This is a quick “vent” post. I’ve already blogged extensively on welcoming people into the church, the idea of fellowship, problems with cliquishness in the church, and the like. See the category to the right side: Christian fellowship/church life.
Churches (and the small groups within them) can be terribly cliquey, where it can be hard to assimilate, unless you happen to meet the characteristic of the clique. Many can share frustrating stories of isolation, and an inability to assimilate despite trying (very hard) to do so and jumping through hoops. But I don’t want to rehash former posts. Rather, this is what I’ve been thinking about lately…
Over the years, I have observed churches receive suggestions for improvement on a variety of issues. Certain people out there are just complainers, and I am not talking about them, but more legitimately presented concerns. I’ve seen concerns taken seriously, and efforts made to address or correct the problems.
BUT NOT concerns about unfriendliness, cliquishness, etc!
My experience personally, observationally, and by listening to others is that this type of concern is almost always responded to defensively.
“How dare you make such an accusation! We ARE a friendly group!”
The person or family who brought the concern is immediately blamed. They did not try hard enough. They did not do what they were supposed to do. Even if they actually did try hard and jumped through all the hoops – that is ignored – and other blame placed. They are described as demanding and self-centered, or as having an entitlement mentality. “The church isn’t all about you, ya know!” These things may be directly or indirectly communicated.
To give one example, years ago when a family expressed concern about the cliquishness of a church, a leader quoted Proverbs 18:24 (KJV) to them: “A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly.” In other words, they were not friendly and it was their fault – not the church’s fault.
Just rambling and thinking out loud…Why can other concerns often be accepted with minimal defensiveness, and changes made…but not this one??
Why such terrible offense, indignation, and blaming when the concern is unfriendliness??
Maybe I’ll delete this post later. But just felt “the need” to share it for now.
*** There was so much interest that I did not delete it, and continuing thoughts are shared in another post.
Whether you delete this or not, it really spoke to me!
I think that’s what makes the “outcast” problem worse, actually – the sense that no matter how hard you try or what you do, if you don’t fit in that it’s somehow your fault. Or that you’re wrong for wishing for something more or different. It’s that issue of burden: the idea always seems to be that the burden is on the visitor/newbie to *make* themselves belong, rather than on the larger group. Which seems…very backwards, and not a really welcoming or Christlike way of dealing with people.
What I would love to hear as a response to complaints about unfriendliness/cliqueishness would be something like this: “You know, I don’t think any of us realized or even believed we gave off that impression, but if that’s what you sense it’s something serious! Please, tell us what we can do to be a little more inclusive and welcoming. We don’t want to leave anyone out.”
That’s not that hard!
I just found your comment while looking in my wordpress dashboard – which I only do every so often. I have no idea how I did not see your comment, as it was actually the first one for this post!! It was stuck in “pending.” Sorry about that. I need to check my dashboard comment section a bit more often, and not rely only on the little “bell” at the top. Several times I have also found a comment in spam that was not spam.
Anyways, your thoughts are spot on! Yes, why is the burden placed on the newbie?! It is backwards. It would be so refreshing to hear a response like the one you offer.
Hah! It’s no problem at all. The bell doesn’t always show my comments, either – I’ll find them weeks after the fact. And I was using a new browser recently and realized half my comments to people weren’t even posting because of it. Ah, technology.
Hi Laura. This comment is somewhat related to your post. I visit different churches, but I have been going to one for weeks, and it has three morning services: 8:30, 10:00, and 11:30. The first one is always friendly: I walk in, and I am greeted by about everyone there. The next two are not as friendly. It somewhat baffles me why this is the case, but it may be because people are more geared up at the beginning, and then enthusiasm wears down.
That said, I’ve been going to the 10:00 one. I wish it were more friendly, but the 8:30 one is just overload for me: yikes!
Thanks for sharing! Perhaps with bigger churches, individual services can end up almost like different churches. But you’d think the general atmosphere of friendliness (or not), would prevail.
You are so right Laura-churches are full of cliques and the individual or family that fails to fit the mold and be admitted is forever on the outside looking in no matter how hard they try. I don’t really understand why this is unless it’s because sometimes Christians feel that “out in the world” they have to try so hard to be “a good example for Jesus” that when they get inside the church walls they feel like they can let their hair down, so to speak.
It’s a shame whatever the reason.
Thanks for your comments Melanie. It is a shame. The problem is so obvious and glaring to some, but others are blinded to it.
The best comment I have heard in relation this sort.of thing is :
” Everybody is welcome to come to our church….but not everyone is welcome to stay…”
That’s a good way to describe superficial vs genuine friendliness!
Reblogged this on James' Ramblings.
Break Up the Fallow Ground said:
This is so sad but all too true!
This problem is so evident to some of us, but it is frustrating that so many church leaders can only be defensive and fail to see the lonely and marginalized.
Pingback: How dare you say we are not friendly! Continuing thoughts – be aware. | Enough Light
Elle E. Kay said:
Please don’t delete this post. It needed to be said. I’m an introvert. Scared of new people and have found myself on both sides of this issue. I’ve felt isolated and weird attending new churches where I wasn’t welcomed, but I’ve also been too shy/scared to properly welcome new people to our church. I’ve been working on it, as I know it is a weakness of mine.
The church I attend is the only one where I was welcomed warmly and it is a big part of why I stayed. It’s been five or six years now.
Thanks for letting me know! Since there has been so many comments, I am definitely keeping the post up – and have even written 2 more posts with continuing thoughts.
Pingback: How dare you say we are not friendly! final thoughts (part 3) | Enough Light