“It’s hard to find community,” they say. I sit across from them at Starbucks or at my dining table and listen to them share about the difficulty of finding people they connect with, people with whom they can build solid friendships and grow together in faith. “They” have been college students, single young adults, and married couples. “They” have been both laypeople and staff members, newcomers and long-standing members of the church.
My heart aches whenever I hear about the loneliness they feel in the church because I’ve been there before too. I’ve been the new person with no one to sit with. I’ve stood in the awkward and extremely uncomfortable silence after a brief “Hello, nice to meet you” conversation. I’ve felt invisible while other times feeling like too much, constantly wondering what it takes to finally become a natural part of the church’s community. It is exhausting for the soul.
But I’ve been on the other side too. I’ve been the leader of the welcoming committee. I’ve been the pastor who meets with newcomers for coffee. I’ve been the one who notices people standing alone and makes sure they at least have a conversation over snacks with someone that day. I’ve been on both sides, and I know how hard it is to find community.
As I’ve listened to the same frustration shared by many over the years, I’ve noticed some patterns emerge from these conversations:
- We’ve put too much of our friendship and community eggs into the church basket. In other words, we’re expecting too much. For example, so many of us hope to find deep bonds with people in our small groups. These are often formed by location or life stages, and though it is possible to find people to connect with, these are structured groups with focused discussions. The real work of creating and cultivating community and friendships often happens outside of structured, church-sanctioned times. Also, church shouldn’t be the only place where friendships and community can happen. It can happen at work, at school, in our neighborhoods. It can happen with Christians from other churches or other faith-based, same-interest groups.
- If we’ve had a vibrant or rich church experience before, it’s easy to look back and long for the good ol’ days, to compare the present to the past. The problem is that that experience was unique to that time and place, to that season in life. It can never be replicated when it’s a new season, a new church, a new city, or even if it’s the same church but a different time. We shouldn’t expect or even hope to replicate the same experience, and instead we should work to create a new one where we are now.
- In general, making friends as an adult is HARD, and building community as an adult is more of the same. It can take months, but more likely it will take years. It will take lots of awkward silences, lots of intentional effort to meet in person, lots of doing life together. Some of us will lose steam from the string of disappointments we experience. Some of us who are more introverted will simply become too drained from having to meet with people. Some of us will go through wilderness seasons where community and friendships are harder to build or even impossible. But the truth and hope is that seasons don’t last forever, and the possibility of connecting with a group of people will come around again.
I’m not a pastor anymore, but if we were sitting together and you were telling me how hard it’s been to find community, I’d want to say this to you:
- Stay. Unless God is clearly releasing you from your current church, ground yourself where you’re at. Decide to choose the church you’re currently attending, and embed yourself into it. Every church is broken — the people in it are broken, the staff members leading it are broken, the systems and structures that form it are broken. But God is redeeming, renewing the church even when we can’t see it with our own eyes. It often happens more slowly than we’d want and not often the way we’d wish it would, but He is doing the work constantly.
- Invest. This could mean becoming members or tithing or volunteering in some way. This could mean initiating a coffee or lunch date with someone else who also needs community. Investing means showing up, being present, and looking around to see the needs around you. It means sharing yourself and your story, being vulnerable, and being willing to risk rejection and hurt by putting yourself out there first.
- Pray. Maybe it is time for you to leave your church or maybe it’s time to finally root yourself where you’re at. Pray and seek counsel from others who are steady in their faith and who are committed to their churches. Wrestle it out with God because He created you for community and desires it for you. He can help you build it. He can bring the right people at just the right time, but even in the loneliest seasons, He is with you and for you. He sees you, and He has not forgotten you.
God is redeeming and renewing the church even when we can’t see it with our own eyes. -@gracepcho: Click To Tweet Leave a Comment
Bev @ Walking Well With God says
Moving to a new church is like moving to a new state….it’s going to take some intentional work on our part to begin to feel like we fit in. I learned early on, from moving around the country a lot, that new places are hard to break into. Something deep inside says that THEY should be the one reaching out to ME. After all, I’m the new one in town. Some people will and some won’t. I’ve found that, even as tiring as it may be, I need to be the one to reach out and make the effort. I confess that I used to “play this game” in my head – when we would go to a new church, I’d pretend like I was the one who had belonged there for years and would ask the regular attenders questions about themselves as if they were the newcomer. I have to say, it kind of worked. Getting involved in smaller groups is the true way to find people who can begin to really know you and letting down your guard, daring to be vulnerable, it’s all part of growing deeper in our relationships within or outside of the church.
Grace P. Cho says
I totally did the same thing when we first came to the church we’re attending now!
Michele Morin says
I’ve been on both sides of this equation as well, Grace, and I really appreciate your formula of Staying, Investing, and Praying for finding community and connection within the body. I absolutely agree that Sunday morning alone cannot bear the weight of our expectations or our need. The church gathers to worship, and the focus is on God during that one tiny hour. We scatter to serve, and in the serving, we become knit together over cups of coffee around a sticky kitchen table.
Gail Hinson says
So true, Michelle.
Grace P. Cho says
YES to everything you said, Michele! Grateful for your voice in our community!
Beth Williams says
Finding community can be hard at church. You can’t just go on Sunday morning & expect instant community. It takes time & effort. I’ve been at my small church 15 years & I finally have community. There are several people who I can call/text & chat. I volunteer with many projects & have gotten to know people better. It took a willingness on my part to step out & initiate conversations. Our church is a tight knit group that knows each other well. It all started one day when as a newcomer with hubby a lady came by & said welcome glad to have you. Since that time I’ve been one of those who try to spot newbies & welcome them. I want them to feel at home with us & worship almighty God. It doesn’t take much but some effort & time. God will bless you with many friends.
Grace P. Cho says
It does take a long time, doesn’t it? I’m so glad you have that at your church and that I do too!
Pat Stewart says
I understand what you are saying, but it seems as if you are completely excusing the church from any responsibility to welcome and include new fami!ies. It has been my experience that more and more churches have groups that are exclusive and only want you in their group if you’re just like them. I have been greeted with warmth and treated kindly at my local super market so much more so than churches that I have visited. And, let me say, I do go to church smiling and greeting people as if I were a member of that congregation. My teenagers have been treated so poorly at every youth group they have attended and not one of the youth pastors seemed as if they cared. I know churches are imperfect , but it is so very sad to see how much colder they’ve become. What I have said will not be popoular, but please don’t turn a deaf ear to what’s really going on in the church today. Much prayers are needed. Thank you.
Agree Pat. We can’t put the responsibility solely on the individuals attending. We need to put it on the church as well. A lot of people at church are hurting, looking and searching and it can be very hard for those to walk around smiling, greeting others. Maybe I mistook the tone of this post but I do believe, the church is a people not a place. So should it matter so much about where we end up for Sunday morning? I don’t know, I don’t have all the answers for sure.
I’m so sorry to hear this, Pat, and I am there with you. I go to a mid-sized church with four campuses, and since first attending 8 years ago, have found it to be very exclusive. My husband and I have tried to serve in various ministries, only to be actually turned away or left out or witnessed a particular ministry playing favorites. We finally found a place in the children’s ministry where we would help at a moment’s notice or even help in an emergency, but when I noticed everyone else but me seemed to have gotten notifications about what was going on time after time, I gave up. Once after a Bible study, the ministers’ wives and an NFL football player’s wife all had a private yoga session in the room where those of us still cleaning up food and drinks were clearly not invited and urged to hurry the cleanup and leave. I’ve had church leaders follow and unfollow me on social media, despite the fact my account is just about family and nature and I was interacting with their posts. (The same week a minister announced he and his wife were having their first child, I liked the post — then got unfollowed!) Our family stays at the church because our children go to school there — and frankly, we’ve found other churches to be exclusive as well, so moving won’t do any good. My husband and I have been in one ministry or another since we were teenagers, and we’re bringing our children up in the church. We try to be as supportive and generous as possible and just want to do our part for the kingdom. Yet apparently we aren’t Christian enough, or good-looking enough, or *something* enough. And all this cliquishness has really turned me off from attending. I feel like since there’s no community there, I may just as well watch the service online.
Grace P. Cho says
This all breaks my heart, Pat, M, and Heather. Yes, I agree that the responsibility is shared by the church and its members and those who are new that are coming in. Everyone should bear it together — that’s what community is. But so many churches and so many people don’t know how to engage and welcome well, and it grieves me. I’m so sorry this has been your experience, and I pray that God provide a church body and people with whom you can build community.
Becky Keife says
Pat and Heather,
I just want to say I’m so sorry for the pain you have experienced in these churches. That breaks my heart to hear. I do not see exclusivity modeled in Scripture — quite the opposite in fact. Take heart knowing that God sees you, He knows your value, and He loves you and welcomes you without condition.
And we’re so very glad you’re here at (in)courage.
Renae Forbes says
I love this! And so timely! I had been at my current hutch a year and was saying the same things. “Why doesn’t anyone sit with me?” “I feel so alone.” I moaned and cried to God asking where do I fit in. Soowlybhe showed me if I wanted to make friends I had to be a friend. So I started volunteering. I started walking around greeting people. Introducing myself. In the past 5 months I have become involved and now finally feel a part! Thank you for your wonderful advice!
Grace P. Cho says
YAY! So glad for you Renae!
Wow, thank you SO much for this. This is exactly where I’m at and where I’m going. I’ve been in Tennessee for six years after spending my whole 30-plus life in Ohio minus the first five years in Pennsylvania. It has been so stinking hard to find community here combined with the fact that my church is tiny and everyone is way older than me by decades. I’m finally starting to feel “established” and have finally found a workplace that I want to stay at. And I’ve been involved with two small life groups apart from church that have been SO life giving. One I’ve been a part of for two years and another I’ve been part of since December. I’m moving this weekend and they’ve invited me out to their church event on Friday evening and Saturday morning. They even paid for me to go. I’m learning I HAVE TO PUT MYSELF OUT THERE and my introverted self is freaking out about getting everything done. But I’ve willingly stepped into this new season knowing all of the changes it will bring. This is so on time. Thank you so much for your words.
Jessica C says
I understand a lil bit of where you’re coming from as I am in my 30’s and moved cross country from the Pacific NW to Virginia this past July. One difference between your move and mine is that my church is bigger than the very small one I had been attending back home and has two campuses as compared to your moving and becoming part of a tiny church…Kudos to you for putting yourself out there. I suppose i need to reach out more to others but it’s hard esp when one feels like everyone is too busy or think that others’ friend groups are already established. Two of my brothers and their families live here so I’m not totally a “fish out of water” with noone to hang out with but even they get busy…there’s a girls’ night coming up this Fri night that a girl I know arranged but I’m debating about going…I don’t feel like I connect with those girls…but anyway I’m glad Grace Cho chose to write this post about loneliness. Believe it or not, this was the 2nd article/post I read about loneliness today…wonder if God’s trying to tell me something..
Grace P. Cho says
Jessica! I hope you do go! It may not feel the most comfortable or homey yet with those girls, but we never know how time with people over an extended period can make us connect — even when we’re very different! Also, yes, I believe He must be speaking — He always says things more than once, right?
Grace P. Cho says
Heidi, I love that you’ve found community in two small groups apart from church. Sometimes those help us get into a community that ends up being home. WAY TO PUT YOURSELF OUT THERE! Even for an extroverted introvert like myself, it is HARD. You are doing good and holy work.
Lynn Koukal says
Thank you Grace for your very wise words today. I have been wrestling awhile with several issues concerning my present church. I have been praying too, and just this past Sunday I felt impressed to become a member. So we signed up, my husband and I for the class. It is a commitment to belong under this covering and be for others more of a vision or goal, than being ai concerned with “self”. To partake, to share, to enjoy being a part of the body, and worship and love the lord together. I believe I’ve finally found my place of communuty association. God always answers.
Grace P. Cho says
Wow, so good, Lynn.
Thank you for this timely devotional. I had the recent experience of going to Sunday mass and sitting in a pew that an older couple had designated as “their” seats. The wife came in first, was very nice, and said hello. The husband, who followed a few minutes later, looked shocked to see a stranger in the pew. He was popping all kinds of circuits. When it came time to offer the sign of peace, I said to him, peace be with you, and he wouldn’t even look at me. I have seen these same people knock people over in their hurry to be the first ones in line to receive communion. It’s really a disgrace, and their behavior was really a disappointment. I spoke to other parishioners about this incident, and they said unfortunately it’s all too common. Some people will stake out a certain seat in church as theirs and become pretty hostile when someone new comes in and unwittingly seats themselves in “their” seats, rather than be welcoming and gracious. On the bright side, we have so many other members of our faith community who are a great asset, and who are far more welcoming.
Grace P. Cho says
Praise God for those other people who have been welcoming! We’re all broken, and the church is full of broken people. May we be conduits of grace to all!
Really loved this post. Thanks for saying this. I think a lot of people have expectations of church (or a job, school, neighborhood) that have let them down. Community starts in the heart. My kids have already experienced the letdown and wounding of being grouped together by age, grade, gender or zip code and expected to be vulnerable in the name of community. I wonder why there is a continued push for something that is forced. (Both my middle and high school kids are extremely uncomfortable that group leaders try to coax personal thoughts and information out of them in a setting of people they don’t know well or trust.)
My very first experience at a new church was trying to get connected in a group. I reached out to the only community group they had–very small church–and asked if my family and I could join. They told me they liked their group the way it was, and I should start my own. I smile about this now. I’ve thought long and deeply about community over the years, of what it is and what it isn’t. Maybe it’s just as well that we don’t find it in one place (community group. volunteer team, book study or middle school group), but have to keep looking–or else we’d get too comfortable and stop growing. Just a thought. God has always challenged me to go out farther, and I have never been sorry.
Grace P. Cho says
Community starts in the heart — yes! And going farther, opening our arms, opening our homes, and stretching the boundaries of what/who’s ours or not will always lead us to God. Thank you for sharing, Courtney!
Carol Leonard says
Thank you so much for sharing! After getting a divorce, I left the church where we attended together. Just too many memories, not bad memories, just memories. God led me to a wonderful church, but I faced the difficulty of building friendships. I am in a connect group and have started building and God has used them to bring healing to me. I still feel very lonely, but I’m moving forward as the Holy Spirit guides me. I’m finding others that are lonely as well and reaching out to them. I believe as I reach out, the Lord will bring the relationships I need and they need into my life.
I considered leaving the new church because of the loneliness, but the Holy Spirit wouldn’t let me. After reading your article, I know I need to stay put. He will bring what I need. Thank you!
Grace P. Cho says
So good, Carol. Keep holding onto Him. <3
I love love love this post because this is came at just the right time. I’m currently a college student and I’ve been struggling with exactly what is in the very first paragraph. Community is hard for me to find right now. I’ve been praying for a group of God-loving girls to laugh and cry with, to share life experiences with, to rant to and worship with. I can so clearly see that God has been working in my life and in the hearts of those I am to bond with. It may take some time but I trust that He will bless me with that one day.
Grace P. Cho says
Emily! I wish I could give you a big hug right now! So proud that you continue to trust Him, and I’m praying that over time, He will help you build that community around you by bringing God-loving girls into your spheres.
Theresa Boedeker says
I love the honesty in this post. And the admission that making friends as an adult can be hard work and take a lot of time. Sometimes it seems that when joining a new church everyone is already in a click group and wiggling in can be hard. But we don’t want to give up because community is where we are called to be.
Grace P. Cho says
Yes, and the local church is where we’re to build it. The wiggling in is SO hard and can be awkward and hurtful and disappointing. Going from community to friendship is another hurdle. I hope you’re finding some in your midst, Theresa. <3
Becky Keife says
Ooh, your point about seasons hit the mark for me! I’m thankful to be in a thriving season of community at church, but I can relate with how easy it is to compare what is to what once was. We can create ideals about community in our minds that can then become barriers to our present gifts and small steps toward cultivation of new friendships. I’m in it for the long haul. Plenty of time to see fruit grow. xx Thank you for sharing, Grace!
Grace P. Cho says
Yes! I love that we can settle in, stay rooted, and be patient when we’ve decided to be in it for the long haul.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts on a subject that really hits close to my heart right now. I moved to Alabama over 2 years ago. The church I attend is the place God has called me to “Stay-Invest-Pray” or “S.I.P”. I am definitely in a season of slow “sipping” and waiting on the Lord. I am struggling to find community at my church. With a church directory in hand I initiated an encouragement card ministry for women. Each card included a small “coupon” inside asking each one to coffee. I had about 10 responses over all. It was a great way for me to get to know some of the women in my church. My husband and I have served in the college/career group as mentors and teachers. We attended church membership exploration sessions and Bible studies at church. But the “community feel” is still missing. God birthed in my heart a desire to host Hearts and Hands Women Craft for Community and WOW-Women Of the Word- book fellowships in my home. It is amazing how God has blessed these fellowships. This is where He has me in community…..home outreach and hospitality:)
yes I can so relate when I comes to church community & ministry. even among so many people, there is that loneliness. But I know God doesn’t desire that for me. thank you for sharing.
Heather Marv says
I think that those in leadership roles need to understand that ALL of the Body of Christ have a role in the Church of Jesus Christ, not just an exclusive part. The Word of God mentions this and lets face it without the ear we cannot hear, without the mouth we cannot speak, without the big toe our body finds it difficult standing and walking etc. Without the hands who will serve? Without the neck the head cannot turn around. Each person is important. Even a child because The Lord said we must become like a child to enter the Kingdom of God and out of the mouth of babes such amazing words can be expressed. We all matter. The person who comes in and doesn’t seem to fit in. The person who doesn’t seem to care about their appearance. The one who rubs people up the wrong way because mentally they aren’t well. Or they might just seem difficult but they will have their own story of how they came to that place surely. We all matter to Jesus and we all need to feel cared about. People need to feel loved. For some reason I recall how a man was walking down a street and the Lord impressed upon him that he should shout out “The Lord Loves you.” and he thought no way people will think I am crazy and this went on for some time but the feeling persisted and so reluctantly he did it and then ran into a shop. A man approached him and told him that he was contemplating taking his life and those words had changed his life. We don’t always know where people are at and as we reach out with whatever we have to give even if we think it isn’t enough God can use us to make a difference in the lives of others. Dare to try and you might be surprised at the difference you can make in the lives of others and this in turn will bless you too as you express Gods concern for others. God Bless in your small steps that can turn into long strides. And dare to be different, dare to push beyond your own boundaries, and dare to follow the leading you feel in your heart to care and love for others.