I walk into church and people are already talking to each other in their seats or in the lobby. They smile and laugh, happy to be in their own groups. Everyone belongs to a group. They sit together with the friends they’ve had for years. They make plans for lunch after service, patting themselves on the back for their good Christian efforts over the past week. And they nod as the pastor preaches his sermon, promising to do better, be more friendly this week. The pastor shakes their hands as they go out the door.
And yet, no one has tried to talk to me.
This is the scenario that many regular church-goers find themselves in. Church is meant to be the place where the sick and broken-hearted find healing, where the lost find their way, and where the lonely find friendship. However, some become broken-hearted, lose their way, and feel more alone when they are going to church. This is because they feel like they don’t belong.
This is not to say that everyone in all churches feel that they don’t belong. I know a number of people who feel like their closest group of friends is from church. But a need exists out there for inclusion, and we must fill that need.
As someone who straddles the fence between multiple denominations, I often feel like I don’t quite fit in. Growing up, I was very shy, but even as a kid I could tell instantly when someone genuinely cared. As soon as I felt like someone was faking it, I didn’t trust them.
As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I go to multiple congregations with different types of music. But while the music differs, people in groups are very much the same. In each congregation, there are people who I feel are genuinely warm and caring, there are people who I instantly feel are faking it, there are people who don’t reach out and stay within their circle. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure that those who don’t reach out are also warm and caring to the people within their circle. I can see that from afar as they laugh and get lunch together. But there’s a clear distinction between those who fit in that circle and those who don’t. It’s as if we are the ones in charge, and not God.
What if I were a non-believer visiting for the first time? Would I believe that Christians actually love me? Would I want to come back?
And, furthermore, what if I’m not a newcomer? Those who have attended that same church for years, who might also be shy, get passed by unnoticed by people who don’t really reach out. If I had a nickel every time someone from the church has asked me “How are you doing?” without wanting to talk longer than 15 seconds, I’d be a millionaire by now.
I’m not a millionaire.
Truth is, we all want to belong somewhere. It’s easy to fall into the thinking of: We’re the ones who’ve worked hard to find friends, and now we have friends. Why should I try to make more friends? We’re so scared of not being included, that in our attempt at maintain comfort, we end up excluding other people. Why invite that person to lunch if they might say no? What if my friends like them better than they like me? What if I don’t end up liking this person?
But God does not call us to be comfortable. If Jesus expected Peter to ‘step out of the boat’ (Matthew 14), then he expects the same of us. God calls us to step out of our comfort zone, because that’s where he is most present. It’s when we shift our sight from Jesus that we start to sink. “Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt?'” (Matthew 14:29-31).
We must be ready to open our heart to new friendships instead of thinking we’ll fail. We must be ready to feel awkward and uncomfortable. Believe me, I know this is not easy. I’m still working on it myself. But remind yourself that Jesus will work through the uncomfortable to bring you closer to Him. I made some my best friendships because I stepped out of my comfort zone for a minute or two, just to say hi. And suddenly they felt less alone, and so did I. You will surprise yourself.
Everyone belongs in the church because God loves all of us. We are meant to work together as one unit, one body (1 Corinthians 12:12-13), one spirit. Easier said than done. How can we work together as a unit if there are those who feel isolated, right in front of our faces? “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” There are no divisions in Christ. This is not a choice – this is a commandment.
We are meant to work together. Let’s keep our eyes on Jesus. We won’t sink if we do.
Do you struggle with stepping out of your comfort zone? Comment below and share this post!
11 thoughts on “Looking at the Church: Do You Feel Like You Belong?”
Very good points. I have to remind myself, sometimes more often than I like to admit, that this life is too short to wait for someone to talk to me. And the co-mission is too important to not reach out to other people. Even in church!
Yes! We must reach out all the time. Thank you for commenting, Ed. 🙂
I went through a season where I absolutely despised going to church for this very reason. I would cry and ask my husband if we could not ever go back. I was not in a good place at the time. Now, looking back I can see that those people who hurt me were actually hurting and suffering just as much as I was.
Oh I’ve so been there! My heart goes out to you. I feel like some of the worst kind of hurt we go through comes from the church – mainly because we don’t expect it from a place that’s supposed to be loving.
Thank you for reaching out and sharing. I hope you have found a home church that helps to heal you and be your Christian family.
I really liked this post. When I moved away for college, I left a church family where everyone was close and belonged, and everyone loved everyone like family. Since I moved to a different place I’ve struggled finding a church that feels like a family. I’ve been in churches were literally no one said a word to me from start to end. I’ve been in churches that almost made it seem like I wasn’t welcome there. But I’ve also been to churches where it seems fake. A perfect church doesn’t exist and I learned that. So while I haven’t returned to some of the unwelcoming churches, I also shifted my view realizing I am there for God, not people anyway.
I’m really glad that I read this because it reminded me that I’m not alone in the struggle for searching and desiring a welcoming and family-like church!
Thank you so much for commenting! When people like you reach out, it makes me feel less alone, too. I pray you’ll find your church family soon. Something that has helped me is changing my definition of ‘family’. It’s okay to not feel included by everyone in a church, as long as I have at least two other people I can call friends. So I also pray that, at the very least, you’ll find your circle.
Feel free to contact me any time (at my contact page) if you need a listening ear. I’m here!
Excellent perspective! All church-goers need to keep this in mind. I’m a pastor’s wife and in the middle of your post, I stopped to shoot a text to one of our people who seem to be shy and also carrying a lot. Thank you!
I’m so glad you liked the post, and that it inspired you to reach out to one of your church members! This is what we need – more hands to reach to the lost and lonely. Thank you for sharing!
I appreciate your post. I am an introvert as well and can often feel out of the loop too. I tend to wait for people to come to me. However I have come to realize that I need to step out and make the effort to talk with others and get included rather than wait. I agree that it is so important to look out for new people and those not feeling a part of the church.
This is a good article on feeling rejected in church. Seems lately that finding where you fit in is so difficult. Bottom line is I must keep my eyes in Jesus and remind myself He is the reason I go to church. All else will fall into place at the right time. Thanks everyone for your posts, they’ve been helpful.
Thank you, Julz! Your encouragement is much appreciated. It seems that where we belong is a lifelong journey, but we can take comfort in knowing that we belong with Jesus.