Looking for a Church (part 5) – When Someone Reaches Out, Reach Back

Recently I have been posting about what to do when you are looking for a church: What should you do? What shouldn't you do? What questions should you ask? What should you observe? You can read the 4 posts on this topic here:

When I read the article below I realized it provides some great advice on what to do when you actually decide on a church. "When you are new to a church and someone reaches out to you, you have to reach back." You have to ask questions, check out groups and opportunities, and be willing to get to know people. Read the article below (or in its original form) for more suggestions.

When Someone Reaches Out, Reach Back {Advice for When You're New}

By Christine Hoover
My absolute favorite way to serve in our church is to greet visitors and help new people get connected into relationships and into ministry areas where they can use their spiritual gifts. Every week, without fail, I'm standing at the church entrance ready to pounce on unsuspecting newbies and overwhelm them with love and information.

Doing this for six years has given me a unique perspective on the church and on people. Far above anything else, I've learned what an opportunity we have to connect with people simply by thinking like a visitor, noticing them, helping them, and welcoming them into the church. That's why I recently shared my friend's story of being new and exhorted the Church to consider our visitors.

But I also now have a unique perspective on how people approach visiting churches and trying to connect in them (or at least connecting in ours). I've seen all variety of ways that people approach being new, but I can usually tell on their second or third visit who will be the most "successful" at connecting within the church and who will most likely struggle.

The gist of it is this: the people who tend to struggle to connect are those who take a long while to reach out for the hands that are extended to them. I used to get so discouraged about those who remained on the fringe or who gave up coming no matter what we did to include them and reach out to them, but now I recognize that, at some point, they have to reach back and there is nothing we can do to make them reach back. I do think it is the church's primarily responsibility to reach first; a visitor should not feel the primary weight of figuring out how to connect. But if the new one rebuffs the hand that comes toward them, many times people will give them "space" until they're ready to jump in. The new one may then be left to feel that they have to make the first advances.

Perhaps you're the "new one" right now–you're brand new to a church or you're looking for one because you've moved. As a person who often interacts with newbies, here are some encouragements I would offer you:

Ask Questions
I love it when first time visitors ask me, "What are the main things I should know about your church?" or "How can I get involved here?" Every church is unique and it may help tremendously to ask questions, especially in regard to connecting: "What is the primary way I can get to know others?" Most churches have a process or a path of involvement that will, first, introduce their basic beliefs and values and, second, offer you ways to commit to membership, connect with others, and serve. Make an informed choice before committing to a church; once you're fully "in" you'll be more likely to make the effort of reaching back.

Don't try to short-circuit the process.
When you've decided on a church, go with the process or path that you've discovered by asking good questions. I see people struggle when they try to short-circuit the process or sometimes even try to alter the process to match the church they came from. If you're committing to a church, it will be far easier and smoother to engage the process for connecting that's already in place. And by the way, thinking a church will be perfect and meet all your needs without any effort on your part is going to severely short-circuit the process.

Do things that make you feel uncomfortable.
There are easy ways you can reach back but almost all of them are uncomfortable when you're new: approach people you don't know and strike up conversation, greet someone who is alone (and maybe new themselves), respond warmly to others when they approach you, ask questions rather than letting everyone ask you all the questions, and actually go to an event listed on the church bulletin so you can meet people. As I always say, push through the awkward, because it's worth it in the end.

Make yourself available.
Don't show up late and bolt the second church or Bible study is over. No one can talk to you if you do that. And, whether it's intended or not, it gives off a signal that you're not interested in being talked to.

Resist the urge to quit.
Being new takes so much mental and emotional energy. And connecting takes time. So don't give up. Keep putting yourself out there. Keep praying for friends and opportunities to use your spiritual gifts. Make the sacrifices needed to be at small group with your young kids. Don't allow yourself to quit going to Bible study even though you feel uncomfortable. Don't close off from others.

And if no one is reaching toward you, take it upon yourself to reach out first. Be what you want others to be toward you. I guarantee that everyone is looking for the same thing you are: to be loved.

I'm sure there is so much that could be added to this post. How have you been successful at being the "newbie"? What has God shown you about reaching back? 

  1. Good advise. I’m going to bravely go out on a limb with my comments, and please know they are with all due respect. It was hard for me to connect at Northridge even with some effort. I did take myself outside my comfort zone as best as I could but still felt disconnected. I wanted so very much to like your church but I concluded, after giving it about a year, that this “church” wasn’t a good fit for me. I have no hard feelings and sometimes I even wonder if i’ll return, once i’m a stronger and more educated Christen. I have yet to find another church whose teaching i enjoy as much as I did at Northridge.
    My unsolicited feedback….the yellow highlighted section in the article applies to both newbies & those who have been in the church for a while. Some of us, more than others, need more time and effort before we feel comfortable. So, if a church member feels they are not reaching “us”, don’t give up! We could be struggling to feel like we fit in.
    Thank you for letting me share.
    Peace & blessings to all of you 🙂

  2. Sue,

    Thanks for your perspective. I think our staff worked hard to get you plugged in, and Im sorry you werent able to find a way to do so. If I understand it right, even after leaving, our staff was reaching out to you. I am very sorry you didnt find our church to be a good fit. 

    I am praying that you find a great church that is a good fit for you. There are several very good churches in our city! If you need recommendations, let me know. 

    We love you and your family and would love to help connect you at a great church. Let me know if we can help. 


  3. Just to be clear, David, I was speaking less about staff & more about the congregation. I would often make the effort to say hello to complete strangers yet rarely would anyone approach me to do the same. Maybe it’s just the nature of a big church and not having been raised in a church, and Northridge being the first church I ever attended regularly, my hopes were off base. I just would have thought that long time church members would naturally reach out more readily. I guess I’m still learning how it all works.

  4. Im sorry to hear that, Sue. That doesnt sound like the Northridge we normally hear about but I do know everyones experience is different.  I think the staff was trying to connect you to smaller environments. That is where connections are made.  Our experience is that if someone attends six months or more but isnt serving regularly or in a community group – they rarely stick long term. if they are serving and in a community group – they are usually in for life and feel like the church is very friendly and personal. I dont know how those generalizations fit with your experience.

    But I would encourage you that even a large church feels small once you are in a group and serving. Wherever God takes you – I would encourage you to do those two things. There are great churches in Rochester that are bigger and smaller than us. If I can help you find one – let me know.

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