Finding community can be just as arduous a journey as finding Nemo. Especially if you forget people’s names like Dory or cling to your comfort zone like Marlin. Movie metaphors aside, finding community when you’re in a new place requires genuine commitment to the journey.
Especially as an introvert, when I first visit a new church, organization, or other community, I want nothing more than to hide in the back. But lately—much to my surprise—God’s drawn me deeply into community nonetheless. When I reflect on how in the world this has happened, I realize my foray into fellowship came about in roughly three stages.
1. Show up.
Erin S. Lane, author of Lessons in Belonging from a Church-Going Commitment Phobe, writes that “finding a place to belong seems to depend more on my ability to show up—often and fully—than it does on what happens when I get there. That stuff is important, but that stuff I can’t control.”
Showing up sounds simple—and it is. But it’s also powerful. Choose a community that you could see possibly being part of, and then commit to showing up three-to-four weeks in a row. Through faithful attendance, people will begin to recognize you and you’ll begin to recognize them. People will start to consider you part of the community simply because you’re always there. And maybe you’ll start to consider yourself part of the community too.
2. Speak up.
Check the community’s website or Facebook page if they have one, and then email a pastor, small group leader, or other community leader. Chances are they don’t bite. On the contrary, they’d likely love to grab a bite to eat or cup of coffee with you and discuss how you might get plugged into the community.
In addition, if there’s a question asked in Sunday school, speak up and answer it. If there’s a need for volunteers at the community’s upcoming bake sale, speak up and do it. If there’s a group of people you even somewhat know discussing going to lunch after the meeting, speak up and ask if you could join them. This doesn’t have to involve being in the spotlight at all; it could look like tapping someone on the shoulder and speaking up in a one-on-one or small group context.
3. Keep it up.
After a few months of showing up and speaking up in a recent community, I drove home from a Wednesday night social for the umpteenth time thinking in frustration: “They still don’t know me. Not really.” It’s tempting to compare a current, in-progress community to the remembered intimacy of a past community. But these things take time.
At that few-months mark, a dear friend from college reminded me: “Remember how we were after a few months of friendship? I wouldn’t even let you share my French fries!” (“You’re also a huge germophobe,” I reminded her.)
“Keep it up,” she said. “Keep it up.”
And the Bible says something similar: “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25).
Image by twentyonehundred productions team member Matt Kirk.