Recently, I had an experience with a group of people that made feel unconnected to the group. While I went through that quite a bit as a kid, I was pretty socially awkward, it has been a while since I felt that way as an adult. I won't go into the details of what happened but let me say that it felt rather disheartening. This is a group of people that I would like to be a little more connected to but it just doesn't seem like a real possibility.
It is hard for me to find the right words to really express how this feels. No one has been mean or hurtful to me. In fact everyone is rather nice and friendly. There is just another level of relationship that I can see they have with one another, that they don't have with me. Because of this, I am always left feeling like an outsider that has to somewhat force his way into the group. While I am a generally outgoing person, the constant effort to be plugged into a group that doesn't seem to be making an effort to plug me in, is tiring. After a while, you just want to stop because it doesn't feel like the superficial relationship is worth the work.
Going through this experience caused me to look at myself and our church a little bit closer. If you asked any of us, we would probably tell you that we were a friendly inviting group of people. I think if you asked the average church attendee from just about any church in America, they would tell you the same thing. But, is that what the visitors to our churches think of us? Are we really just superficially inviting? Are we keeping people from really connecting with us?
If people aren't feeling completely plugged in to our ministries and we aren't as inviting as we think, what can we do about it?
I came across 5 things that when they happen to us, will create a connection with others. If we learn these 5 things and consciously make an effort to use them with those that walk into our churches, I believe it can move us a long way toward truly being inviting.
1. Get Concrete Help
Example: A friend picks up your kids from school for you.
When someone does something practical like this to help us out, it deepens the connection between us and them. This is the truth behind the old adage that "actions speak louder than words". When the actions of someone show they care, people know they care.
2. Receive Emotional Support
Example: Someone tells you they are sorry that you are going through such a tough time.
It means a lot to people when someone recognizes their struggle and shares in it with them. Just remember that there is a big difference in showing someone empathy and simply feeling sorry for them. Empathy generally comes from a place of equality with the person. Feeling sorry for them generally comes from a place of superiority to them.
3. Achieve Perspective
Example: Being reminded that even the moodiest teenagers grow up.
Often we feel separated from people that we don't fully understand. However, once we gain a healthy perspective on who they are, we tend to feel closer to them. Essentially, this is the other side of the empathy coin. Not only do we feel closer to those who empathize with us, because we feel like they understand us and what we are going through, we feel closer to those that we empathize towards.
4. Receive Good Advice
Example: Someone suggests that you plan a weekly date with your spouse and doing that helps strengthen your marriage. When we get a good piece of advice that actually impacts our life when we use it, it can help increase the bond between us and the person who gave us those words of wisdom. We have to be careful with his one because we can easily fall in to the trap of running around telling people what we think they need to do to fix their lives. We have to remember that we can't force people to change. All we can do is offer the suggestion and what the other person does with it is up to them. Suggestions should be encouraging, not judgmental.
5. Receive Validation
Example: You learn that someone you just met likes the same tv show you do.
There is almost an instant increase in the bond we feel with others the moment we find out that they are into the same hobbies or pastimes that we are. Most of those things require a certain amount of commitment and we feel validated when we know someone else enjoys those same things. Word of warning, NEVER pretend to like something that you either don't actually like or have never heard of. We can however be open to someone sharing with us why they like something. Sometimes just showing someone you are interested enough to listen can go a long way.
Let's remember to make an effort to truly connect with the people that God places into our lives. After all, if if we don't, they'll go somewhere else to find the relationship that they are longing to find.
Phillip Reed is the Associate Pastor of Faith Chapel Ministries. His passion is to reconcile the lost to their Heavenly Father.