Lately, I’ve run across a situation at church that baffles me. I don’t know if this is a problem in Christian churches overall, but here it goes.
People don’t want to be friends.
After our previous church split, we stuck around for several months until finally admitting that we were all miserable: we’d lost all our friends, the leaders made several decisions that didn’t work well for our family, and, worse, our children complained that they were bored and hated church. That is definitely not what a parent wants to hear.
So in January 2013, we started visiting churches. This is the Bible Belt, remember, so there are lots of churches to try. To date, we’ve visited six churches. Big churches, small churches, ones with lots of older people, ones with lots of younger people, ones that have multi-million dollar building facilities, ones that meet in elementary schools, even a house church.
We’re not church hoppers; we’re actively trying to find a home church. We’ve settled on a large church in our area, and our children have adjusted and even made friends. So far, so good. We’re okay with the music, the preaching, and most (but not all) of the theology. We don’t want to change churches again; our kids need consistency.
But the adults aren’t as welcoming to me and my husband. We’ve been in three Sunday school classes at this particular church, and no one’s displayed any interest in us. They ask three things:
What’s your name? (Laura.)
How long have you been in this area? (Twenty-five years.)
Can you fill out a visitor information card? (Yes.)
That’s it. Occasionally, they’ll ask where my husband works. (No one at any church we’ve tried has asked what I do. We went to one particular class for two-and-a-half months, including a couple of social events, and no one knew that I’m a writer.)
To a curious degree, they exhibit a curious lack of curiosity about us as people. I find this absolutely bizarre. I mean, if you meet someone new, aren’t you at all interested in knowing about that person?
This isn’t a “Very Large Church” issue. It happened to us at the small churches, too. Initially, they were extremely welcoming, did a little happy dance at getting visitors, all that sort of thing. We got more questions, usually directed at my husband about work and job-related things, and the marketing and sales pitch for the church. But as time passed and we continued to attend, the members went back to their familiar friends, and we sat alone and unnoticed on the church pews. People were friendly, but they didn’t want to be our friends.
I’ll note that it was typically the MEN talking. The women stayed quiet or stuck to their groups of female friends. The times when I tried to engage a particular woman in conversation, she answered in monosyllables and never bounced the conversational ball back into my court. Don’t tell me that she must be an introvert; as soon as her friends came along, she was a chatterbox.
I had women, including teacher’s wives, who never made eye contact with me—ever. We spent over two months in one class, and I don’t think there was a single woman in there who knew my first name, much less anything about my life.
Yesterday, I tried to talk to a lady near us in Sunday School Class #3. She was willing to talk about her kids, but never asked me anything about my daughters, even when I mentioned them. It’s as if the women are all “friended-up” and don’t want to meet anyone new.
Look, I realize that I’m an introvert and shy and socially anxious and bipolar. I’m not an easy person to befriend or be friends with. I get that. Still, I can carry on a conversation with reasonable proficiency when given the chance. But I can’t carry on a conversation alone. That’s a monologue, and I’d prefer to leave those up to the likes of Hamlet and Macbeth, thank you very much. It just baffles me that church people think it’s okay to ignore visitors or behave with only surface-level friendliness toward other attenders.
I feel like I’m the invisible woman. Believe me, invisibility isn’t a superpower I want to display at church. It emotionally drains me to go through this week after week. I’d rather curl up in the church library with a book than put myself out there yet another time.
Forget about fitting in at church: I know that’s not going to happen in a city as totally devoted to technology as mine is. There’s simply too many engineer-types for an artsy person to truly feel comfortable here. But it would be nice to have my fellow Christians show some interest in me, especially when I try very hard to take interest in them.
Is this something that other people have experienced?
December 2016: If you’re curious about what happened, I wrote a followup post. Invisible in Church? Here’s my story. I hope that it is helpful and encouraging to all of you who struggle with relationships within church.