As I reluctantly pushed myself out of the car door and towards the aging church building in front of me, my imagination began writing a low-budget horror movie script.
Sure, I’d looked at their website scanning for any signs of Christian-justified-insanity, but as anyone who’s ever online dated knows—sometimes the cray-cray ain’t surface level.
As I tried to move past the zone defense of the greeters, old man river extended his hand and held on.
“OH. OH are you NEW HERE?” he said, still not letting go as if I might escape before he could get my social security number. I wondered if he was having a seizure or if he truly had never seen a new person out in the wild before.
“Do you have questions? Do you want to meet our pastor?”
“Yeah, no thanks.” I said. “Just checking it out.”
Before I could even move, awkward-greeter-man now had his arm around me steering me right to the overly-whitened-teeth middle-aged pastor guy. Another handshake. Another dose of coffee breath.
“Are you looking for a new church?” the Pastor said.
Now officially annoyed, I said, “No, I was actually looking for Starbuck’s… do you have that here or…?”
He narrowed his eyes at me perhaps attempting to decode my millennial sarcasm before throwing his head back in laughter.
After finally making it into the service, I settled into enjoy a slightly below average worship band. As the service continued I rolled my eyes each of the FOUR TIMES the connect cards and free gift bags were aggressively announced.
And we wonder why church attendance is plummeting. Yiiiiiikes.
Okay, okay, okay, okay. So you all know about my well-documented church struggles. I wrote about them here. and here. (and here and here and here). You also probably know I am questioner (Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies), I have SO many questions about the way we do church and operate as believers.
And yet, deep in my bones I think I still believe in Church, like the actual church from the book of Acts. The church that cared for orphans and widows, that sent their best leaders out into the field rather than obsessively analyzing church attendance and giving levels.
For the past two years I have been without a church to call home. After selling my last fixer-upper house and moving twice in 10 months, I visited at least a dozen churches searching for my Michael Jackson “This is it” moment that never came.
Unfortunately, I quickly learned the life of the church nomad is rough and being new to a church is literally the worst thing ever. (You know after extreme poverty, sex trafficking, murder, war, genocide, and Watermelon Oreos obviously).
Honestly, I haven’t written much on the church in a long time. Thinking about all the hurt and struggle I’ve had with Christians and Church still makes me cry. Like a lot. And yet, if this whole blogging, speaking around the country thing has taught me anything, it’s that no matter what we are going through, we are never alone.
So today I share with you 8 Reasons Being New to a Church is LITERALLY the Worst Thing Ever.
1. People Are Overeager and Creepy
When I found my way back to church after college, I went because I felt like something was missing in my life. I was searching for something more than my current state of mundane existence.
I sat in my car, arguing with myself to open the door and walk in. I was terrified.
But people generally left me alone and I liked that. There was a place to get connected if I wanted to, but no one was cornering me. So I sat in the back row for weeks and just cried. And then eventually I wanted to stay and meet people.
Not everyone wants to be connected immediately. Sorry. Enough with the overeager, creepiness. Calm down.
Stop trying to “catch” new people like they’re a freaking Pokemon. Send your people out to talk to non-believers and spread love.
Put your energy into creating an energizing and refreshing worship experiences that create the opportunity for newcomers to experience God for themselves.
2.) Meeting People Sucks
But seriously though. If you’re one of those “OMG, I love meeting new people all the time, every day, it’s the best thing ever” types, probably don’t even talk to me.
While I’m not as Oscar the Grouch as I’m coming off in this article, meeting new people and making meaningful connection is genuinely hard no matter where you are, but especially in a church.
My experience in Church the last 10 years has been most Christians are judgy and exclusive. Whether that’s true in your church or not, that is the predominant feelings people have about Christians. So we have to change that perception (or reality) together through tangible change.
Create meaningful places for people to connect around a shared purpose like serving.
If you’re going to have groups, make sure you actually have a group that meets every demographic (or your groups are doing more harm than good).
Train a connect team to intentionally and authentically connect with people within your church walls, don’t just expect it to happen organically.
Get to know people’s strengths over time and invite them to serve in capacities that allow them to grow and utilize their talents.
3.) Churches are OBSESSED with Marriage and Babies.
Okay, comin’ in hot on this one: many churches are horrible to single people.
Our sermons are littered with suggestions on how to treat your husband and wife, but when’s the last time you heard a sermon on the importance and struggles of the single life? In our Christian revisionist history, we conveniently ignore Paul’s rant about marriage:
“Sometimes I wish everyone were single like me—a simpler life in many ways! But celibacy is not for everyone any more than marriage is. God gives the gift of the single life to some, the gift of the married life to others. I do, though, tell the unmarried and widows that singleness might well be the best thing for them, as it has been for me. But if they can’t manage their desires and emotions, they should by all means go ahead and get married. The difficulties of marriage are preferable by far to a sexually tortured life as a single.” -1 Corinthians 7:7 (MSG)
Single people MOVE the church and we reward them by dismissing their way of life time while simultaneously hounding them with passive aggressive comments about how they should, “Be more outgoing” and how, “It will happen for you someday.”
Now, being new and single to a church is pretty much a nightmare. The church should be a diverse place with people from all walks of life. If you’re saying, “We’re mostly a church of young families,” you’re an exclusive, not an inclusive community.
Find ways to intentionally affirm the singles in your community.
Be aware of how often “marriage advice” is spoken from the pulpit and search for a balance. Perhaps that message is better coming from a marriage group or retreat. (Looking for a couple to bring a life-changing marriage retreat to your church? Check out my friends Anguished Hearts)
Create a place for the singles in your community that is not contingent on their marital status and is not a dating group.
Stop elevating marriage and babies as everyone’s ultimate purpose and let people hear God’s call and will for their life.
4.) ENOUGH WITH THE FREAKING CONNECT CARDS.
Can i have your number, can i have it?
If you haven’t seen this classic MADTV sketch… it perfectly describes what it feels like to walk into a church these days.
If it’s my first time, I don’t want to be connected yet. I’m trying to hear the holy spirit tell me this is it, this is the place I have for you. I am trying to connect with my savior, whatever that might look or feel like to me.
I already searched your website, I know what you believe. If I have questions, I will ask.
The connect cards have become an embodiment of our fear and insecurity. Perhaps channel that anxiety into training disciples to go out into the community.
Take a deep breath.
Focus on ways that actually connect people to your church by providing easy access points such as community lunches or easy serving opportunities.
Create a video of what your church is about to play at the beginning of each service.
Highlight the good work your church is doing in the world that would get visitors excited to be a part of.