“It’s hard to find community,” they say. I sit across from them at Starbucks or at my dining table and listen to them share about the difficulty of finding people they connect to, people with whom they can build a solid friendship and grow together in faith. “They” have been college students, single young adults, and married couples. “They” have been both laypeople and staff members, newcomers and long-standing members of the church.
My heart aches whenever I hear about the loneliness they feel in the church because I’ve been there before too. I’ve been the new person with no one to sit with. I’ve stood in the awkward and extremely uncomfortable silence after a brief “Hello, nice to meet you” conversation. I’ve felt invisible while other times feeling like too much, constantly wondering what it takes to finally become a natural part of the church’s community. It is exhausting for the soul.
But I’ve been on the other side too. I’ve been the leader of the welcome committee. I’ve been the pastor who meets with newcomers for coffee. I’ve been the one who notices people standing alone and makes sure they at least have a conversation over snacks with someone that day. I’ve been on both sides, and I know how hard it is to find community.
Patterns in Not Being Able to Find Community
As I’ve listened to the same frustration shared by many over the years, I’ve noticed some patterns emerge from these conversations:
- We’ve put too much of our friendship and community eggs into the church basket. In other words, we’re expecting too much from the church. For example, so many of us hope to find deep bonds with people in our small groups. These are often formed by location or life stages, and though it is possible to find people to connect with, these are structured groups with focused discussions. The real work of creating and cultivating community and friendships often happen outside of structured, church-sanctioned times. Also, church shouldn’t be the only place where friendships and community can happen. It can happen at work, at school, in our neighborhoods. It can happen with Christians from other churches or other faith-based, same-interest groups.
- If we’ve had a vibrant or rich church experience before, it’s easy to look back and long for the good ol’ days, to compare the present to the past. The problem is that that experience was unique to that time and place, to that season in life. It could never be replicated when it’s a new season, a new church, a new city, or even if it’s the same church but a different season. We shouldn’t expect or even hope to replicate the same experience but to create a new one with where we are now.
- In general, making friends as an adult is H A R D, and building community as an adult is more of the same. It can take months, but more likely it will take years. It will take lots of awkward silences, lots of intentional effort to meet in person, lots of doing life together. Some of us will lose steam from the string of disappointments we experience. Some of us who are more introverted will simply become too drained from having to meet with people. Some of us will go through wilderness seasons where community and friendships are harder to build or even impossible. But the truth and hope is that seasons don’t last forever, and the possibility of connecting with a group of people will come around again.
What to Do Now
I’m not a pastor anymore, but if we were sitting together and you were telling me how hard it’s been to find community, I’d want to say this to you:
- Stay. Unless God is clearly releasing you from your current church, ground yourself where you’re at. Decide to choose the church you’re currently attending, and embed yourself into it. Every church is broken- the people in it are broken, the staff members leading it are broken, the systems and structures that form it are broken. But God is redeeming, renewing the church even when we can’t see it with our own eyes. It often happens more slowly than we’d want and not often the way we’d wish it would, but He is doing the work constantly.
- Invest. This could mean becoming members or tithing or volunteering in some way. This could mean initiating a coffee or lunch date with someone else who also needs community. Investing means showing up, being present, and looking around to see the needs around you. It means sharing yourself and your story, being vulnerable, and being willing to risk rejection and hurt by putting yourself out there first.
- Pray. Maybe it is time for you to leave your church or maybe it’s time to finally root yourself where you’re at. Pray and seek counsel from others who are steady in their faith and who are committed to their churches. Wrestle it out with God because He created you for community and desires it for you. He can help you build it. He can bring the right people at just the right time, but even in the loneliest seasons, He is with you, for you. He sees you, and He has not forgotten you.