In November 2015 I walked into “The Box” for the first time. Was there any other choice? Ron offered to to drive and join me at the 7am class. I could not stand the humiliation of backing out. But, showing up could be more humiliating. On the drive there, Ron gave me an idea what to expect. It helped, but I was still anxious. I entered “the Box” with a single consuming thought, “I don’t belong here.” That was day one attending CrossFit in Lake Villa.
I am a social person. I make connections everywhere I go (e.g. At Starbucks, at Walmart, and even standing in line at Disney to ride the rides.) My children often say, “Oh look. Dad made a new friend.” I love people and most likely the one who starts the conversation. I do my best to make people laugh, learn their story, and encourage them. But, my extroverted personality went dormant walking through the door.
My posture was different the first days of class. I experienced conflicting thoughts. My heart assured me I needed to be here while my head kept sending a different message. “You are the fattest, oldest, out-of-shape person here and you will make a fool of yourself.” Can you say “self sabotaging?” My friend Ron who took me to my first CrossFit class was 20 years my senior. I was NOT the oldest. And yet, despite the “non-social-leave-me-alone” vibe I was sending, people introduced themselves and were glad I came. They had each taken the risk and walked through those doors. People explained exercises when I looked lost. Everyone encouraged me when it took longer for me to finish the WOD (a.k.a. Workout Of the Day). They saw me, valued me, and celebrated my presence. And they kept doing it day after day and week after week.
Lessons for the church:
It is common for introverts and even hurting people to send off a “stay away” vibe. Extroverts, however, tend to send a “talk to me” vibe. At least that’s what I thought. Then my extrovert friend shared her church visit experience. Within minutes of walking through the door and receiving a nominal welcome she found herself alone. What did she do? The extrovert hid in the bathroom! This is “I don’t belong here” behavior; an overwhelming sense of discomfort brought about by a lack of familiarity with one’s surroundings. Walking into the unfamiliar territory called Sunday Worship can convert an extrovert into an introvert.
People know what expect and what is expected of them walking into a restaurant, a theater, or a shopping mall. But walking into church is different. It can be a very foreign experience. “I don’t belong here” behavior is common. So what can the church do to stop “I don’t belong here” behavior and feelings. Nothing! Really. We can’t change their vibe. But we can change the way we respond to it. So take a risk. Without overwhelming them:
- Say hello. Introduce yourself.
- Find out their name and then make sure to call them by their name.
- Ask if you can help them get where they are going (e.g. information desk, worship space, children’s ministry, etc)
- Give them a quick explanation of what to expect.
- During the greeting, make sure to walk over and greet them again.
- Thank them for coming.
The very people who send off the “stay away vibe,” may be the people looking for life-giving relationships. Let’s help the people who show up feeling “I don’t belong here” discover they are where they need to be; in a church that sees, values, and celebrates their presence. And let’s keep doing it day after day and week after week.