Some churches have what seems to be a skewed version of Christian fellowship and it could make an uncomfortable situation even worse.
For introverts like me, Christian fellowship can be a frightening proposition. When you add to that the prospect of visiting a new church, it can cause some anxious moments in a place where anxiety shouldn’t exist.
I’ve visited a number of churches over the years, and I usually visit them alone.
Yet the visits almost always play out in the exact same way: I’m greeted enthusiastically by the door greeter who is only too happy to welcome me in and hand me some sort of bulletin and “connect card” to fill out while I should be singing along with the worship team or paying attention to the sermon so that it’s ready by the time the collection plate comes along.
After this brief encounter as I’m walking in the door, I find a seat — normally towards the back because, well, that’s just me — and from that point on, no one says a word to me.
I may get a smile or a nod from someone nearby, but no one actually speaks…with one exception.
At some point, either after the first worship song (and before some church announcements) or after the last worship song (and before the sermon), the enthusiastic worship leader issues some sort of social command. It’s something along the lines of one of these:
Before you sit down, shake hands with at least three people around you.
(The number varies week to week, apparently.)
Shake hands with the person next to you and tell them they’re awesome.
(The adjective varies week to week.)
Once in a while, the thing we’re supposed to say is topical, related to some upcoming holiday or even a sporting event. I once was instructed to tell the people next to me which team I was rooting for in a college football rivalry. What that even remotely had to do with church is still a mystery.
But no matter what line or sentiment we’re handed, those warm greetings feel extraordinarily shallow, because as soon as they’re over, everyone goes right back to ignoring each other.
The obvious exception, of course, is when people sitting next to each other actually know each other. Then it’s not shallow.
But if you’re a visitor, and you’re experiencing Christian fellowship that has been “ordered,” it almost feels worse than just being ignored altogether. In a way, it’s actually a reminder that you’re an outsider, because you begin to realize that if it weren’t for that moment of forced interaction, there’d have been none whatsoever.
Is that what Christian fellowship is supposed to be like?
I’m not sure how to fix that problem, but maybe it’s enough that church people should ponder that the problem exists at all; maybe that would prompt them to speak to more people before and after the service…or, at the very least, before they’re told to do so.
That might make visitors feel a little more like they belong there.