Do you feel lonely at church? My husband and I have just moved into a new congregation and the flutter of “new place” vibes is hitting my heart. While I am really new now, I am confident I’ll feel comfortable in this new place soon, because that’s what I expect for myself and work to achieve.
However, I recognize that church can be a very lonely place, so decided to share some of the things I do to make my new congregation feel more like home for me.
Do You Know
I’ve moved so many times in my adult life that it feels like I’m constantly starting over in a new location in a new ward, meeting all new people. Playing “Do You Know” has become one of my favorite meeting new people games. I’ve met so many people with mutual friends and even people who are distant cousins!
I’ve found a Tanner cousin in every ward I’ve lived in since 1999—every single ward. Now it’s a game to me. I can’t rest until I find my cousin.
“Do You Know” in Action
I remembered a time I walked into the temple towards a new smiling face. My friend and I attend the temple pretty much every week at the same time and know most of the ladies on that shift now. I smiled at the new smiling face and then read her name tag. Qureshi.
I met two Qureshi brothers while studying Arabic at Brigham Young University. Did she know them, I asked? One of those brothers is her dad! I enjoyed meeting her and finding out a little about her life, mission, and upcoming wedding. What a delight to meet her.
For me, finding connections doesn’t end at relationships. I like plopping down next to someone new and finding out what we have in common and what we have in difference. Each person is so unique. I love finding out what makes people tick and where their passions lie. I love finding people who teach me things I want to learn about or help me think of new ways to solve old problems or encourage me to try new things.
I realize I approach “strangers” differently than most people. When I’m new, I’ve learned that if I want to make friends, I need to jump headlong into meeting people and attending activities (and the easiest way to make a new friend—Ministering). But not everyone feels comfortable jumping in.
I’ve thought a lot about why folks who feel so lonely at church may feel reticent to put themselves forward. Some people are fine with solitude or having just a few people in their lives. Totally fine. But in my experience, many people want to feel more involved or included than they are.
This should go without saying, but I’m amazed at the amount of women who tell me they don’t have any friends at church—and they don’t attend church regularly. The only reason they know me is because I find them where they are as a pretty aggressive visiting teacher or in whatever calling I hold.
Friendships are usually the result of familiarity. Attending church enables us to recognize and associate with people. We become familiar and comfortable. We become friends.
Participate in Activities
Everyone in a ward was new at some point. The way we get to know others is by spending time with others. Often, we build relationships through callings or visiting teaching assignments. The other most convenient way is by attending activities.
Now, I’m not personally a fan of lots of activities. I work full time. I always have way too much piled up on my plate. But, especially when I’m new in a ward, I always attend the activities—even if I don’t know a single person. I drive myself there. I sit next to someone and I say hi. Usually the activity requires some sort of interaction, so I participate—even if I don’t really want to. I do it because making connections is really important to my soul’s well-being, whether I want to admit that or not.
Authentically Smile and Say Hi
I understand that not everyone remembers everyone’s names and faces. Even though that really facilitates making friends quickly, it’s not absolutely necessary. I’ve had people ask me for my name several weeks in a row. That doesn’t offend me. I appreciate the effort.
Something everyone can do, though, is to smile at people and say hello. Your soul opens up to others when you smile at them. You look friendly. You are approachable. You are memorable. People feel happier around you.
Authentically smiling at others will leave its biggest impact on you. You will feel differently. You will act differently. Try it. It works. It’s so effective, that this is my favorite connection secret weapon.
Meet a New Person Each Week
My general goal in a new ward is to meet one new person each week. This goal broke me out of my shy, don’t-really-care-about-others’ shell. I set this goal before I even realized how important connections were to my well-being.
I set the goal planning to sit by someone sitting alone in Relief Society. When I looked around, I realized that lots of sisters sat alone. So, meeting my goal was way easier than I expected. The sisters really responded well to having someone sit next to them, smile and say hello.
I just couldn’t believe how easy it was—after I thought of some questions to keep a 2-3 minute conversation going. I realized I didn’t even really have to keep a conversation going. Sometimes after saying hello, I didn’t have to say another word, which was perfect to me. I learned how to listen to women who really wanted a friend and wanted to share.
Sometimes we feel alone surrounded by a sea of people. But, we don’t need to. Reach out, however timidly. I guarantee you are not the only person feeling the way you do at church. You have the ability and capacity to change your story. If you want to experience a different story, I hope you believe that you can change it and then do change it.
The bulk of this article was originally posted at ldsblogs.com