12/17/2008

The Sick Dysfunctional Church

I have discovered once again that not many people care about anyone else but themselves. I can tend to do this myself, so I understand. 

What I don't understand is how the Church can be so unfriendly. So I sit next to you or behind you in the building. But you just sort of nod your head when you see me or you just scowl at me. Same difference. You don't want to talk to ME, the new person. In fact, it is not even so much as intimidation, which is more admirable. It is INDIFFERENCE. NO INTEREST:

I pretty much don't care about you, I have no clue what you do, I have no clue where you have been, and I don't want to know. Sure, we worship the same God, but you know, I am just glad He cares about you because I certainly don't worry about it. To me, you don't exist. You are just a warm body that sits in the seat behind me and because you make contact with my eyes I must nod at you slightly because you are in fact, a human. I even wave at my neighbor when they drive by. That's sort of the same thing.

Now I know what some of you may think. Why the heck do I not put myself forward? I don't know. Maybe it is some sick fascination with the whole lot of it. I want to see if anyone eventually will ignore the sign on my forehead that says don't talk to me, I am not worth it. I have actually thought about putting the sign on my forehead for fun. It would be perfect. I would walk into the building and there I would be, the sign on my head shining in the glow of the multi-purpose Christian bookstore-smelling room. I wonder what people would do. I have the guts to do it but my Minnesota born husband would be too polite to allow it. 

One of the ladies at church asked me if I ever went to the Sunday School (she is actually in a small group with me, so she talks to me--she is one of the only people who does). She mentioned that the Sunday School teacher is so gifted, I would really love it. She described the man and seemed shocked that I could not place his face, or even know who he was. 
"He sits in the back," she said to further my knowledge. 
"Oh, in the back of the whole building---over by the soundboard and all that---" I said, thinking of the blur of people that sit there and how weird it always seemed to me. "Well, I can't place him really," I continued, "In fact, I have never heard of him probably because no one talks to us."

She slightly jerked back, a little surprised at what I had said, but pulled it in just quickly enough so that I questioned my own thoughts on this. Maybe she wasn't surprised. 
"Oh," she said.

I don't know what the mature thing would be to do in this situation. Maybe ignore it or approach everyone and say, "Hello, I have been going here for four months or more now and I have never gotten to know you." You know, blame it on myself.

But that is easy for a person like me to do. Blame it on myself. I cut my teeth on horrendous emotions like that. I am sick of blaming things on myself all the time. For awhile it seems ok to do, but then again, it is unhealthy. Just as unhealthy as having no interest in people who seem like they must be nice, and hey, they are going to heaven where I am going and maybe I will get to know them there. How comforting

We went to a Christmas Party on Sunday to get to know people as a sort of last effort before we decide to do something drastic (like use signs) or perhaps just resort into our own selves. We sat at a table. No one sat next to us except the pastor and his wife who probably discovered that no one would sit next to us. 

When I went to the bathroom half-way through the thing I prayed to myself for something to happen where we would feel welcome. I am going to sound very charismatic right now but who cares at this point, I am not a looney tune, I just heard this or at least the thought, independent from myself: "Just enjoy your husband." 

I did. 

I encourage you all who feel lonely in a church full of people to enjoy your spouse especially in those things because by golly, that may be the only fellowship you ever get. Amen and amen.


28 comments:

Jen - Queen of Poo said...

I'm gonna throw this out because we are so alike, not because I think this is what you may be doing.

When I feel insecure in a crowd, and this was especially true when I was younger, I put on this air of indifference. It looks like this:

I'm perfectly happy inside myself whether you talk to me or not, you see, because, well, let's be honest, I'm better than you, so don't think you're hurting me by ignoring me because I don't want you or need you anyway.

That's not how I really feel about people, but it's my defense to put that persona on. A preemptive strike, just in case everyone decides to not like me.

But it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. When I put that on, everyone is afraid to approach the ice queen. I was shocked when someone told me in high school that they thought I was stuck up. I said, NO. I'm just really shy.

Maybe people are getting a vibe from you that says, "Stay away."

OR maybe people just suck. :-P

R said...

I wish that could be true. I see that sometimes, in myself, but it is happening to my husband too, who is not like that, very jovial. In fact, it is happening WORSE to him!!! Absolutely NO ONE talks to him!

And at other churches we have been to it has been way better.

But I seriously wish it were true. That would be blaming myself though, and I refuse to do that anymore with this subject.

Jen - Queen of Poo said...

Maybe you need to find a different church?

Maybe this is a sign that this isn't the place where you guys are supposed to be.

Or maybe it's a challenge you're meant to overcome.

Don't bother asking me for advice. I know nothing. :-)

Todd said...

I have a suggestion. Go to www.loudmouthgolf.com and outfit Joel in some really wild pants and sports coat. People might think you're weird, or they might think you're so outrageous they will have to speak to you.

I bought a pair of the wild polka dot pants and would wear them into work once the FAA instituted a "business casual" dress code. I will send them to you if you want to give it a try!

If that doesn't work move on.

Anne said...

This seems to happen to a lot of people in congregations. I know I'm guilty of the same thing - not speaking to new people. Luckily I get around to them before they give up and leave forever.

I have found that almost EVERYONE is afraid to talk to someone new - they are afraid of what to say or of appearing stupid. We have to learn to stick ourselves out there - no matter what! Whether we're the new people or the ones who've been there ten years.

When I became a Christian I, from that moment, have lived in lala land - everyone loves me and I don't care if I look stupid because they love me anyway. And if they don't... they are the ones who will have to be judged. Anyway, if no one loves me at least God is unfailing in that department.

What I've also learned is we have to be what we believe others need to be as well. Be the example - love them no matter what. Jesus himself was despised and rejected. (Isaiah 53)

I have felt this rejection myself but I believe we are all guilty of not knowing each other.

Just my two cents. :)

Joel said...

What bothers me most is that talking to someone is the bare minimum that we should be doing (and I don't mean just saying hello).

We should be having each other over, eating together, going to movies together, babysitting for each other, and on and on and on.

If we can't even get to the point of caring about other people in the same church, we're in really sorry shape. You shouldn't have to go to small group or attend other functions to actually get to know someone else, but even that doesn't help 9 times out of 10.

I think that most suburban Christians are perfectly content hearing a sermon, making a little chit-chat and going back home. Shut the garage door and fire up the big-screen TV. Surf the net and eat out. MAYBE stretch yourself and go to a small group or Bible study, but that's about it. There is no real community, we're all just atoms floating in our own universe. It's really broken and if it doesn't change then I think most churches will be gone in 30 years.

R said...

Jen--you know more than me!

Todd--That would be rockin. I think that is a great idea. But---the Professor would not go for it. YOU try to convince him! LOL

Anne---very good thoughts. I think you are right. I myself am afraid of talking to new people, but I make myself do it more than I want to because of how I feel when I am not talked to. Well, sometimes I don't want to be talked to at all. I know what you are saying completely.

Joel---You and I see eye to eye. Yes, I feel like I am forced to be an "atom."

Anne said...

"We should be having each other over, eating together, going to movies together, babysitting for each other, and on and on and on."

Good comment. That's the only way to really get to know eachother. We truley need to be family.

Dapoppins said...

Well. Huh. What to say?

I am the obnoxious person who smile and probably touches you too much, and then doesn't' know what the heck to say, but is determined to be friendly---if your kids are nearby that is always great for me because they are the best topic of conversation. That and the weather.

Seriously. I want to say stuff. I usually smile and say hello,say something dumb like "are you waiting for your grandson?" and you say, "No. I am the mom." And I say. "Oh, I am sorry, it's just that you look like a young grandma. Any way, I am sure they will be here, the teacher likes to pray..." and then you look at me like I am insane. ---I usually come off way to strong.

I am also that annoying person who is behind you singing way to loudly, because I like to sing and enjoy the worship and I don't care what anyone thinks...! People usually look at me funny...and wonder why they can't come to church and get some peace and reverence and all that!

The curchy powers that be tried to invent "small groups" to help families get to know each other. These are always uncomfortable for me because I tend to preform when I am in a small group, which gives me more opportunity to stick my foot in my mouth.


Ask Bee, it's all true.

R said...

Anne---yep, I thought that was a good comment too.

Dapoppins---So you are an actress? I say dumb things too and get my foot stuck in my mouth. I may not mean what is coming out, it just comes out wrong because I am nervous. I understand all that. But you aren't weird. You're cute. Helplessly cute.

Anne said...

Poppins - I'm am sooo like you. I'm the one who's said in the past (more than I would like to admit) "Oh, are you expecting?" I've eaten both my feet more than I care to think about. I'm the one who sings loud too. :)

You know, I remember visiting a congregation in the Nashville, Tennessee area - I was without my family. This was a pretty large congregation and probably only two people spoke to me and they weren't the ones sitting near me. One of them only spoke to me because I asked where the restroom was - I have to admit she was quite friendly in assisting me. That was the day I decided to do better. I'm not there yet but I'm trying.

Some of us can at least smile and say "good morning" or SOMETHING simple! We don't have to have a huge conversation to show someone we know they are there and we love them. There are quite a few people I don't have time to talk to or maybe they are busy talking to someone else. I just gently touch their shoulder letting them know I love them and walk on by. Simple.

Sometimes, before I talk to anyone else, I've tried to make it a point to talk to one person who is "out of my circle of regulars." It's about stepping outside ourselves - putting off the old man and remembering that we've put on Christ. (Col. 3:8-11; Gal. 3:27-29)

Great topic Rachel.

Muley said...

R--

I have to admit that I am almost never the first person to say "hello" to a visitor because even though I'm a bit of a ham at times with people I know, I am the shy type when it comes to new people.

However, I think after four months I'd probably not consider you the "new people" anymore and would have worked up the courage to say hello.

Our church is huge, and unfortunately in the worship service there isn't as much meeting and greeting going on as there should be. But that service is only one hour of the week -- most of the life of the church goes on in Sunday School, in youth and adult activities, and in the normal phone calling, e-mailing, hanging out that goes on the rest of the time. When it comes to that, we in my Sunday School department are surely not perfect, but we definitely do more than we do in worship. And we have a social of some sort each month just because we enjoy spending time together and catching up.

If you lived around here, I'd invite you and your husband to come to church with us. The folks in your church are don't know what a blessing they are missing when they ignore the fellowship of other believers. It's just fun to spend time with others who hold the same things most sacred as you do.

I will pray for you.

(Was this too serious and "Afterschool Special" feeling? If so, I apologize. I'm usually goofier.)

Des said...

I was in a similar situation at a congregation. You might want to consider joining the Welcome Committee. The insight of newcomers is very valuable and joining (or forming) this type of committee might be a good way to meet people. You would also be able to model behavior that others need to see to create a more welcoming atmosphere.Just a thought.

Uncle Joe said...

i think i'll send you an email.
too much to write here.

Uncle Joe said...

the email was too long. lol

Finding the right place in the right church is very hard.

A lot of them don't know they have problems.
We visited a former pastor in another state once.
His wife said to me after the service, "What do you think about our friendly church?"
I said, "Only two people shook our hand"
Enough said.

The Doozie said...

Ok then....that pretty much screws me. I don't have a spouse to enjoy in church. And I will be totally frank here, I...The Doozie...used to attend faithfully.


At the times in my life when I needed people the most, they didn't see it. I have thought and felt everything you have written about. I am left with this thought...You can't make them talk to you or care about you. you have to make going to church more about you and less about others because you will always and forever be disappointed.

Like i said before, I do not attend. I chose not to subject myself to the horrific feelings of rejection that happen again and again and again.

My God is not like that, and he does not exist where that sort of thing goes on.


I'm pretty much making no sense. The only thing you can take away from this is, I understand, and also, be glad you have a husband to partner with you. It is no fun to go into that inferno alone.

R said...

Anne---Thanks, you have some great thoughts on this. I appreciate your input! Love is a giving up of ourselves and you are totally right!!

Muley--I really think what you said from non-new churchgoers perspective quite insightful. It gives me a little more tolerance for them! I hope that my just bringing this up will not only get you to pray for me :) but also get out of your comfort zone and say hi to someone who is new even though it is a bit embarrassing. I feel so embraced by your words of fellowship! Thank you!

Des---Thanks for the advice! In fact, that is exactly what my husband was thinking of doing to try to help change things up there and at least have the friendly people greeting. Believe it or not, the people greeting just hand you a bulletin and don't even smile.

UJ----That is the epidemic. It makes me angry, really. Glad you spoke up! No one does it---they are afraid they will upset people. What is so upsetting about the truth sometimes? Eh?

Doozie-- Your "God" I hope, is the same as mine! And I am VERY sorry that those who are in the same Body as you neglect you, because you are instrumental in the growth of it. That is why we should go to church; our goal as children of God and parts of his Body is to further our sanctification and edification. In short, we are to glorify God together. People can be rotten, and lots of times, they are Christians. But it is what we have and we need to somehow get in there and do what is right. It is not about "sticking it out" or "enduring" or whatever. It is about doing those things by DOING WHAT is RIGHT. And not because the people want us to do what is right, but because God wants us to. I think it is an act of pleasing Him. Just as you are told to love your neighbor, you are told to do it as an action. But God is first.

Also---you have a unique pleasure of enjoying your son, who is amazing. Because you have no spouse (thankfully the wrong guy is out of the picture but giving you lots of grief!) by God's grace He has given you a beautiful boy who is as humorous as a thousand Chris Farleys and keeps your spirits up. Your relationship with him is a gift and I see how you flourish just by being with him. I am thankful for your son because he has brought out more beauty in you in one day than your former spouse could have ever in a million years added together.

Mandi said...

I would talk to you.

Anne said...

We are truly suppose to be a family through thick and thin and God in His infinite wisdom has given us this:

Hebrews 10:24-25 "And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching." NKJV

And whether it's a good experience or a bad one, there is something to be gained from it because "we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose." (Romans 8:28) NKJV

I believe we are all truly fearful of being judged by eachother and it's just easier to keep to ourselves than to deal with being judged. Just another opinion of mine.

Mrs. Sinta said...

I am the one who has invited lots and lots of people over to my house from church. Trust me when I say that being outgoing and extroverted and investing myself in people has not paid any positive dividends worth noting is this particular congregation. God rewards us for doing stuff like that, but not necessarily in the way, or to the degree that we would think.

I have loved reading this post and finding out that there are lots of lonely people, like me, who feel rejected, in churches.

I think that the personality of the local church reflects the personality of the senior pastor; he sets the tone.

Ours is one of the most detached task oriented introverts that I have ever met.

I wish I had good advice or the right answer. If Mandi has anything good to say, please spill the beans for the rest of us. We need to know.

Aunt Jo said...

I sit by myself. Alot.

I hate dinners at church because no one sits by us. I don't go any more.

The only people I am in contact with from church are my family.

I haven't been to Sunday School in 2 months and not one person has said a word to me.

However, people are not the reason I go. I go for the messages and try not to get hung up in the people.....it's hard sometimes though.

Aunt Jo said...

It is also difficult for me to find people that I have something in common with. THere is a phenomenon in my SS class....it is full of SuperMoms. They appear so perfect, have such perfect lives and get it all done with a smile and still have time to get their nails done. I can't live up to that and frankly I really don't want to.

Bee Repartee said...

Your sentiment is how I've felt for years. I think that Jesus commanded us to love one another because he knew that Christians were the hardest for us Christians to love. Seriously.

I went to a church where the door greeters who saw me week after week asked me if I was a visitor after hubby and I attended for well over a year. They also lost our toddler (long story). We never went back.

I, too, come across strong. (and to attest to Dapoppins, she is as she says, although you'll never find a better friend..or inspiration during worship)

I feel that this solitude you speak of is why little home churches are becoming more and more common place. The whole reason Christians gather is because we go to bless others and in turn get blessed. Otherwise we should gather round the kitchen table with the fam and have church in the solitude our own homes.

Many are content to stay in their bubble of friends and not open up to relationships. It's the American way to be detached from others and so entirely busy that we can't have relationship, even with our own family.

I SO agree with Joel, we should be sharing meals, change oil, going to the park together, supporting each other when adversity comes. This is the very love we are commanded to do. Unfortunately, so many fall short.

There is no answer to what 'they' should be doing, but it makes people like you and me aware and step up to be a bit gregarious, if only to set an example. Darn it, cause I'm not that good at gregarious.

thislittlepiggy said...

i believe I'd find a new church. Maybe one with a smaller congregation. I'd not just speak to you. I would HUG you. :o)

Lyssa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lyssa said...

As a past attender of more than two dozen churches in my lifetime, I can agree with you that nobody seems to care anymore whether you plunk your butt down in their church's pew or not. I have been starting to realize recently that I should probably start making the church I've attended for three and a half years MY church, instead of just the church I go to on Sundays. I need to get plugged in.

I've started teaching Sunday school for kindergarten and first graders. This has been a blessing to me and very rewarding, to interact with these children each week. Even so, it does tend to feel lonely every once in a while. I shouldn't have to go through an entire church service without a single person saying hello; the parents of the children I teach are sometimes not as friendly as the their little ones.

I've come very close to being disillusioned with the idea of church. If it weren't for God's Word telling me that church is important, I would swear it off altogether, probably. But realizing that I can serve people in the church (the children) has made me feel a little more humble. Maybe it's not about what I can get out of church, but what I can do in the church.

I really hope that you find a church that will welcome you. I'm praying that God will show me how to not cast off the idea of church. It's just hard not to be cynical sometimes and have the mindset of "if they don't care for me, why should I care for them?"

Mrs. Sinta said...

OKAY, so I just read the most fantastic book about God and Church on my trip: Crazy Love.

You have to read it. I think he has some answers for the American Laodicean church.

KC said...

I would be willing to bet that every single person in today's church has felt this exact same way. (pardon me for the intrusion...I LOVE your blog, though we've never met. =o) )

I think that people don't seem to care, because we're all worried about why others don't care for us. It's a brilliant distraction created by the enemy, if I do say so.

I've gone through the same progression with our church, here in Plano, TX. It's a non-denom biggish sized church...lots of people who seem snooty. I'm currently wrestling (mentally) with a lady who was IN my Bible study group, spoke openly and nicely to me, and now all of a sudden is a TOTAL cold shoulder. No kidding, she goes out of her way not to open her mouth to me. It's weird. I think I've offended her by accident somehow. But now it's a game. I tell Josh "watch this" before I say Hi, just so he can witness the oddity of the interaction with her.

We attended the church for about two years, and people who I was in a small group with, would introduce themselves to me for the first time in the hallways. I'd think (IM IN YOUR SMALL GROUP- WE'VE MET!!) I got really frustrated for a very long time, and I left the church in fact. So irritated with "them all!"
I sympathise with you for not wanting to take the blame as the reason...and it's true, it's not your fault.

What finally helped me, and it's a longer story with more details...(I'll spare you the pios soapbox delivery) was finally to realize that Suzy Q sitting next to me here, who hasn't talked to me yet...is a product of what societ has shifted to, it's true. She's young, and doesn't know how to engage others either. She's grown up talking to people online, with the freedome of the "backspace" key. She's also afraid to say somethign stupid to me. (Dapoppins, I cracked up at your "the teacher likes to pray" comment...hillarious, b/c it's so like me too. I'm also an over-explainer...to the point that people say "I GOT IT..I got it!" followed by an eye-roll)

I find what makes me more willing to approach others, is a sense of empathy towards people. The ability to say to myself "you know..I know you're not perfect either, I wont hold you to it, if you promise not to hold me to it" kind of thought.

I also spent a good deal of time asking God to rid my heart of the bitterness I had towards people who didnt perform towards me the way I wanted.
It sounds trite. It worked.
Don't let the enemy convince you that it's not worth investing time into people who dont seem to know you well. that's a lie, and if you succumb to that, he wins.

Invest in people no matter what they respond with. They're hurting just as much, they just don't want to let you know that.

Love is really love, if you can extend it without reciprocation. God meets your needs, He'll meet your need for affection too. But we gotta act in faith first.

(pssst, keep writing, you are incredibly humorous and comforting to hear from!)