Have you ever tried to find a new church? What did you expect to find when you walked in the door of the church building? Were you warmly greeted? Were you treated as if they were glad you were there? Then you were lucky.
Not every church is so welcoming.
Many people have to go looking for a church when they move to a new place. They hope to find a place of love and acceptance, and a place to worship the Lord with other believers. Sometimes, they find very gracious, kind people just inside the doors welcoming them and acquainting them with the way their church operates. But other times, they walk into a big room full of strangers, and nobody comes to their aid. They are left on their own to try to figure out where the children are supposed to go, and all of the other little idiosyncrasies of that particular church. And no one asks their name or anything else about them.
But the thing I find the most disturbing is that even when a new person attends a church several times, even for weeks or months, some have an extremely difficult time becoming accepted or gathered in to the church family. I have experienced this many times. We have moved 5 times in 13 years. We have tried many churches. We have only found a few who welcomed us with open arms and continued to cultivate a relationship with us.
It seems that many have judged us by the number of children we have. They have acted like we were going to be too much work for them. We haven’t turned our kids over to their care. We take care of our babies and toddlers ourselves. The only time we let our children go to children’s classes is when they wanted to go. We tried to keep them in the sanctuary with us unless they were just too energetic for that.
Many times I felt judged by my brothers and sisters in Christ at the churches we attended. Our children were well-behaved, especially compared to others. We wanted to participate and contribute to the ministry of the church, but we were closed out. I remember one meeting in which people were to sign up to help with the various ministries of the church. I had prayed about it and felt that the Lord told me to help with Children’s Church. When the pastor called for people who wanted to help with Children’s Church to raise their hands, I raised my hand. The pastor called out the names of all the people who had their hands up – except me. We had been attending there for several months and had spoken to the pastor and his wife several times. But he was intentionally ignoring me. Finally some people around me started pointing to me and calling out to the pastor that someone else was volunteering. By that time, I had figured out that he was ignoring me on purpose, and I put my hand down. When the people around me started pointing and trying to get the pastor’s attention, I started shaking my head and telling them to never mind. He finally looked straight at me, and slumped and sighed and asked for my name and phone number. He just did it to keep his people from knowing what he was doing. I knew I would never get a phone call from him. I was right.
I had the same thing happen at two or three other churches we went to. I guess raising 10 children and having a teaching degree were not enough qualification for teaching children in their churches. I didn’t rush in to try to get involved. I actually didn’t want to do it. I felt like I was doing so much for my own children, and I wanted that Sunday morning time to just soak in the presence of God in worship and the teaching of the Word. But I felt like the Lord was telling me to volunteer to help teach the children. If it had been only one church, I would have thought it was just a fluke. But it happened over and over again.
Not only did these things happen that felt pretty unfriendly, but I was not able to make friends with many people in these churches. I used to have lots of friends when I was in the area that I grew up in. People knew my family, knew my history, knew of the school district I went to, and we always at least shared that common knowledge. But when we moved out of state, we didn’t know anybody. We had no family or friends at any of the places we moved to.
The people of the church were usually people who had known each other for years and had shared many experiences together. They seemed to think that they had “enough” friends. They didn’t need any more. I tried to go to some women’s groups. Not much success there, either.
I was closed out of one group because I was too old. I had 2 babies, 2 toddlers, and 2 elementary-aged children, but they said I was too old to attend that particular moms’ group whose purpose was praying for families. They were all younger moms in that group, and the leader felt that I would not fit in.
Where is the Love?
Seriously, where is the love in all of that?!
My husband and I finally threw up our hands and said, “That’s it, if we don’t feel the love of God when we walk into a church, we will know right then that it’s not the church for us.” We decided that if God isn’t there, we don’t want to be there, either. So that has been our measuring rod.
I have been trying to make friends at lots of different churches, but I have been largely unsuccessful.
Another problem is that all of the women are so busy! I have found a few who seemed interested in forming a friendship, but they worked at a job, or they lived so far away that it was hard to get together.
So, from my experience, many churches need to change their perspective of new people and the way they treat them, or they will not be gaining any new members. We are supposed to be the Body of Christ, all members of the same body. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. I should be able to walk into any church building and feel at home. People should know by the Spirit that I am a fellow believer and that I love Jesus with all my heart. Unfortunately, I have seldom had that happen.
This has made for a lonely life as we have moved from one region to another. I have reached out to other women in many different ways. A few have responded. But I have not found a bosom friend in all of my wanderings.
I detect a serious problem in our churches, and in the attitudes of many believers. There is a lack of love that really cares about fellow believers and befriends them and embraces them, if they haven’t known them for 10 years, and “they’re not from around here”.
I think that God wants His children to play together nicely. I think that believers should be able to visit among other gatherings of believers and feel like instant family. Am I expecting too much? Maybe.
But I think we can do better than this.
“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”