Have you ever walked into a social gathering and realized that you didn’t know anyone there but the host? So awkward. And our tendency is to either plant ourselves in a corner and only come out when the ice cream does, or to walk slowly around the room, scoping it out, and introducing yourself to the person who looks like you–shy and disengaged. Or you might be the one who stays for five minutes and then politely excuses yourself and heads for the door. Hey, you’ve met your obligation just by showing up, right?
Since everyone gets into a church in a different way– some by personal invitation, some by just being in the neighborhood, some through a specific ministry or outreach–each person will have a different connection level when they first come. But entering a church can be just as daunting as entering another type of social gathering. We might be thinking “I don’t know a soul here. I hope they don’t make the new people stand out in any way”. Or the opposite “I hope someone notices that I’m new here.” Our feelings can really vary. Some newcomers can easily assimilate into a new environment, while for others, the process can be slow and cautious. And neither one of these is wrong. God created each of us differently, and we can be sure that there is a place in the church for all who wish to engage here. Let me give you a few “on-ramps” to plug into a church so that your early days (or later days, for that matter!) don’t find you standing on the sidelines, wondering “How can I get plugged in here?”.
1. Join a small group. I know, this seems counterintuitive. “I’m new, so I want to get together in a random person’s living room every other week, to talk about the Bible and all my personal stuff?”. In a nutshell, YES! When we gather in our church on a Sunday morning, we are all facing the front, worshipping and learning from the speaker at the front. The sermon is not generally interactive, and we don’t have an opportunity to get our questions answered on the spot. In a church service, we engage with the Bible. But in a small group, we engage with the Bible AND with people. There is the opportunity to know and be known. Does everyone become your best friend? No, not generally. But we know people in a real and fresh way, and we learn how what we learn from the pulpit on Sunday gets put into practice in real life.
2. Serve in ministry. In most churches, and definitely here at Island Christian, you are able to serve in most ministry areas without being a member. That’s not to say that being a member doesn’t have its benefits or isn’t important. But it is not a prerequisite to serving. The reason that serving helps you to plug into a church is threefold: it helps you put into practice what you’re learning, it helps you to meet new people in a smaller way (like small groups do), and it helps you feel like you are a part of God’s bigger picture. Serving can be simple, like greeting on a Sunday. Or it can be a little more commitment, like helping with VBS or in the church nursery. However you choose to serve, it will help you feel like you are making strides in becoming a part of the church body.
3. COME to church! This is probably the most simple, but I think it is crucial to getting plugged in at church. When I was new to the church thing, I pretty much decided on Saturday night if I was going to church on Sunday morning. Anything could sway me–if I was out late the night before, if I got a “better” offer, or even if I just felt like staying in my jammies and watching TV. But one of the best decisions we made as a family was to commit to being in church every Sunday. Of course, we miss because of vacations or illness, but I’m thankful to say that those are few and far between. When we put attending church service high on our priority list, we are prioritizing those relationships we are forming, with God and with others. There is a sweetness in corporate worship and a sense of belonging when we begin to see the same faces in “your” section of the sanctuary every Sunday. This will help you to feel like this is YOUR church, not just a church you sometimes attend.
Getting plugged in isn’t as challenging as you might think, even in a large church. Read the bulletin or check out the website regularly so that you can see ways to meet others and get involved. You won’t regret it!
-Cindy Compitiello, Small Groups Coordinator