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!