A couple nights ago, I had the pleasant experience of being welcomed into “a place”, and reached out to. I was sitting by myself off to the side. (My spouse was present but was on the opposite side of the place participating in something.) I want to emphasize that I probably looked on the anti-social side, as I was by myself, out of the way, and half reading a book. First, a nice older gentleman came up and introduced himself to me and shook my hand. We had a brief but genuine conversation. A few moments later a lady came over and introduced herself as well. Then another woman came over, and not only introduced herself, but invited me to come across the room and join the group of people she was with. I was hesitant, but she was very friendly and welcoming….so I meandered over with her. The group welcomed me, pulled up a chair for me to sit in, and made me feel a part of things. I was made to feel at ease in an environment that is not a norm for me.
Contrast this… to some other recent experiences that we have had in visiting some “other places.” In visiting these other places, I was also a visitor and did not know anyone. But the reactions and responses were rather different. Here is a typical scenario: We receive a brief friendly greeting as we enter the establishment, but the friendliness does not go any farther. We go and sit down in the place. Does anyone come over to engage us in further conversation? – No. Does anyone say, “Hey! Come sit with us”? – No. We notice small groups of people talking with each other. Does anyone seem to notice our presence? If they did, there was no indication of it.
The first place was…a bar.
The second places were…churches.
I normally don’t hang out in bars. I was there for a billiards tournament. But the stark contrast between the bar and the churches really jumped out at me. It was glaring.
I also had another recent life experience, where a non-believer who only indirectly knew me (our husbands are friends) invited me to join her and her friends to attend a movie. She had heard through our husbands that I was “into” the same movie series as her, but I did not have any local friends who were fans of the series, so I went to the movies alone. So… she promptly contacted me and warmly welcomed me to join her and her friends when the next movie in the series came out. I met her in person for the first time at the restaurant we ate at before the movie. I thought it was very kind of her to reach out to me in this way. It was nice to be thought of and included, and I haven’t forgotten it.
Again, this experience and my general experiences with Christian believers are in contrast.
I don’t want to sound more negative than necessary. There are exceptions for sure! To a certain extent, I am forgetting positive experiences and focusing on the negative ones. Yet, the pattern is there. I know I am not the only one to have had experiences like this!
How can this be my friends? Why do church people often seem so cliquey? Why is it often so hard to “break into” the life of a church? How can Christians so often fail to notice the stranger in their midst? How can they be so oblivious to the person on the sidelines who needs to be drawn into the fellowship?
I’m really hoping to receive some responses here! Any “diagnosis”??
Maybe some Christians have been believers so long and live in such a tight Christian circle, that they are nervous or uncomfortable around non-believers? Or maybe some have attended the same church for so long and have such established friendships, that they have just forgotten what it is like to be a visitor or outsider?
Or maybe some Christians are just “too busy” in the church? I have seen Christians who seem to run from one church activity to another. And in their rush from activity to activity, I fear they have missed the mark. They are “doing” but not “being” Christians. They have no time to even notice that lonely person on the fringe.
Friendliness seems to come more naturally to some people than others. We all have different temperaments, personalities, and life experiences. Maybe something about Christianity attracts people who lack social skills? Maybe we need some classes within the church on how to be friendly, hospitable, and reach out to others?
I have actually thought about developing some type of lesson plan or curriculum which would be a combination of looking at biblical passages on the importance of compassion, along with drawing lessons from a book like the old Dale Carnegie classic “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”
What do you think? And thanks for listening.