How do you make friends at a new church?
We’ve been talking about building community here on the blog in March, and one of the big questions that came out last week in our initial post on church community was how to break into a church that seems cliquey. So today I thought I’d tackle that!
First, though, I want to deal with two misconceptions:
Misconception #1: If a church is hard to break into, it must be an unhealthy church.
Let’s think about this one. If a church were functioning as a real community, then what would you expect would be happening? People would flock to church on Sunday mornings hoping to catch up with the important people in their lives. They’ll have to check with Cheryl to return the borrowed maternity clothes; check with Rick about next week’s praise team practice; check in with Sandy to ask how her mom’s surgery went; check in with Lisa just to chat; check in with Doug to see if he still needs help organizing a volunteer team to go the hospice; check in with Janice to see if her daughter can baby-sit this weekend…etc. etc.
Maybe they’re not judgmental and toxic, maybe they are just all busy people, and this is their only chance to see their friends, so they’re all excited to talk and they have a million things to organize.
Rebecca’s church has sometimes been accused of being cliquey, but Rebecca’s take is a little bit different. She says:
Churches need to be welcoming to newcomers and be willing to open up friend groups. But sometimes when it’s not, it’s because the congregants are at church because they are, frankly, at the end of their rope emotionally and they just need their people.
I am a really extroverted person, and I make a concerted effort to talk to newcomers most weeks (it’s harder now that I’m upstairs in nursery with the baby!). But even I get tired sometimes. And church is the only place I get to see a lot of the really, really important people in my life and in Alex’s life. It’s the place I can talk to friends and just have someone “get it.” And on those weeks no, I don’t talk to newcomers. Because I’m running on empty and I just need my people. That’s not a sign of toxicity; it’s just a sign that we are all broken people searching for rest.
Our church is a place that historically people who have been hurt by other churches flock to. As a result, we end up with a lot of really close-knit families within our larger church family. And as a result of that, we can be rather cliquey at times (we are aware of it!). But you know what? That is not a sign of toxicity. In fact, in our case it’s a sign of the close bonds we have formed with each other–we really are like family. And unfortunately that does mean it takes a little more time and effort to break into some of the groups, yes. But it also means that once you are in, you’re in! And you’re then involved with a group that truly cares, actually checks up, and does message you if you’ve missed church a few weeks in a row because we genuinely care about each other.
And also, even in “cliquey” churches people do break in (and frankly, if someone makes a real effort it usually doesn’t take very long). Connor and I are two of those people. When I first went to my now-church I actually left for a while originally because I didn’t feel like I was breaking in well–but then I gave it some more time and I am so incredibly grateful that I did. And it’s because I went many times, threw myself into serving, and honestly made an effort to get to know people as individuals that I was able to break in (and then later Connor joined when we started dating!). I’m not saying that cliques are a good thing–I’m just saying that if a church feels hard to break into it may not be a good idea to write it off as “toxic” without actually giving it a solid try.
Misconception #2: The healthiest churches have great welcoming committees
I am not saying that churches with great welcome committees or newcomer’s committees are bad. Some are awesome! But toxic churches that are very fundamentalist tend to have great welcoming committees, in order to get people in to small groups immediately and get them to commit to the church immediately.
Often we judge a church by the quality of its welcoming committee or newcomer’s committee, but that’s not very wise. Dig deeper before you give up on a church, but also before you invest too much into it (and be aware of the signs of legalistic, toxic churches, too).
If you decide a church is healthy, here are 10 tips to break in and find friends:
I asked on Facebook last week for some tips on how to break into churches, and I got some great ones to share today!
1. Process your hurt from previous churches
When you’ve been burned by another church, it can be hard to reach out. One woman confessed:
I stay on the periphery because I’m petrified this one is going to be like all the rest. And I really like this church.
Cynicism can come from having arrived (usually quite painfully) at a false belief that *nothing’s* real. That you believed *them* & they’re *all* liars. That what you thought was genuine was a cover for sin. Your heart’s broken so you harden it. I’m still in recovery. Still...— Beth Moore (@BethMooreLPM) March 4, 2020
So don’t give up!
2. Introduce yourself after the church service–even if you have to introduce yourself to a lot of people.
Monica tries the direct approach:
“Hi can I join you guys, I’m new here!”
Eventually you’ll find the right person!
Keep showing up, not just on Sundays. Introduce yourself. You eventually find me in the crowd, we become friends, I introduce you to the whole gang. Wham bam!
Yep. Find that person who looks like they’re in the center of everything, and get to know them:
And make friends with someone who likes introducing you to other people, and/or likes to organize events and invite people to them.
Even ask the pastor!
Reach out to the pastor. We did when we moved and started going to a new church. He hooked us up with people that lived close to us and were in a similar boat as us and we’ve become great friends!
3. Watch out for people after church who look lost like you do
On the other hand, don’t ignore the lost ones. I love this from Heather! She writes:
Look for someone who:
1. Looks shy
2. Is standing on the outer
3. Is struggling with something
4. Is sitting or standing alone
5. Seems to be feeling awkward
6. Looks lost
7. Is elderly
8. Looks like they’ve never been inside a church before
9. Needs help carrying something
Sometimes conversations will develop, sometimes they wont, sometimes invitations or opportunities will arise and sometimes someone else just feels included even though you might be newer than they are. We make a mistake if we think we’re the only struggling person in the building <3
4. Join a small group your church offers
When we moved to Belleville back in 1998, I immediately started looking for a church that had a women’s Bible study in the morning, during the week, with baby-sitting. I found two, tried them both, and within two months we were regularly attending a church that I really enjoyed at the time. You need that chance to connect in smaller groups where real conversations can happen.
Find a small group to join if they have one. (ladies group?) Put yourself out there. I have moved a lot and have had the experience of being new many times. If you just wait for someone to come to you, you may be disappointed. Sometimes that does happen, and if so then that is great! But you can’t rely on this because then you’ll feel like people don’t like you if no one starts the conversation. Put yourself in situations where you are forced to talk to others, even if it feels very uncomfortable.
My husband and I attend a large church in the Houston area. We attended for about 5 years and never made contact with anyone really. We decided to join a Sunday school class in our age group. We do monthly group activities and volunteer as a group as well. This is our church family. My husband and I are very much introverts so we both still have to make an effort to involve ourselves in the small talk before each class. I hate small talk lol. But we have both found some sweet friends in the process.
I attended a church irregularly for almost two years and always felt kind of on the edge. I go alone, so I don’t stay after and chat with anybody and I only had a few acquaintances. Last year I decided to push myself to go regularly. I realized that all the people there were friendly, welcoming, encouraging, but my habitual behavior was to pull away and hurry home to my family. I pushed myself outside of my comfort zone to attend a couple ladies’ events. And in the fall I joined a small group. Best decision ever. I finally get the enriching and supportive community is the church as I opened up and shared honestly about myself.
I always said I loved my church and that it felt like home to be there, but actually attending a small group was like coming home.
5. Show up at all church events, even if they’re not your cup of tea.
The more you show up, the more you’ll meet people!
And if someone does invite you to a thing, even if it’s not a things you’re super interested in, if your schedule allows it, go! Try it out. Even if it doesn’t work out, other people in the church will likely say, “Oh hey I saw you at the thing last week” and you have a conversation opener. Go to stuff you might not even be a “good fit” for, if the door is open. I go to a Mom’s group even though I have no kids, and it’s an absolutely lovely community.
I started to just say yes to stuff. Joined an Adult Sunday class, attended wed night bible studies, and when invited to women’s events and small group activities, just say yes. Eventually, I became a part of the greater group.
6. Volunteer around the church and you’ll get a chance to talk with other volunteers
Don’t approach church selfishly. The people at the church are probably like you–with the same kinds of stress and issues. And church is their safe place. Though everyone should be on the look out for newcomers, sometimes people are tired and busy and they’re there to rejuvenate as well. Besides that, you really can’t make friends or deep connections just from small talk after church. If you want to break in, you’ve got to find ways to connect outside of Sunday service.
Volunteer at the church. Nothing breaks the ice like helping out even if you’re an introvert. I was to shy too just start talking to people because I didn’t know what to talk about with volunteering there is the common subject of whatever you’re working on.
For us we attended for 2 or 3 years not feeling like we fit. We both joined teams serving and now are very well connected in the community. Not just meeting folks on the team but the people we serve. It was really the turning point for us.
My experience was offering to volunteer on committees or with events in church went a long way. Working closely with others meant getting to know each other and then friendship followed.
The best “small groups” I’ve ever been a part of weren’t even small groups. They were service teams. One was the praise team I led for several years. We knew each other so well, met frequently, and prayed together. We were quite different and didn’t hang out in the same friend groups, but we really knew each other.
The other was the Bible quiz team I volunteered at and later led. That’s where I met Tammy (who works for me) and Rochelle (whose wedding I MC’ed last weekend). That’s how my kids and I broke into a new church. And those volunteers are still some of our best friends. My husband still meets with Doug periodically to pray and challenge each other, even six years later.
Building community at church isn’t easy. But if it were, maybe it wouldn’t be real community?
7. Invite people to your place
If you just don’t get invited places, try inviting others! I would sometimes put pulled pork in the slow cooker early on Sunday morning, and have buns and a salad on hand before I left for church. Then I would just keep inviting people over for lunch until someone said yes. Pulled pork, buns, and salad is really easy and then it’s ready when you get back home!
I often find inviting people over for a board game night works well, too, especially for groups of people. Many people love board games, and it’s an easy, low-stress way to have fun and get to know people without awkwardly sitting around wondering what to talk about.
As a mom of small children, I keep it low key, I’ve invited families for popcorn and hot chocolate! As long as I’m upfront that a full meal won’t be included, I don’t stress about food and it makes hosting sooooo much easier.
8. Don’t give up until you have a “date”
I absolutely love this from Kirsten:
When I felt the most isolated, I made myself list 10 women who might say “yes” to going for coffee with me. Then every Monday I would force myself to call 3 of them and make a coffee date – often a month in advance (life, you know) but unless they really put me off, I would attempt to find some day that would work. With some women, it’s still a once-every-six-months event, but others it has become a regular thing. I don’t reach out well for help, so making sure I have scheduled friend-time is huge for me, and by now I almost always have 1 or 2 coffee dates scheduled weekly and if I don’t, then I know it’s time to start making those Monday calls again.
Last year I was doing the same thing with once-a-week lunches (which reminds me–I should do that again!).
9. Remember that it can take several months to feel like you belong–and that’s not necessarily a bad thing
If you want real relationships, with authenticity and vulnerability and give and take, that doesn’t happen overnight. You want trust to build up naturally. If it builds up too quickly, it may actually be a false intimacy where everyone wants to appear happy on the outside, and that’s not healthy, either.
Sarah even says it can take longer:
Also, know that this takes time! You really have to give it a few years before you’re going to feel like you belong, even among a group of welcoming people. Don’t give up or get discouraged.
And it’s worth the effort! Community isn’t just about what you can get; it’s also about what you can give.
That’s what Holli says, too:
Be the change you want to see in the world….for me that means start inviting others to our home or to coffee, etc. Show up early and stay late. So many times I have made it about me. It’s not about me it’s about the gospel and that doesn’t change when I change where I worship. We read in the Bible that Jesus went, not Jesus waited for others to approach. Expect to be let down and hurt but realize the love and gifts God created you with and for are meant to be poured out as a drink offering. Being an offering to others brings peace and encouragement and hope to the new church family you belong to. We were bought with a price. I want to happily give back and I find it easiest to do that in a church setting! We will be known by how we love each other.
10. Shake the dust off your feet and move on to another church
What if you’ve done all of this, and it hasn’t worked?
I just left a church like this. I was there for 2 years, invited people over, initiated play dates and moms nights. I called, texted and talked to everyone. I even hosted small group for a semester. Sadly, nothing ever changed and when I got really depressed over Christmas I had to be honest about what I was doing at a church that wouldn’t reach out to a single mom who was struggling over the holidays.
Sometimes, despite our best efforts, people really don’t want to invest in each other. In that case, it may be time to find a different church where people are interested in community.
Building community at church isn’t easy. But if it were, maybe it wouldn’t be real community?
I’ll let Bethany, a military wife, have the last word because she sums it all up so well:
You can’t just expect people to reach out, sometimes you have to make the first move. We invite people over for dinner if it looks like we’re clicking, we write down new names we learn each week to hopefully remember them the next Sunday, and try to remember little facts about people. We also get involved. We serve, we join a small group that is child friendly as we have kids, we bring meals to families who are sick or have new babies or feeling overwhelmed. Intentionality. We know we NEED that fellowship and friendship and we work to get it. I also pray. Everytime we move I ask the Lord to send me 3 friends – one friend who is older than me and can guide & mentor me, one close dear friend who I can connect with and share things with, and one friend who is younger than me who I can teach and mentor. (Sometimes there end up being more than this, but I pray for 3) As I keep my eyes open for who those people might be if I see someone I feel like I’m being led towards I ask them for coffee or a playdate to get to know them better.
I love that, especially her rule of 3. If we all did that–imagine how much better our community could be!
Other Posts in the Community Series:
Being Lonely in a Group of People
10 Ways to Break Into A New Church and Find Friends
PODCAST: Are You a Community Giver or Taker?
How to Foster a Community that Can Talk about Sex!
Real Community Lets You Be Real: A Look at the Duggar Family Rules
PODCAST: Should We Re-Think the Way We Do Church?
Which ONE of these tips should you be using this week if you want to build more community? Find one that resonates the most with you, and do it! And tell us in the comments!
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