Sometimes I wonder if I’m ever going to have a good church experience. I should add “ever again,” since my old church in D.C. remains the best: excellent teaching, service opportunities, and good people and fun events.
I know I complain about church a lot. I’m sure much of it comes from a combination of experience in seeking and attending churches (since I’ve moved a lot) and a picky, “can’t get no satisfaction” INTJ personality.
I’ve been going to a new/new-to-me church for four months or so. Generally I like it, but the greatest difficulty has been meeting people. I…pretty much don’t know anyone there. It takes me a long time to warm up to people and get a “feel” for an environment anyway. After a string of less-than-stellar small-group experiences, I decided to give myself this summer “off” from feeling any pressure to integrate myself and form new acquaintances. But now summer is winding down, small groups are resuming, and my social anxiety is doing warm-ups in preparation.
In my own experience, most churches are kind of terrible for socializing. If you want to meet new people outside of Sunday services, the usual options are small groups/Bible studies, or volunteering in a church ministry. There’s nothing wrong with either of those things, but can’t there be more fun, no-pressure, casual events where people can just hang out and be themselves—with no obligation either to “serve” or to offer up intimate personal details?
Of course, the whole body of Christians should encourage one another, teach each other, worship together, serve each other, and pray together/for each other. The church should be a place for people to confess struggles and sin and receive encouragement and admonishment and prayer, and to study the Scriptures and learn more about God.
My problem, though, is that I don’t actually need a local “life group” for those things. I have spiritual brothers and sisters across town, in Michigan, in Texas, in Washington, in Japan. We pray for each other, remind each other of scripture, hold each other accountable, and update each other on the joys and difficulties of our daily lives. I don’t feel a need for more of that—certainly not for it to be condensed and limited into a 90-minute weekly meeting.
What I need are local companions to hang out with. I just want someone to go see movies with, to talk about books, to eat Thai food with, to go to the gym or the art museum or the park with me. That is how most of my closest, long-lasting friendships started: a shared appreciation for something completely outside of ourselves. I bonded with people over history classes, choir, favorite childhood books, TV shows, British actors, and fascination with Myers-Briggs. I’ve never made lasting relationships by forcing myself into a room with peers and divulging thoughts and feelings before I was comfortable.
I think our beloved C.S. Lewis would have sympathy for my situation. I mean, The Screwtape Letters do offer valid, scathing criticisms of people who are picky about churches, but I’m not trying to church-hop here. I want a good situation where I am. But in The Four Loves, he wrote stuff about Companionship and Friendship that have a lot to do with the issues I’m trying to work out here.
Friendship, unlike Eros, is uninquisitive. You become a man’s Friend without knowing or caring whether he is married or single or how he earns his living. … In a circle of true Friends each man is simply what he is: stands for nothing but himself. No one cares twopence about anyone else’s family, profession, class, income, race, or previous history. Of course you will get to know about most of these in the end. But casually.
With most “church groups,” you don’t find out those things casually. You’re expected to share struggles and prayer requests and the nuances of daily life soon after joining. I realize that this format works well for many people, but not so much for me. (It’s even worse when there are people in the group I don’t like or trust.) I already share intimate details of my life, but with my closest friends. I do not want to share personal information with someone if we don’t already have a longstanding history.
That doesn’t mean I’m unwilling to form more intimate relationships. I would love to do that. But at this point, what I need most is not intimacy, but casual acquaintances. I’m tired of having nothing to do on the weekends and no one to go places with. I want people to join in shared interests. As Lewis says, “Friendship must be about something, even if it were only an enthusiasm for dominoes or white mice.” This doesn’t mean I’m into small talk–I still don’t care to rehash the weather, complain about traffic, or find out how many siblings someone has. But if looking at the same sculpture at the art museum prompts a person to share an anecdote that tells more about who they are, I’m all for that. Just please don’t make me exchange pointless personal trivia over coffee–I’m really tired of that.
And for those people who prefer practical solutions over theoretical ideas, I actually have some ideas for church-hosted/sponsored social activities:
- Group movie night: go see a movie (not necessarily a Christian one, at least not until Christians return to their Renaissance-era levels of artistic prowess), then go out for dinner, ice cream, or *sigh* coffee to discuss movie
- Grab lunch after church at a group-friendly restaurant
- Meet up at a local museum/park/garden
- Meet up to watch a TV show (or hold an awards show viewing party)
- Form a team for a local 5K or other community fundraising event
- Go to a local sports event as a group
- Support local academics by meeting up to attend a local school’s play/musical/art show
- Hold a bonfire and make s’mores
- An idea I got specifically for introverts: Have someone agree to host an event at their house. Everyone brings 1: a snack to share, and 2: some kind of work to do (studying, knitting, a book, a journal, a laptop). Everyone wears either a red sticker to indicate that they want to be left alone to work, or a green sticker to indicate they would welcome interruptions. People can either quietly socialize, or quietly stick to their own work. This may be helpful to people who are shy or introverted, but who also feel lonely and want to be around others. Having another, solo activity at the ready might provide a retreat and cut down on the awkwardness