“Let us stand and welcome one another into the Lord’s house today.”
If you grew up in Baptist church like I did, you are well aware of the time during the church services when you are asked to rise from your seat and greet visitors. You would usually turn to the person next to you or behind you and shake their hand politely and say welcome and then sit back down when the pastor prompted you. Whenever this time in the service came I would usually hug my friends, or walk across the sanctuary to smile and wave to some family friends or anyone else I knew along the way then hurry back to my seat.
My hometown church is a close knit community. Granted there were only about 200-300 church members so basically everyone knew everyone else. My family and I have been members there ever since I was a baby. There is such a strong sense of companionship and belonging. I was involved in all the church activities as a child and throughout high school. I never knew what it was like to be the outsider in a new place, but that was about to change when I reached my young adulthood.
Fast forward a few years, I relocated to new state 800 miles from home and I found myself sitting in the back row of a huge mega church in Florida. I was the definition of back row Baptist here. I didn’t know a single soul in the sea of this 10,000+ congregation. I felt just like a face in the crowd. Whenever I would work up the courage to go, I arrive right when the service started and bolted before the prayer time ended closing the service.
This situation reminds me of the song, If we are the body by Casting Crowns. Suddenly I was that girl who tried to fade into the faces or the man who slips into the back row, literally. This was a completely foreign situation to me. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. Anxiety would pulse through my body when it was time to greet everyone and many times I would simply run to the restrooms and hide so I could avoid it.
The question remains, how do you make people feel welcome? How can you ease their fear from being the new kid and the anxiety they feel from wondering if they will be accepted? It’s so much easier to stay at home and avoid going to church and putting yourself out there. There is a scene from the movie Pride and Prejudice where Mr. Darcy explains to Elizabeth Bennett that he doesn’t have the ability to converse well with others. She responds that he should practice.
I’ve learned that’s basically what it comes down to, is practicing. What has been helpful to me is texting a friend that I’m on my way to church and asking them to save a seat for me. That way I know someone one will be expecting me and I won’t be as tempted to skip out. Another thing is when everyone is going out to eat after church, try not to run off and do your own thing, do your best to make yourself available when these invitations arise.
A few others ways to meet new people, that I’ve tried is to get involved in some of the serving opportunities available at your church. Find something you’re really passionate about, whether that is serving in the children’s area, youth or college group, or music ministry. Whenever there were special events at church, which were part of serving in the community I would jump at the chance to volunteer. This past year I helped out at a Christmas party for foster children and served at a banquet for young women in the community who were single and needing some extra care.
It will take some time; it can be scary and overwhelming. Some people you meet will be one of those individuals who will seem to instantly belong. If you are more introverted, like I am, it might take a bit more effort. I am still learning in this process of seeking community, but slowly I understand how to open myself up and allow myself to be seen. We are all imperfect people, we all have fears and insecurities but we are all worthy of belonging in our church family.
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(Photo by DarrenFlinders)