Over the past 6 months, I have been visiting a few young adults services at different churches just to see what they are like and tonight, I was planning to check out yet another service. However, the people I was planning to go with bailed on me last minute, leaving me slightly more apprehensive about going. After texting and facebooking my friends in a desperate attempt to find someone who would go with me, I set off alone.
I drove past the church about 4 minutes after the service was set to begin, convincing myself that never having been there before, the last thing I wanted to do was walk in late. As I got to the end of the road I told myself I was being silly and turned around. Soon enough I found myself driving back past the church, unable to make myself stop and get out of the car. I pulled over to compose myself. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I just go in alone? Why was I so nervous? I’m not usually one to shy away from social situations or the opportunity to meet new people.
Before you judge me on my display of poor social skills (I’ll be the first to admit it), this reminded me of an experience I had at another church about a month ago. I had gone to the youth group at this church on and off a few years ago, but only became friends with one more person that when I had started going. I went to a service with a friend to give it another go, and because the worship and the speakers were always amazing. On arrival we were greeted by your token welcomer at the door, but that was the extent of the welcome from anyone. After walking in we met up with a friend from school, but once he was called away we were left alone in the throng of strangers engaged in their own friend groups until we sought out a secluded corner where we weren’t so obviously ‘new’. I can’t remember the last time I have felt that self-concious. Once we were actually in the service, we enjoyed ourselves and got a lot out of the experience but I couldn’t help but walk out of that church not really wanting to go again.
It really got me thinking. Apart from not dying to go back to that church anytime soon, I am unaffected by that experience. Having grown up in church and as a christian, I know that that is not what all church experiences are like. But what if I was walking into that church for the first time ever? What if that was going to be my first ever experience of church and christianity in general? And I was treated like that? I probably would never set foot in a church again.
If Jesus was to walk into that church, would he be left to stand in the corner, awkwardly pretending to text on his phone? I would hope not. So how is it okay for the girls who walked in off the street? Do they not matter?
Obviously, I’m just using this as an example because it happened to me recently and I KNOW it doesn’t just happen at this particular church. It made me think back to any newcomers to my church; did I talk to them? Or did I leave the welcoming to the designated welcomer? The answers are no and then yes. But after my experiences over the past month I am determined to do my best to change that.
I am certain that I would have walked into that church tonight, been greeted warmly and really enjoyed myself but, unfortunately, I couldn’t shake the walking-into-a-new-church-alone anxiety this time. I endeavor to learn from these experiences though, and not just to leave the welcoming to the welcomers.
Maybe if we all just simply noticed new people walking into our churches, church drive-bys would become a thing of the past.
Eleanor Calder is a music and business student attending St Paul’s, Symonds Street as well as the ministry assistant at AYM. Eleanor is happiest when she is making music or behind a camera.