I was new to church once. No, actually, seven times. Longing for friends.
I’m not shy per say, but even so, I couldn’t escape the uncomfortable, self-conscious, outsider feelings. I’d look around at happy people chatting in their circles, knowing we might be great friends down the road, yet so unsure in the awkward now.
If people didn’t make eye-contact and reach out with a handshake and smile, I had to decide if I would make the first move or busy myself with a quick dig through my purse.
I’m forever indebted to the dear souls who, after seeing me a few Sundays in a row, came up to me and introduced themselves or even invited our family to join them for lunch.
How long has it been since were the outsider? If you’ve never left your home church, or have been in the same place for a number of years, you might have to work a little harder to put yourself in the newcomer’s shoes.
Here are five things I wished I could have shared with you as I became a part of your community:
- You’re intimidating. I know you’re not trying to be — in fact, you may be more timid than me, but by virtue of the fact that you are at home here and I’m not, I find it incredibly hard to approach you.
- I may look cool, calm, and collected, maybe even aloof, but I’m fervently hoping that some warm friendly soul comes my way.
- Any little gesture of friendliness you offer goes a long way. Even a quick, genuine smile or a “hello” with eye-contact is huge.
- If you engage me in real conversation or invite me to lunch or coffee, I’ll respect you forever.
- I come with a story — with baggage, like we all do. I’m probably not going to find it easy to open up about it, but I would love for you to ask me how I’m doing and lead the way for me to share more of myself with you.
It’s interesting… as I went through the early lonelier weeks in each place, I vowed that once I belonged, I would be the friendly one. Once I was assimilated into each church though, I realized how hard it was to keep that promise.
- I really do understand that it’s more fun to talk with your friends than it is to reach out to a stranger.
- I feel the stretch of leaving my comfort zone when I ask someone if they’re new and try to get a conversation started.
- I’ve embarrassed myself more than once by welcoming people who had been members for decades, or forgetting I introduced myself to the same person a couple weeks ago.
But, I’m learning it’s all necessary. Humbling and necessary.
It’s part of looking out for the interests of others.
It’s an act of obedience, it causes me to grow, it blesses others, and it brings wonderful new friends.