have been heavily involved in a local church ever since. That has put life into my life. Moving here to Nashville, we saw how many people didn’t have that sense of spiritual input, atmosphere, or environment where that could be fostered. It was a shock to me that there were so many people in the creative world that didn’t have that. Sometimes, it’s more on them needing a bit of encouragement to get in the community and commit to that. Creatives don’t always like to be the most committed people. There are quite a few creatives in our church, but as it has grown it’s become more than just a musician’s church. People from many other walks of life are a part of our church now. We have several thousand people that are part of our congregation on a Tuesday night or Sunday afternoon.
[Alex] We have a large online community as well.
[Henry] I don’t know, but probably hundreds. We know of people that are literally in every genre of music who are attending. For me, that was a bit of a wrestle at first, because we ended up with so many musicians. I’d never been in a church where you had almost too many musicians. Most people are clamoring to find enough musicians. I had to ask, “God how do we steward these people in a way that allows them to be part of the church community?” Through that, I came to realize that not everyone’s outlet is going to be on the stage as part of a worship team, and that’s okay. In the church, traditionally we’ve set the platform up to be the most important part of church life. We have to realize that is not the case. There are people called to minister from a worship point of view, and there are people called to be outside the four walls of the church ministering, and not necessarily in a Christian music realm. They minister to people through a completely different outlet of music. That’s been an interesting part of the journey for us.
[WM] How do you cope with the “celebrity” congregation members?
[Henry] I think that’s a bit of a Nashville thing. Traditionally, our town has been a little bit like that. We’ve been vigilante about not allowing that as part of our church culture. It took us a little while to really establish that. We would remind the people who were coming that outside of church walls people are who they are, but inside church we’re all here for Jesus. We’re not here to rub shoulders with celebrities, name drop, or further our careers; we are here to worship God. From the most well-known to the least known, we all have one purpose in coming to church, and that’s to worship God.
[Alex] We’ve cultivated that just through who Henry and I are, because it was God’s divine instruction for us. He had two Australian’s that really don’t understand the whole Christian music world, or the Christian celebrity thing. It’s pretty foreign to us. People of notoriety would come when we were in our basement, and we didn’t know who they were. Once we did find out who they were, we didn’t treat them any differently. We realized that even when somebody is gifted they still must develop character and a heart towards God. So, we lead them just as we do a person needing Jesus without a creative gift.
It resonated with the person that has the gift. They felt like, “Oh my goodness, this is the first place I’m attending where I’m known for me and not my gift.” It created a safe haven for them. But also, we didn’t use it as leverage to gain popularity with an outside crew just because they attended. We tried to kill the idea of a celebrity culture, because every person has a God image. We’re all image bearers, and we’re all to be celebrated. We’ve been very intentional to honor people in all walks of life and see the gold inside of them. When they come to church they are off the clock. That’s what they do, that’s not who they are.
Don’t take a photo of someone just because it makes you feel better about yourself so your friends can go, “Wow! You met so and so!” Put away the camera. Put away the nonsense of autographs and just get to know people. It’s created a beautiful, safe place, and that’s why so many have been drawn. It’s been a very beautiful thing, and it is a very healthy church. We have this beautiful story recently where a girl was involved in prostitution and she came into our church because she thought it was a nightclub. She had just finished work and she was downtown, thought we were a nightclub, and walked in. She was welcomed by people and she was ushered up to the third or fourth row. Once she was seated she was like, “Oh my goodness! I’m in the wrong place. I don’t belong here!” But she could not deny the love of people and the love of Jesus. And then Henry got up and had a prophetic word for her. He stood up and pointed her out and said, “I don’t know you, but the Lord just wants to tell you you’re going to be used mightily for His name and glory.” She left that place absolutely dumbfounded with the love of God and people. Today she is saved and goes around America telling her story of redemption and salvation. It shows that it doesn’t matter what you come in looking like, or your past story. Everybody needs to be honored and celebrated, and that’s the beauty of the Belonging Co.
[Henry] That’s a good question (laughter). I’m sure there will be more music coming out. The whole journey, even with this first record, is that we never set out to do a record. We got to the point where we had all of these songs that were coming out of the life of our church. They were songs that people had been writing out of response to what God was doing. Once we had those songs, we put them together and released it. We approached it a little bit differently than some places do. Many people set a deadline and then work back from that, trying to complete the songs in time. We were more like, “Let’s see. . . When we have enough songs that we believe are going to impact the church on a wider scale, then we’ll release it.”
Our team is writing all the time, and we already have a bunch of new songs that we’re working on now. Maybe in the next year or two there’ll be another Belonging Co record, or we might just release singles.
[WM] Are you signing up artists, or just pulling songs and artists from the congregation?
[Henry] We’re not really signing anyone. Nashville is an interesting place because there are so many creatives who are artists in their own right, and even our worship team is made up of people like that. We believe in empowering and releasing people to go and do what they’re called to do outside of the church. Then, when they are inside the church, they are part of our worship team. We work to find that balance of allowing people to do what they’re called to do, both outside and inside in the church. Many of our worship leaders are already signed with labels, and that was an interesting part of the process for us. Working together with most of the major Christian labels here in town to figure out how to get this album done was a process. It was new territory, and people were amazing to work with.
We had moments where we were all sitting there thinking, “How do we do this, and how does this make sense for everybody involved?” It’s been a wild ride.
[Henry] Yeah (laughs) we live in this funny tension where five years ago we had no idea that we’d be Pastors five years later, if that makes sense. We are believing and trusting that God knows better than we do. We have a sense of what God is up to, and that there is a lot of this that would make sense in quite a few other cities, so we’re open to that. We don’t have any formal plans. We’re just praying to see what God has for us, even in 2018 in Nashville as church is expanding. I would love to say that we have these grandiose plans to take over the world, but we’re taking it step by step right now and making sure that every step we take is right. God’s in no hurry, and we’re in no hurry! That has been one of the things with the online presence. When we first started, I was not keen on the idea of an Internet church until we realized that many of our people are traveling for months at a time. They still want to remain connected and plugged into church life. We began streaming church from an iPhone, literally taped to a microphone stand in the back of the room. It was not pretty, but it was enough for people to take part in church wherever they were on the road. We realized that we can have an impact in people’s lives that are not planted here in Nashville. It’s been incredible to hear the stories of people from all over the world streaming the church. People have flown from Sweden, Australia, and different places to come to our conference. That is the part of where you go, “Who knew?”
[WM] Are both of your services streamed live, and are they archived too for later viewing?
[Henry] Yes that is correct. We have the messages online. We did have the worship online for a while, but we were trying to navigate that as we were writing and releasing new songs before they were ready to be out. We ended up taking the worship off of the archives.
[Henry] It was one of the reasons we wanted to get the album out. So that people had access to the worship music.
[WM] How do you and Alex divide up the pastoral duties with the services, as far as teaching?
[Henry] We definitely lead the church together, and we love that we get to lead it together. Alex is an incredible speaker. and in the early days was much more comfortable speaking than I was. I’ve spent the last twenty years leading worship, not preaching. We believe in raising up a team. Alex and I both preach on a regular basis, and we have other members of our team preach as well. We’re not a church built around one speaker. That is not our vibe. Different people carry different elements of the ministry gifts in their lives. Some are teachers, Pastors, or apostles within the church.
[WM] How do you balance the message and the music?
[Henry] I believe music and message, word and worship, are tied together. Even the way we run service, it is just one big flow. We invest into the lives of our worship team and have released them with the understanding that they are leaders in the church. They carry a weight and a responsibility in the life of our church as much as someone who is preaching. We don’t just pull people up on stage that are talented. We want people that understand the weight and authority of what it means to lead people into the presence of God, and we take that seriously. Sometimes we mistake talent for authority. It’s easy to slip into the mode of, “Here’s the run sheet, and here’s the song list,” and the goal becomes giving a great presentation. It’s not that we don’t want church to be great, we absolutely do, and we bring our best. But I think people confuse excellence for perfection.
[Alex] Because Henry has been a worship leader his whole life, the way this started in the basement was very pure. He’s been able to develop a team that flows and leads by example. We would bring all the leaders to our house and minister to their hearts. The bible says that out of the heart flow the issues of life, so we need to guard it. You can be gifted as the best singer or musician in the world, but these issues of the heart impact your authority to lead. That’s why you can have two people sing a song, and one person it resonates and another person it doesn’t. We don’t see worship as a filler, we see it as a softening of hearts so that when the word is preached we’ve created an atmosphere for the seed to be planted and produce its fruit. We have had people physically healed in worship, being rid of anxiety and fear. It’s incredible what happens in worship. There should be less of us and more of God, so we try and get out of the way and give the Holy Spirit room to move.
[Alex] If they are in Nashville, they are welcome to come. If they are out of town, just stream in.
[WM] Are all denominations welcome?
[Alex] Yes, of course. And all non-believers are welcome too.
The Belonging Co has carved out a unique niche in the church community of Nashville thanks to the leadership of Henry and Alex Seeley. The recently released album All the Earth is sold everywhere music is available and can be purchased as the full album or individual songs. If you would like to visit the church online, their website is www.thebelonging.co where they provide conferences, news, a store, and TBCO TV. Sometimes the expectation is that we expect people to come to the church to find the message, but in this case the message went to find the flock at a time and place that fit their lives. We all want to feel that we belong in the grace of God. What better way to do it than in the company of others seeking the same? The Belonging Co may be the first of a new breed of church that doesn’t fit what was once considered the norm, but has found followers that no one else knew were there.