why people at church don’t talk to you


A friend and I have been known to run an experiment. When attending a different church, she leaves me alone in the foyer (to go to the bathroom or something) and we see if anyone will talk to me. It’s damaging to my pride, self-esteem and sense of confidence in my personal hygiene to report that – more often than not – when she returns, I’m standing where she left me feeling forlorn and having had no interactions with others.

As someone who leads in a church and desires that our environments be welcoming and inclusive for all – I run this experiment not just as a test of the church I’m visiting but to remember for myself what it feels like. To experience that awkwardness of trying to posture myself to look open to conversations or interactions without making a fool of myself. And as bad as it feels, I remember that my experiment is only partly accurate because I’m a visitor. Others coming into churches come because they are looking to find Jesus! Some come because they are desperately seeking a place of connection and belonging – of home. While I’m only there for one night. So much more is at stake for them.

Whilst I have received feedback from people who have felt a little ignored or adrift in our church, it’s more likely that those who feel this most poignantly haven’t stayed around to tell anyone – they’ve just left. You may relate to this experience in your own church environment. You look around and others are deeply engrossed in conversations and excited interactions and you wonder why you’re not included.

 

The reason people at church might not talk to you is because they are exactly like you!

They are uncomfortable talking to strangers. As an outgoing, verbal, extrovert I am uncomfortable talking to strangers! Most people are! People don’t talk to you because, just like you, they are unsettled about talking to people they don’t know. How awkward will this be? What if we have nothing in common? What if I inadvertently offend or upset them with what I say? What if they don’t want to talk to me!? EVERYONE is processing these same questions.

They are comforted by their own friends. There’s safety and security in the knowledge of their connection to their group of friends. And in fact, they may well be worried that if they don’t speak to these people no one else will speak to them and so they don’t leave the circle for fear of feeling that isolation. We are all creatures of comfort and security. Stepping away from the known and into the unknown requires a bravery that we don’t always manage to summon.

Someone once said to me “I never realised how cliquey people were until all my friends were away one week and no one spoke to me.” She didn’t even realise the irony of what she was saying. She only noticed that everyone else stuck to their friends when the friends that she stuck to weren’t around.

They wrongly assess their social position. Frequently, the socially insecure assume that everyone else is socially confident. The quiet and shy ones assume that the noisy ones are more bold and self-assured (when, often, it is just the same feelings manifesting in different coping strategies). Those unfamiliar in an environment assume that everyone else is quite familiar. Those who are more connected don’t trust their social connections enough to leave them temporarily to reach out to others.

Ultimately, the human condition is such, that we are all looking for a degree of connectedness and are all at the mercy of one another to find that place of belonging and welcome. New. Old. Loud. Quiet. No one is exempt from contributing to the social dynamic of a community.

*** A common cry. ***

“What if I go up to someone and say – Are you new here? – and they say – No, I’ve been coming for 3 years.

OR what if you start your conversation a different way!?! (Genius, I know!)

“How are you today?” (Revolutionary, but effective.) “Are those your kids? Have you had a busy week? What’s ahead for you this week? How will you be spending your afternoon? Have you done the winter pruning of your fruit trees yet?” (Read – there are lots of other ways to start a question that don’t need you to guess how long they’ve attended your church!)

Or just a simple, “I don’t think I’ve met you before, I’m Kim!” might be enough.

The reason people in MY church don’t talk to you is because people like ME (and you) need to get better at it. We can do this!

 

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23 thoughts on “why people at church don’t talk to you

  1. Blah blah blah. All of the psychology of this world is not the answer. People do not talk to each other or love each other in this culture because in the last days, the love of most will grow cold!!! We are so monetarily compartmentalized its sick. I believe there are about six income levels of division. As long as man wants to continue to be his own God, the problem will continue. I want to exhort the people who are frustrated, you are quite normal and correct, and the church is not necessarily understanding just because they are a church. If anyone reading this is a pastor, preach this and rebuke your people, please.

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  2. Hi I use to fulfil the role as a Pastor and one of my passions and sense of responsibility was to ensure that every new person on Sunday morning was spoken too.. And to encourage members to connect and keep connecting to ensure people did feel a sense of being accepted for who they are. I went through a devastating experience having to leave our church family and to begin the journey of finding another church with my 4 children and husband. Never ever did I realise how difficult it is to connect and develop relationships when you are a stranger. Because of my experience and my background in community psychology I was keenly aware of the lack of meaningful positive relationships which are genuine. Even if you were welcomed, once the welcoming group felt that you were committed there was a disengagement. People were taught to relate only to ensure you would commit to belong to their church.. There was a condition attached to the meaning of the conversation. To stand alone in a crowd at church is a painful experience – the sense of isolation and exclusion is more defining because of what church and church family represent. I urge people to give a gift of yourself on Sunday morning.. Share.. Listen.. Ask questions.. Seek to discover and understand the other.. Convey a sense of acceptance and genuine interest – don’t do it once but again and again.. And perhaps give the gift of your friendship.. Beyond the sermon, the cup of teas, and niceties is the opportunity to communicate genuine love.. Unconditional love… And this is what makes the difference to a stranger who stands alone… Vanessa

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  3. I believe most of our communication skills have been laid down in childhood. Some of us have learnt good social skills from our parents or other influentual figures. Then as tiny people we are exposed to classrooms and schoolyards where some dont fair as well as others. All these experiences dont leave us when we come to a church community and some may feel that nothing has changed. But we can change if we become part of the gospel story where those who love Christ are included.

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  4. Great to highlight that we can all do this. A friend once told me that we would not invite someone into our home and just leave them standing there alone – so why would we do that in the home of our Church? I use the “I don’t think I’ve met you before, I’m Phil!” line all the time – it breaks the ice in a friendly and non-threatening way. Thanks for the article

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  5. I have felt alone, ignored, and uncomfortable at attending a new church when we first moved to a new state. I gave it 2 weeks, then shared my concern with an understanding pastor. Wow, within 24 hours I was invited to join a prayer quilt sewing circle, an exercise group who also meet for breakfast 2 mornings a week, a Bible study, and a dinner at a member’s home. The church pickle ball players contacted us about playing two days a week. I now sit with several lovely ladies for services, and not a week has gone by that I have not connected with someone new. I have taken numerous opportunities to serve and connected with even more members. This pastor was a gift from God!

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  6. I may be a complete loner in this, but I’m a bit anti the sales approach. I kind of prefer to be left alone when I’m somewhere new, whether a church or a store. I like to observe, get my bearings, gather my thoughts. I actually don’t like it when I’m interrupted by someone introducing themselves, and now I have to go through the social motions of friendship, even more pointless if I doubt I’ll see them again. And when I’m ready, I’ll break the silence. At that time the response of the person is very important. But before that time, I need nothing, and nothing more than the eye contact with the eyebrow that says “you ok?” so that my nod “yep I’m fine” will suffice.
    Maybe my contribution here is to say, gently gently, just in case you get a crabby old feller like me.

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    1. I think you make a lot of sense GMW, you raise some relevant food for thought, ties in with some of the points I make in my post on here.

      Steve.

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  7. Daniel, I am so sorry for your pain, hurt, & anger. I wish there were something I could say that would erase it all. Just know that I will remember you in prayer–in fact, I’m praying now–and bring up your name and situation at our prayer meeting tomorrow evening. I wouldn’t even begin to suggest what you “should” do. But I know that God has you covered and He will guide and comfort you.

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  8. It is sad to read people saying they have decided to leave church and never go back as they are tired of feeling rejected and alone. I have felt the pain of not feeling welcome at a service, of feeling that no one talks to me or makes me feel a part of things but I have usually found that the best solution is to take the initiative and instead of waiting for others to seek me out, seek them out. I look around for people sitting/standing on their own and go and have a chat. It may not be for a long time but it helps remind me that church is not all about me, it is about learning and sharing the love of Christ with others to encourage them and worshipping a saviour that went out of His way to save me when I was ignoring him. Praying for God’s help in the process is essential. At one church I made myself talk to one new person and one person I’d met before each week – it wasn’t long before I had broken the ice and made friends but also helped others do the same. Hang in there, it is hard – but we can do all things through Christ, who gives us strength!

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  9. What’s really fun is going as the guest preacher to a church and asking the pastor to not treat you as the guest speaker and see what happens 😀

    Sit in the back row etc and see how people treat you – it’s a ton of fun to see people’s reactions when you get up to preach! Of course the pastor has to be willing to hear feedback on how his church welcomes people for this to really work. Still it’s something that is fun to do.

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  10. This can be a tricky one, I think the fact that we are all personally different contributes to the varied responses that are to be found. I think too, that it sometimes depends on what a visitor’s expectations are, if they come and expect to be the centre of attention, then this can potentially backfire on them through no fault of any existing parishioner. The ultimate aim for anyone visiting a church should be to seek out Christ, at no time are we encouraged to seek our personal fullfilment when deciding to visit a church. Having said that though, a bit of genuine hospitality can go a long way.

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  11. Having recently moved churches i can identify with this essay.
    Sadly I have gone to church lead fellowships, music, services, lay preached and still i can stand at morning tea and not have anyone talk to me.
    I have weekends where i have worked at making contact with people. Newbies and church family but find unless im working at it we retire to our clicks and thats where it ends.
    It partly comes from our reliance on small groups to encourage growth. If your not in a small group you’re on the edge

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  12. Please don’t tell me ‘I’m not good at talking to new people’.
    We all do it in our worklife. Why is it so easy to talk to new people in our work day lives and not church? What is the driving force? From new customers at work, we want return business , so we invest time into them. We have to remember we are working for our Father in heaven’s business of the gospel. We need to put that work ethic into our ‘christian’ life.

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    1. As an introvert, it’s easy to talk to someone at work because I have an agenda. I even speak at tech conferences. Trying to strike up a conversation with a complete stranger, however, often fills me with dread. Something that only God can help me overcome.

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  13. Over the years numerous friends from different cities and towns have complained of the same problem. But some had walked out before anyone had a chance to speak to them. So some years ago I resolved that I was going to make an effort to greet anyone I hadn’t met before. I prayed for God to give me the courage and the words to say. That He did. And each time I took the risk to do it I became more and more comfortable. Now it’s second nature. And doing the Pastoral Care course at Mary Andrews College equipped me further.
    Over the last few years I have had the privilege of visiting other Churches as I house sit in different areas. Most of them were very welcoming. I was very pleasantly surprised.

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  14. I see that I must be more imaginative and prepared to make a fool of myself, in order to get people to talk to me. I have thought of leaving my Church for the reason stated, that nobody talks to me (because they are like me ) Umm. Never thought of that.
    Church is more difficult than the world, because in the world one expects to be ignored more these days, but I set myself up for disappointment, in that I think that Church, should be better! Why is it though, I can’t even talk to the Pastor and my friends about this?
    There are more taboos in Church….. to make honest conversations, frank discussions of how things are because much as I would like too, I get the feeling that other people would not be so welcoming, of frank discussions..(not nasty angry words), just being truthful instead of hiding behind my ‘church’ face…

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    1. Thanks for your thoughts Pat. I agree with you – that our expectations of church ARE higher …but also that they probably SHOULD be higher given that our call to be family and love each other is central to why we gather.
      I guess I have been challenged by that idea that what we “expect” from the church is only sustainable by what “we” (the ‘everyone’ that makes up church) are contributing to it.
      Unfortunately there are also times when people are just flat out let down by a particular community. I wish it weren’t so – but I know it is.

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      1. Well, this is ironic. Today, I have left the church I was attending for 7-1/2 years. More often than not, I found myself left to my own devices. After today’s service, absolutely NO ONE talked to me, except when I approached a fellow who was part of the service. Without going into detail regarding this situation (which I guess is limited anyway), at this point, I plan to never attend church again anywhere. This has been ongoing throughout my Christian walk for 13 years: the unfriendliness of church & of Christians. Maybe it is my fault, as I continue looking to connect, but to no avail. All I know is what Jesus said at the end of Matthew 5 (“if you salute your brethren only”) and during the parable of the sheep & the goats in Matthew 25 (“I was a stranger, and ye took me in…I was stranger, and ye took me not in.”), I am so angry, so sad, so bitter, so frustrated, and yes, so hurt. Ultimately, I consider that I’m simply rejected. I’ll just do worship by myself from here out so I don’t have to be around Christians anymore.

        Thanks.

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      2. I to had just started attending a new church about four weeks ago. At first it seemed that many of the congregation wanted to find out my name and where I come from and why i chose there church. That last part seems to be a bit odd, as if there was suppose to be a catch. So I have been going a few weeks now and nobody hardly says a word to me. I sat there having some water and just looked around and noticed everybody in their cliques, even the older folks. A few of them I caught glancing at me and when I smiled back to show them I am an open person and okay to talk to, they immediately turned their heads, or walk off. I even left halfway through the service a couple times to see if I could get the attention of others in wondering why I leave early. Not one single person cared and so I have missed a couple services and not one phone call to find out if I’m okay. I do remember talking with one of the members of the church that had been going for years and I told them my age and he asked if I was married and I told him, not yet. I just wonder if this could be the reason behind it, since so many church’s are big on marriages. Just dealing with this action from Christians really makes me question a lot of things about the religion and I have gone so far as to research other religion options to connect to the Lord. I may just end up doing my own thing and just connected to the Lord in my own way and time and since the Lord knows all, he will understand but with a very sad heart for my reason doing this. Good luck to you all on your success in finding a church family that accepts you.

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  15. Thanks for writing this! I’m in the place of being new again and it is really hard sometimes. It is definitely making me aware of how it feels to be new, to not have friends…..how it feels to have no one speak to you. It is tough. It is really hard to push yourself into the uncomfortable. But…I do really want to be a person that doesn’t let the uncomfortable stop me from doing what God is asking of me. Thanks again. You are super cool Kim!!!

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