While I was thinking about friendship the other day, I realized that it works only so much as both parties are willing to operate on that level. One of the hardest things for a new person to do at an established church is to try to connect to already established groups of believers. They have to let you in in their circles – but that’s not always a given.
It’s a common enough scenario – there’s a new person at church who just keeps on coming. Just when you had the existing groups the way you liked it – you have figure out how to fold into the group the new person without throwing off the dynamic. But the reality is that whenever somebody new or different shows up and begins to integrate in a group, the dynamic will adjust itself accordingly.
I’m not even sure there are books written yet on how to get a church to accept you or on how churches can be a more welcoming environment to outsiders. But a conversation like this one will not do:
“Hey, I wanted to ask you, what’s her face – how long has she been coming here? Three months?”
“I thought it was five or six months.”
“Do you think that there’s some way we could use her? Get her plugged in and involved around here?”
“I’m pretty sure that Kate’s always looking for help in the nursery, but whatever her name hasn’t seemed interested in it. Everyone else doesn’t really need any help.”
“Hmm. That’s what I thought. Thanks anyway.”
Churches usually have a good idea of how new people can help them, but not the other way around – how a Church could help a new person. And they limit the avenues of ministry anyway so much so that if you don’t fit what they happen to need, then there’s nothing you can really do. Which doesn’t help you score any points with the insider crowd who tend to interpret a lack of interest in plugging into their existing ministries as spiritual apathy.
The approach is all wrong from the get-go. For one, a person shouldn’t be left waiting upwards of six, nine or more months before the church get interested in working with them as opposed to using them for something. If you’re going to be working with someone, you kind of have to get to know them, what they like, and what they’re interested in. In my case, many of my churches cared more about using me in the nursery than working with my interest in languages as a basis for helping me choose which ministry to serve in. Unsurprisingly, these churches are shocked when they realize that I do have quite a bit of skill in another language. But what good does it do me given that their predisposed to believe that my role is to serve in the nursery or not at all? Not only that, but used to feel like they didn’t care about me personally beyond what they could have me do for them.
There’s also the element of having room or making room for one more. Whenever a group sees itself as complete, it might see any outsider wanting in as an element of discord meant to interrupt their harmony. If a group recognizes that they are incomplete, they might be more willing to allow outsiders in.
One problem I had seen in my previous churches is that the groups were pretty one-dimensional, usually in agreement about everything, and didn’t have diversity of thought because of it. That’s a dangerous reality for anyone to live in. It lacks balance and perspective. It’s very much a go along to get along situation where anyone who doesn’t agree doesn’t really deserve to be in the same church. And that’s why it’s so hard to be accepted by a church; all too often it seems that even they don’t want you there with them. Trust me, once they understand that message; they’ll be out of the door before you know it – and things can get back to normal without any outsiders messing up the harmony of the insiders.