A few weeks ago I had lunch with a couple of friends. While catching up on our busy lives, one of the ladies remarked that she felt like church was the loneliest place on earth. She is a youngish widow and often splits her church attendance between two of the largest churches in Southern California, yet, in a crowd of thousands she feels alone.
I can understand how that would happen. Families and friends seek each other out in such large crowds. They like to sit in the same general vicinity each week. Once they meet, whether it has been a day, a week, or longer there are usually happy hugs and exclamations of joy at seeing one another again. Small talk fills the time until the service starts and once the service has ended they exit together in order to talk more outside and to greet other acquaintances.
While there is no conscious thought of ignoring others around them, the truth remains that those sitting alone on the outskirts of such happy gatherings feel ignored. It isn’t anyone’s fault. That’s just how it is.
But, is that how it should be? I don’t want to guilt trip anyone, really. I’ve been on both sides of the spectrum. I have been ignored and I have ignored.
So, what can we do? Several suggestions come to mind.
1. Before walking into the church, pray for God to open your eyes to not only see, but to notice the people around you. Eye contact is so important. A smile and a nod acknowledges the existence of others. We all need to be acknowledged.
2. Before church pray for those who will be attending the service. Ask God to meet their needs, touch their hearts, and woo those who may not yet be believers. Praying for others takes our focus off ourselves. Win-win.
3. Pray for boldness to approach strangers. A quick hello, handshake, and name exchange takes a few seconds, but can leave a lasting impression. I am not an extrovert so I have to force myself out of my comfort zone at times, but I’m always glad I did. A warm welcome is infinitely better than a cold shoulder!!
4. Ask God for a divine appointment. We never know who needs a hug, a word of encouragement, or a timely prayer. Get used to being used! It is addicting.
5. Look around for those who may be sitting alone before the service begins. Don’t be afraid to approach them. It may be their first time attending the church or they may be waiting for someone. Either way, you will have made contact. Then be sensitive. Perhaps God will direct you to sit with them, ask them to join your family, or to meet in the courtyard after church to share a cup of coffee. This is another way of acknowledging someone’s presence. It is just plain awkward to sit by yourself in a church where everyone seems to know each other.
6. After the service, look around for people standing by themselves. My first inclination is to look for a familiar face and make a beeline in that direction. Resist the urge. Again, a smile and eye contact might be all that is necessary or God might be directing you to go a little deeper by striking up a conversation. You will know you are on the right track when you see the smile and relief light up their eyes. It feels good to be noticed.
7. Ask God, “How can I let you love me and to love others through me today?” This is the motto at Adventure Christian Church in Roseville, California. I love it! We want to feel God’s love in our lives everyday; however, we need to be open to receiving His love. Likewise, we can show God’s love to others if we allow Him to show us how best to offer that love. Don’t limit God!
There are so many more ways we can help others to feel welcomed in our church. Just use your imagination and be sensitive to the Holy Spirit. You never know who He might direct you to meet. Your new best friend might be the stranger sitting next to you.
I’d love to hear your suggestions and your stories. We can all do a better job of being “other minded” when it comes to loving each other in the church. We can change our church from being the “loneliest place on earth” to the “most welcoming place on earth”. It begins with me………and you.