Whenever you start to become a part of a new community, it is hard. There’s a period when you’re “just starting,” then you move into a “I think I sort of understand what’s going on” stage. During these stages, you may dip your toes into different groups and try to find a groove, your place. I’ve found that this is the stage where I despair. Nothing seems to fit just right; I feel like I don’t truly know anyone and I think that I’ll never be able to truly be involved.
Joining a new church can feel like this. Everyone already seems to know one another deeply and be comfortable with one another; spending time and speaking up in Bible study feels awkward. I want to assure you that you are not intruding; it’s just as awkward for everyone else.You are wanted there. Here are some things I am continually reminding myself when joining new communities.
Keep Showing Up
It took me a year and a half to start showing up consistently at the Bible study for my college church. As a freshman, it was intimidating to join a group of mostly juniors and seniors as they shared their personal lives and studied Scripture intently. I avoided going most of my freshman year, maybe going once. Honestly, nothing totally flipped the switch and made me feel comfortable; I just started showing up more consistently to Bible study on Wednesday nights. It didn’t happen overnight, but bit by bit as I kept going, I found it easier to participate. And when I started showing up and participating, I found that I could better relate to the people next to me. Who would have thought that actually talking to people at church could make me feel more comfortable there? And before I could pinpoint what made me nervous in the first place, I realized I was no longer uncomfortable.
We are meant to be in community with others who believe in Jesus Christ. But since all sin and fall short, the church is often not great at welcoming outsiders into their community in authentic and simple ways. Unfortunately, sometimes this means that the burden is on the outsider. This means that we all need to keep showing up, even if you feel uncomfortable for a while.
Speak Up and Enter In
I’ve also found that you must speak up where you want to enter in. I’m preaching to myself here, especially as I gear up to move and join a new church. There are things I have a passion for doing, and I want to be able to use this passion in service to the church. But the fear of being told, “No, you can’t do that,” or interrupting a machine that was working well to find a spot for me, has been a barrier at previous churches. I feel like everyone is more equipped than I am to be involved in these spots in the church. Considering my past of not growing up in the church, having very little religious training or experience in church roles, and just good ole imposter syndrome have left me paralyzed and unable to move deeper.
But I have realized that I am expecting my life to follow a storyline like a fictional book. I have watched opportunity pass by as I wait for someone to call on me and ask me to lead in the specific way that I wanted to but wasn’t brave enough to go for on my own. So believe me when I say that I know this is hard. It may feel awkward, and you have to also be prepared to hear “no” or “not right now,” but if you want to do something, please speak up! There is space for you.
It is easy to put the blame on church leadership, other members, or even the topic of Bible study. And sometimes that is fair criticism. And when it is fair criticism, we need to remember that we all fall short. If you were in their position, you might do the same thing. Give your church grace as Jesus taught. Now I’m not saying you should ignore issues. Bring up your experience in a way that reflects the best construction so that the issues can be addressed. But your church is full of imperfect people and that includes you. Give them grace and remember that sinful people are a reflection of a broken world. Someday all tears will be wiped away and we will worship Jesus in perfect harmony. And when that day comes when you no longer feel uncomfortable and have found your place in your new church, don’t forget to watch for new people going through what you just went through, and go out of your way to make them more comfortable.