Friday, August 31, 2012

My Concise Guide to Going to a New Church

Being that it is the Friday before a holiday weekend, I think I will keep it light today.  With yesterday's post about changing churches, I figured today I would give you my brief guide on how to attend a new church.  I know many of you are thinking that going to a new church really does not require instruction, but as someone who has been a new member at a church several times, I can tell you that there are some important things you can do, especially if you are making that new church your home church. 

Going to a new church for the first time is generally an awkward experience.  It might be less awkward in a mega church, where it is easier to get lost in, but do not let that be a reason to choose a larger church instead of a smaller one.  Let God direct you to whatever church you go to, not your own fears.  Going to a new church is awkward because generally speaking everyone knows everyone else.  I not saying everyone is best of friends, but there is at the very least a familiarity between everyone whereas you kind of stand out as a newcomer.  You may feel like everyone is staring at you, and to some extend you may be right.  Many people will give you a second or longer look because you are unfamiliar.  They are not being mean or unwelcoming, they are reacting the same way you would (and will again) react when something new is introduced into a familiar environment. 

Once you make it through the door and unfamiliar faces, there is oftentimes a temptation to sit as far in the back and away from everyone else as humanly possible.  First of all, this is not helpful.  Secondly, it defeats the entire purpose of trying not to stand out.  Sitting alone in the back of a church as a new guest, paints the very target on you that you are trying to avoid.  Just find a seat, somewhere in the middle and somewhere where other people will be around you.  Trust me as I know this from experience, it is much easier for people to be welcoming when it looks like you actually want to be welcomed. 

Once you have your seat and people start filling the spots around you, some will inevitably ask if you are new there.  Be honest, tell them you are.  Observe how welcoming or unwelcoming they are.  These are important observations to make as you never really know how well a church family is receptive to new members until you are actually there.  Quite honestly, though, if they are not a welcoming family then you really do not want to be a part of that church anyway.  Another thing to observe is if their talk is about God and what He is doing in their lives or is it generally mundane things.  I am not saying that everyone should be talking Scripture to everyone, but God should old a place in the conversation other than being preceded by "Oh my."    Once the service is over, do not just run out. Once again, they will never get a chance to know you if you are not there to let them get to know you.  Again, I speak from my own experiences.  Talk to the pastor, talk to other people, get a feel for what kind of programs they have to offer.

If things go well and you feel this is where God wants this place to become your church home, then get involved.  I do not mean in terms of ministry just yet.  They should not know you well enough at this point to ask you to be involved in any kind of serving.  It may be discouraging, especially if you have been a Christian for a long time, but this is actually a positive for the church.  It would be irresponsible of them to just let a complete stranger take the reigns of ministry.  What I do mean is get involved with fellowship groups.  If you are a woman, join the woman's group.  If you are a man, join the men's group.  If they have a home group near your home or within a reasonable distance, join in with them.  This is how you will develop friendships.  If the church has no such opportunities, then I would be a little suspicious.  It is not enough to write a church off, but it is enough to be concerned.  Either way, seeing each other in church for a little while each week is not enough to make friends, you need to be a part of more intimate groups where you have the chance to let people get to know you as you get to know other people. 

That's basically it.  As I said, its my "brief" guide.  The real bottom line is that as awkward as it may be at first, you need to make yourself a part of the church.  If the church has any worth, they all want you to become part of their family.  You just have to let them know that you have that same desire.  They want to get to know you, but you need to make yourself available.  They want to involve you, but you have to take the steps to get involved.  If you show up only on Sundays and leave as soon as the last "Amen" is spoken, you will never have the chance to start to fit in.  I know it may be a little weird at first, but one day you will be the one welcoming newcomers into the family. 

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