We just moved into a new house. This was our 3rd move in three years, two of which were across the country. I’ve been the “new girl” in at least ten different church bodies in the last three years. I’ve had five kids in tow and a deep longing in my heart – a longing for deep Bible study, relational community, and authentic acceptance. My lonely, tired heart yearned for a hug and the proclamation, “You are welcome here.” If there’s one blessing from these past three years of moving and attending different churches, it’s that I have a “new” perspective.
I would never have chosen to be the “new girl”. I am a relationally wounded introvert. I like deep friendships that take me years to build. I liked the set of friends I had before we moved. We had been at that church for 10 years and I had some incredible relationships. Friends that felt comfortable. Friends I could depend on. I see now though that I had become too comfortable. Those friends had become like my favorite pair of yoga pants. I love putting them on at the end of the day and breathing the deep sigh of “being with you is so comfortable and easy.” But if I’m not careful, I’ll wear those yoga pants for so long that I become completely unmotivated to exercise, put on make-up, or even take a shower. We can become so content in our relationships that we forget that there are those God is calling us to welcome. This is often subtle, just like the pull to stay in those yoga pants a tad longer than I probably should. I see now that I might need to get a bit uncomfortable in order to love well.
I hate to admit it, but in those “comfortable friendship” years, it never occurred to me to reach out to new people. I was so busy trying to keep my head above water with my brood of littles that I never noticed those around me who were going under. To all the “new girls” that I never reached out to, I’m so very sorry. I know now what it is like to be on the outside of community looking in. I’m sorry for not being willing to get out of my own head, for not being willing to risk rejection, and for letting fear rule over love. If I met you today, I would hold your hand and smile and say in heartfelt honesty, “I’m glad you are here.”
So how do you survive as the new girl? I don’t have any magic formula or a ten step plan to build your best friendships ever. I just have a few thoughts…
1. It is going to be hard
I’m guessing you probably didn’t want to hear that. I’m guessing you are pretty tired. I get it! Did you catch the moving 3 times in 3 years? Getting 5 kids dressed, out the door, and into a brand new place each week was SO hard. Week after week of searching for a church is draining. Then once you have decided to make a church your home, it still requires work.
I used to get discouraged by how hard it was to connect. Now, I expect it to be hard – kinda like running a half marathon hard. I’ve braced myself for the bad run days and the days I don’t want to get up at 6 AM and the days it just feels too lonely and the days it hurts. I know that’s part of race training and I know it’s part of the relationship journey as well.
2. Create what you are seeking
It would be lovely if the first time you walked into a church door, everyone came up to you and said, “Welcome! You seem like such a totally amazing person! We would love to get to know you and bless you and be your BFF for life. What do you like to do? Coffee? Let’s go. Painting? I’m taking you to a class next week. Yoga? I know a great gym. Cooking? I’ll send you my favorite recipe.”
If that ever happens to you, don’t ever leave that church!!!!
Since that probably isn’t going to be the experience for most of us, how do we find what we are seeking? Remember point #1, it’s going to be hard? Yep. You will have to roll up your sleeves and get dirty. Be the initiator – make the playdate, ask someone you just met for coffee, roll into that Bible study where you don’t know a soul, sign up to serve in the nursery. Don’t wait for opportunities for fellowship to fall in your lap. Invite women you meet into YOUR home. Be the one to show hospitality first.
Just this week I invited 5 women for coffee. I’ve invited women into my home for an IF table gathering. Find your sweet spot and start there! What do you like to do? Ask another woman to join you. Or better yet, get out of those yoga pants and try something new that makes you uncomfortable.
3. Don’t give up
Oh friend, I want you to know how many times I’ve wanted to give up. Someone didn’t take me up on my invitation to get together. The playdate was a disaster. I went to the women’s night and no one talked to me. I felt unwelcomed on the retreat. The email was never returned. I was left out of a get-together. There has been more than one occasion where I threw up my hands and said, “That’s it! This is too hard. I’m not going to meet anyone. It’s got to be easier just to be alone.”
But I know that it’s worth it. I’ve had those deep friendships and I know they are more valuable than gold. I know that this life is much too hard to survive without the Body of Christ.
“so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Emphasis mine.
We become strengthened, become grounded in love, and grow in the fullness of God WITH ALL THE SAINTS.
Transformation takes place in the context of community. It is worth fighting for!
If you are struggling, keep praying! Pour out your heart to God – your frustrations, fears, resentment, longings. He longs to draw close to you in this time. He created you for community and understands the desires of your heart,
Maybe you aren’t the new girl. Maybe you work in women’s ministry at your church or maybe you have been attending your current church for a substantial amount of time and already have a strong community. I challenge you with this question: Are you reaching out the hand of fellowship? Have your “yoga pants” friends become so comfortable that you forget to reach out beyond that circle?
Does your church have a team or a contact person that welcomes new women? Is there a plan, or do women fall through the cracks under the well-intentioned notion that surely someone in the congregation will notice the new girl and welcome her?
Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. ~Romans 12:13
Hospitality doesn’t have to be elaborate. From one of the churches we visited, a sweet lady in her seventies drove all the way across town the next week to bring me a freshly baked loaf of bread. I wept when I read the note that said, “We offer you the bread of fellowship. Thank you for visiting our church.” We had been visiting churches for six months and this was the first time someone even noticed or cared enough to show love to this desperate heart. We started attending that little church the very next week.
If bread baking ain’t your thing (it’s not mine either) maybe a phone call would be easier. Something simple like, “Hey, thanks for visiting our church. I’d love to connect you with some of the women in our body. Tell me more about yourself.” Man, a phone call like that would have been so life-giving.
I don’t have all the answers. Gosh, I have way more questions than answers. But maybe it’s time – time for the sisters in the Body of Christ to ask each other how we are doing in building community. Of course asking questions requires listening, which means we may have to slow down and spend time together. Let’s start the conversation.
Who wants to go get coffee? My treat!
“The first service one owes to others in a community involves listening to them. Just as our love for God begins with listening to God’s Word, the beginning of love for others is learning to listen to them. God’s love for us is shown by the fact that God not only gives God’s Word, but also lends us God’s ear. We do God’s work for our brothers and sisters when we learn to listen to them. So often Christians, especially preachers, think that their only service is always to have to ‘offer’ something when they are together with other people.
They forget that listening can be a greater service…Christians who can no longer listen to one another will soon no longer be listening to God either.”