I parked my car in the church parking lot and silently gave myself a pep talk. You can do it. Smile, act normal, try to connect and make friends. Be friendly. I knew the drill of being on the other side- of welcoming the newcomer and making them feel connected, but I didn’t know how to be the newcomer. I grew up as a pastor’s kid, never having had to find a church or build a community as an outsider. I was a grad student in seminary when I had to figure it out for the first time.
I smiled at the greeters, took a bulletin, and slid into the back row hoping to blend in. I pretended to be busy reading the order of worship while my mind raced with conversations and scenarios to prepare myself for potential real ones. I ached for a church to call home, but would this be the one?
We received the final benediction, and even though everything in me wanted to run out and get away from the awkward conversations, I told myself to buck up and make an effort to connect during the after-service fellowship time. I did this week after week, and each effort made on both sides- the church’s and mine- created a tiny bond that over time became the foundation for the community I’d build there.
Deciding on a church community is hard when choices abound, but after the church is chosen, building community there may or may not develop smoothly or quickly. Churches are a gathering of imperfect people, so while some things are out of your control, here are 10 things you can do to build community where you’re at: