Yesterday as I stood talking with some women at church, I felt something I haven’t felt for a very long time. A sense that I belonged. That “new girl” feeling was gone! I wasn’t a stranger trying to make conversation. Instead, a sense of joy filled me.
Community. There are so many sermons, blogs and books on the topic it’s overkill. My question is: Why is it so elusive, if that many people are talking about it?
Here’s my humble opinion. Feel free to agree or disagree.
Our world is fairly transient. People change jobs and move all the time. It means starting fresh. I’ve transitioned enough times to know that even going with a label or title such as “THE PASTOR’S WIFE” does not mean instant friends or community. You may have more introductions and avenues to get to know people but it still takes time. In my experience, it’s taken at least two to three years to know a new city, church or community. Not only do you have to get to know the area and it’s people but they have to get to know you! At the onset of a move you have a lot of time but those around you do not. Make the most of the time they give you! Accept it’s going to take a loooong time.
Churches today are also very transient. Unlike my Dad, who has gone to the same church for eighty-five years, many people change churches one or two times in their lifetimes. There are as many reasons for leaving churches as there are people in them! One complaint I do find interesting is “I don’t really feel like I fit in.” There is some legitimacy to this. I know the church is flawed because it’s filled with people with flaws. I know many have left because they didn’t feel accepted based on life choices. This complaint isn’t coming from people who left because of those reasons. The complaint is based on purely social reasons and I’m not saying it’s wrong or right. I get it but before you throw the towel in, listen to “the new girl”: you can’t wait for people to come to you. YOU HAVE TO REACH OUT to those around you and be willing to be vulnerable. I know you’re thinking, “That’s not right or fair. I’m the new person!” No, it’s not right or fair but it’s how things work. Consider it part of God’s upside kingdom. New people have to reach out to those around them. It’s along the lines that leaders are servants.
I have also used the “I’m an introvert” as an excuse for hiding out. The whole after church crowd is a nightmarish scenario that I flee from. The crowds mingling, people trying to talk to you only to get interrupted. People who know me but I can’t remember their names! Oh yeah, I run from it most Sundays because I walk away feeling stupid. I’ve said something that was dumb or couldn’t hear what was said, so I faked like I did which results in a weird glance from the other person. I called someone by the wrong name. I find it easier just to leave. As quickly as possible.
When I kick the “I’m an introvert – I vant to be alone” attitude and make an effort, it ends up being worth it. A smile goes a long way and that’s really all it takes.
Community however, doesn’t really form with these fifteen minute after church skirmishes. I have found that the friends I’ve made in the many different churches I’ve belonged to, I’ve made in groups. MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers), bible studies, committees, Christmas and Easter Productions to name a few. Most times it didn’t require much work. It just happened because there was time to get to know each other. Most of my friends, I met after I’d been at the churches a couple of years. It really does take time.
The group of women I was having fun talking to yesterday? We all go to bible study together. We range in age and life seasons and it makes it all the richer. They bring the best of me out into the open. I see the best in them. Their potential is breathtaking. We laugh and cry together. We try to wrap our minds around God’s incredible word that He gave to us. I have watched as these women have been the physical hands and feet of the Saviour they serve, to other women in the group and out in their own communities.
As I experienced yesterday, a sense of belonging is a powerful feeling. It lifts you up. It brings joy. It’s what God intended when He built the church as a foundation for His kingdom. Relationship. Belonging. Love.