Blog schedule, novel writing, and being invisible at church (again)

Two things.

Number one. I’ve written that I’m starting a new novel. It’s going well, in case you were wondering, but it’s also exhausting: pouring all my creative energies into a first draft doesn’t leave me with enough creative energy to blog several times a week.

So I’m cutting back on my blog until I finish the first draft of The Color of Bones. (That’s my tentative title. Please don’t tell me if some other novel is named that! Or please do, because then I can rename it.)  At the rate I’m going, I should hit my goal of 80,000 words by the end of June.

Until then, I’ll blog once a week. You can use all that time you’d normally spend reading my posts doing something meaningful. (Like watching cat videos on YouTube.)

Number two, on a more serious note. A year and a half ago, I wrote a post called “Me, the Invisible Woman in the Church Pew.” I received quite a few comments. I’m still receiving comments on the post and even the occasional private email, many of them telling heartbreaking stories of being rejected in church.

(I don’t fit in at church is one of the top searches that brings people to my blog. Variations include cliques at church, church cliques, and invisible at church.)

Today, using the information made available by the commenter, I made a chart of their demographics: gender, age, marital status, and whether the person was an introvert or extrovert. I was trying to see what, if any, common denominators they held. Geography didn’t seem to be a factor. Most people didn’t mention denomination or theology.

Out of twenty commenters, sixteen were female, four male. There were a variety of ages and marital statuses mentioned; some mentioned children, others did not.

I had to do a little guessing about the introversion versus extraversion trait. Not everyone mentioned it. But of those who did mention it, a significant percent said they were introverts. This included people who said they had actively tried to participate in church activities, even when they were uncomfortable in groups or were rejected.

These were not passive, sit-on-the-pews types of people who waited for others to come to them. They volunteered. They did Bible studies, led Bible studies, organized fellowships. They did things that many introverts would be exhausted by doing and may or may not have been gifted and called to do.

Yet they still identified with being invisible at church.

Something is wrong.

I know that many pastors and church leaders would recognize this as an issue in their church. But recognizing a problem and finding a solution are two different things. To a certain extent, this problem won’t be resolved in this life; some people are going to be cliquish and unfriendly and show superficial concern for others no matter what. But that doesn’t mean we can’t try.

So I’d like to hear from those in positions of power (and influence) at church. It doesn’t matter what position, whether you’re paid staff or a volunteer.

  1. How do you perceive this problem? Is it a problem in your congregation?
  2. What are you doing—or have thought about doing—to promote a genuinely friendly church atmosphere? Beyond friendliness, what do you do to promote genuine, deep relationships between the people in your congregation?
  3. Finally, what would you like to see the “invisible people” do? In other words, what do you expect from us, particularly those who have been in the church for years and still don’t feel accepted?

In my experience, it’s relatively easy to help first time visitors feel welcome. (Note “relatively.” I didn’t say it happened often.) They’re more easily identified, for one thing.

By comparison, it’s much harder to help those long time church attenders or members who feel excluded, even after years of attending the same church. They may be involved in volunteer work, etc., and still never feel a part of the church body.

I welcome your thoughts, whether you’re a church leader or not. If you have ideas, please share them.

Advertisements

15 thoughts on “Blog schedule, novel writing, and being invisible at church (again)

  1. Interesting. Celebrate Recovery was very helpful because it was so inclusive that everyone felt valued, everyone knew that they were worth someone’s time as a human being. The thing that didn’t work, however, and was a big contributor to its ending within that church (I believe) was that the main body of the church saw CR as something for ‘those’ people (which is ironic, considering that Jesus made His life’s mission ‘those’ people). It was not wholly accepted as part of the mainstream movement and thrust of the church and this (I believe) led to there not being enough members for it to keep going. But Celebrate Recovery taught me what fellowship can and should mean. The women in my group became like my sisters. They allowed me to be me, and vice versa. Each of us took off her ‘mask’ for just a little while once a week and that was true fellowship, true friendship.

    Other than that… simple kindness and friendliness make a huge difference. The hand of friendship, of valuing a human being as an individual, as a fully formed expression of our Creator. That’s what every church should strive to see in every individual. It’s not about how many bottoms on seats there are of a Sunday morning!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for sharing about this, Sandy. I wish that all churches held the attitude that everyone is a valuable human being. Most would say that they do, but often the attitude is that some are more valuable than others. (On a related note, I wish all churches asked about individual spiritual gifts and talents, and explored with that person how they could use their gifts/talents/interests in the church.)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a great subject, Laura — I have certainly been there. I went back and read your previous post because I don’t think I saw it when you originally wrote it. You’ve asked some good questions here of leadership types, about how they promote/encourage relationship-building and what their expectations are.

    Like

    1. Thanks, Jeannie. As I’ve never been in church leadership, I don’t know what many church leaders expect from their congregation. I’m curious about whether they’ll admit to having expectations of visitors; from my observation, it seems that many do, particularly pastors who aren’t particularly good with people. (Apparently interpersonal skills aren’t taught in seminary.)

      Like

  3. Continuing the discussion about how people perceive their place – or lack of place – in a local congregation is a great ministry you provide, Laura.

    Happy first draft writing too. I decided to take a look at an old work of mine and went through it striking words, sentences and whole paragraphs right and left. It felt liberating.

    Like

  4. Yes, writing is exhausting! I recently “finished” my book but now it is out with various people for getting feedback. I could not even blog once a week when I was writing. But I really threw myself into it like it was a full time job.

    Regarding your post. We have “chatted” on these things between both of our blogs and have similar frustrations. One thing though, I’ve actually found that it can be hard to get leadership to even realize there is a problem! They deny it, or won’t consider feedback as being valid. If you or others speak up, YOU are perceived as the picky or demanding (or whatever) ones with a problem.

    I have found that churches with the most emphasis on community are actually the most cliquey ones.

    “These were not passive, sit-on-the-pews types of people who waited for others to come to them. They volunteered. They did Bible studies, led Bible studies, organized fellowships. They did things that many introverts would be exhausted by doing and may or may not have been gifted and called to do.” – Yes. My spouse and I were at a church for 3 yrs and exhausted ourselves volunteering and reaching out. After 3 yrs we had no connections or friends, and finally left. No one noticed we left and there is no one we keep in touch with. After 3 yrs there should have been some people we would have remained in touch with…or a pastor should have wondered about us.

    We have been at a church over 2 yrs now. There is no big emphasis on community, and guess what? The place feels like a community and not cliquey. Least cliquey church I have encountered in a long time. At a Bible study I got involved in (where I did not know anyone) many people have spoke with me, and made me feel a part of things.

    Well, I may have already shared these things. Thanks for continuing the conversation…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Laura, that’s an excellent observation about churches that emphasize community versus those that do not. I’ve seen it, too, though my experience is limited. But the churches I visited that were most unfriendly emphasized small groups (usually organized by the church, rather than organically developing between friends), which meant that people only socialized/greeted those within their group and ignored visitors. (That hasn’t always been the case. Churches can have small groups and reach out to others, but leadership has to model how it’s done, I think.)

      I totally agree with your observation about leadership, too, and I think some of the other commenters on the previous post would say their experience proves this to be true. Sad.

      I hope you get some great feedback on your book. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve struggled a lot with this as both a leader and a lonely congregant. I’m gonna go out on a limb and say the problem isn’t how we do ministry, but the culture we have that discourages and even discriminates against authenticity.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s an interesting idea, Liz. I think I agree that our culture (the church culture) discourages authenticity. The irony, IMO, is that many of the churches claim they value authenticity! What I’ve observed in small group settings is this: it’s fine for everyone to be honest about the “pretty” sins (say, pride over our knowledge or self-righteousness) and even, sometimes, about our unsinful weaknesses/struggles (for example, my bipolar disorder, though lots of people are uncomfortable with the topic). But everyone’s guard is up against the big stuff; I’ve yet to meet a small group that could handle a member with serious doubts about God and Christianity, or anger toward God, a desire to ditch the institutional church, or things that might shake the foundations of the faith. Yet I almost guarantee that there are people on the pews who, if they were given the opportunity to be authentic, would express those things. So while lots of folks say they like authenticity, they’re deeply unsettled and threatened by it. Hence the discouragement and discrimination.

      Like

  6. I am so excited about your book! I am looking forward to reading it when you finish. I will be praying for you, because I know how tiring writing can be.
    On the topic of being invisible at church, I think the root of the problem is a failure to see every person as essential to the proper functioning of the church. We are supposed to be a body after all. Our culture values looks, outgoing personalities, and superficial qualities. I am afraid that the modern “church” has been lured into the same mindset. If leaders as well as members could get past appearances, I believe the church could do great things. A leader’s responsibility is to equip the congregation to serve God. That includes recognizing that not everyone is gifted in the same way and the introverts have strengths such as good listening skills, and an ability to empathize that many extroverts lack or at least appear to lack. Good leadership involves recognizing and developing the strengths of a diverse group of people and then utilizing them in a way that helps everyone.

    Like

    1. In my limited experience, many churches don’t seem to understand the value of using everyone’s gifts. Too many Christians don’t even know what their spiritual gifts are, much less how they fit into the ministry of a local church. (I’ve always been told my gifts are teaching and compassion, but finding a place to use them has always been a challenge; I don’t care to work with kids or lead ladies’ Bible studies, so that rules out a lot of things.) Our last church had a minister who was very passionate about finding out new members’ gifts and plugging them into a ministry; he was an unusual man in many respects, and he was gifted with people skills. (If he met you once, he remembered your name the next time you met, along with whatever else you’d told him. Impressive!)

      Like

      1. One thing I would say on this and I think maybe Tim or somebody said the same thing, what you do here is a ministry! I have been encouraged, challenged, and comforted by reading what you write. You do use your gifts very well. I think reaching out in forums like this is a very good work because you can talk to so many people with so many backgrounds from all over. Also editing work reminds me of teaching because you are providing feedback that will help authors improve their writing skills. It seems to me like you are doing what you should be.

        Like

      2. Thanks, Denise! I wish I was able to provide feedback to the authors who submit, but all I can do is vote yes or no on their stories. 😦 If they ever stumble over my blog, I’d be glad to give them feedback, though!

        Liked by 1 person

What do you think? I'd love to hear from you!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s