Finding a church isn’t easy. Finding your place in a church really isn’t easy. For a place that’s supposed to welcome and love all, what gives?
After being a pastor’s kid and growing up in a close-knit church family, I never realized how difficult it could be to find and fit into a new place of worship. As a single adult, I’ve walked alone into church after church, reluctantly raised my hand (or worse, stood up!) when the pastor asked if there are any visitors, and proceeded to "greet my neighbors" when prompted (translation: swapped hand germs with that stranger who just blew his nose like a trumpet). And then each service ended and everyone filed out in stampede formation, like the 3 o’clock bell just rang in elementary school.
Which begs the question: And then what?
Let’s play the blame game for a second. What is wrong with the Church today? Why is welcoming the newcomer not first on the list of priorities, before lasers, videos and dance teams? Shaking hands with a visitor does little when there is no follow-up. Does anyone care where I go after the service, or whether or not I return next week?
And even if I return the following Sunday, how and where do I plug in? I’m too old for the singles group, too single for the married group, too in control of my bladder for the elderly group. Others might not have enough children to fit into the family groups, might not feel mature enough to fit into certain Bible study groups, or might not be rustic enough to join a missions team to the jungles of Brazil.
As much fun as this whine fest is, I’ve learned after moving to a few new cities that this type of blame game will get us nowhere. Just because something is difficult doesn’t mean it’s not important. God intends for each of us to be a fundamental part in the Body of Christ—the Church. The community found in a church is essential for spiritual growth and accountability—something that the Apostle Paul spoke about at great length.
Getting back to the blame game, let’s shift the spotlight onto ourselves. Instead of going to church to be fed, to be welcomed, to be loved, why don’t we go to church to feed, to welcome, to love? The difference here is monumental. If I go to a new church with this mindset, I will purposely get out of my comfort zone to meet new people. And I’ll take a proactive approach to find areas where I can serve and get involved.
With this perspective, church looks a lot more like a verb—a place where we take action, where we move and move others. It changes the way we view the Church:
… from a drive-through, one-stop shop for spiritual food, to a sit-down dinner for the homeless;
… from a movie theater meant for our viewing pleasure, to an interactive teaching and learning environment where we can all grow in God’s Word;
… from a Sunday morning daycare center, to an exciting place where we can teach our children about Jesus;
… from a place that’s all about “me," to a place that’s all about others.
I’ve become more involved in my new church in D.C. I’m making friends. I’m learning not to roll my eyes at the exclusivity of groups and events for only married folks. I’m learning not to laugh at the fresh-faced 21-year-olds that comprise our “singles” group. I’m learning, and it’s a process.
It doesn’t happen overnight. I still struggle to fit in sometimes, or to understand why certain things are done a certain way within the Church. But I remind myself that it’s not about me. It’s not about what I want or what I like. It’s about glorifying God, serving others and spreading the life-saving message of the Gospel. With this reminder, I can stop whining about the little things, and start rejoicing in the amazing work we’re all doing for the Kingdom.
My hope is that all of us can be part of a church family—that we can learn from others in all walks of life and discover the beauty of truly being part of the Body of Christ. But this can’t happen until we get off our behinds and do something about it.
Ruth Rutherford is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C., Ruth Rutherford (@ruth_rutherford) enjoys blogging about the Christian single life, and hopes her words will inspire others (and herself) to embrace their place today, instead of obsessing over tomorrow (ikissedmydategoodnight.com).