In Which Our Heroine Rants About Church (Again)

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
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8 thoughts on “In Which Our Heroine Rants About Church (Again)

  1. Okay, I love that last suggestion!
    Maybe you could talk to one of your church leaders about starting some casual hangouts? You may be the first to ask, but others would probably join in if it existed.

  2. Oh I am there with you on wanting local companions but not the small group experience. Funny thing is we had just found a church I felt comfortable with-everyone had more tattoos and piercings than I did and everything was super casual-and we were offered a job elsewhere so we have to start again. /sob Love the practical suggestions!

    1. Boo. Yay for the job, though. Good luck with the fresh start.

  3. I can relate to this a lot. I wouldn’t want to sit and talk with strangers about issues I want to pray about either. I would like making a new friend through discovering a common interest. That is how my adult friendships develop. It’s so much fun when you find someone to talk with about something like a favorite TV show or fictional character, and you can go on and on, and the conversation flows naturally. The only friends I have that with now are people who live far away in other states, so we can’t actually do this in person over coffee or lunch. But THAT is what I want. I want to go to the zoo or museum with this person! We would have so much fun!:)

    1. I just realized saying “adult friendships” sounded weird. Lol. I just meant, as opposed to how friendships developed when I was a kid. Back then we met at school or lived in the same apartment building. But as an adult, it’s always been based on a common interest.

  4. Your post rang true on so many levels, Em. It’s fall and once again we’re having a small group in our home.this is one of the things my extrovert husband needs/loves to do and I’ve accepted it. But with this comes the annual struggle of new people in my home, the push to go deep too quickly and my slow warm up and response style. I’ll probably be fitting in by spring when the group finishes for the year.

  5. I’m not a small group person either. The immediate forced intimacy combined with the lack of pastoral guidance/supervision just means having to listen to everyone’s often unbiblical 2 cents on vital matters they don’t fully understand. Why are you only looking for friends through church? We may not be of this world, but we’re still in it. We aren’t meant to segregate ourselves into little Christian-only communities. Go live out the Christ-life among the unsaved, where you might be used of God to share the Gospel. Do the things you love, even if you have to do them alone. You will likely meet those perfect companions in the process. Who knows but that your interests aren’t just a small part of His bigger plans?

    1. I’m open to friends in environments other than church, but in my experience it’s hard for relationships to grow very deep or last very long without a similar faith foundation. Plus, as an introvert, most of my interests don’t really require me to “go live out among the unsaved.” And I’m in a bad depression phase right now with very little desire to do anything or leave the house much at all. Since church is one of the few things I still have any interest for, it would be nice actually to know *some* people there.

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