“Are you new? I don’t know you.”
There I was, sitting waiting for the last hour of church to start, and I look up to see a woman that I knew by name. Two of her kids were in the Sunday school class that I taught every Sunday. I had spoken to her at least 3 separate times. I did my best to keep my reply polite, even though I was hurt. “I moved in about 2 years ago”.
It would have been much less hurtful if it had been the first time it had happened.
I left early shortly after that interaction because I felt discouraged, hurt, and alone. I wasn’t able to focus on what was being taught anyway. On my way down the hall out of the building I ran into someone, who greeted me…by the wrong name.
I felt alone, unnoticed, and unimportant.
I love people. Both of my degrees are in social work for goodness sake. But as an introvert, people wear me out. Interactions like that leave me puzzled, and my brain reeling on what I had done wrong, why people hadn’t remembered me, if I hadn’t done enough to make myself known, and what on earth was going on.
It’s been at least 2 years since anyone has mistaken me for new at church. However, it happened to my husband this past Sunday. How long have we lived in our current home and attended with this particular congregation, you might ask? Oh we just barely moved in…just a little over 4 years ago. He’s much tougher than I am, but it still rubbed him the wrong way.
Look, I get that we can’t avoid offending everyone all the time. And we shouldn’t try. That’s impossible, and unnecessary. And I’m not in the business of telling people what they shouldn’t say. It’s also important to note that our main purpose in attending church isn’t to socialize. The people we attend with isn’t what church is about. But when someone is already feeling unnoticed and alone, it can really drag them down to feel like no one has even taken note of their existence. It might even discourage them enough to stay home next Sunday.
So what am I proposing? Please still reach out to people that you don’t recognize. Just avoid the dreaded “are you new?” question.
Some alternatives when you see an unfamiliar face at church:
“I don’t think I’ve met you yet”
“I’m still pretty new, and working on getting to know everyone’s name, what’s yours?”
“I’ve forgotten your name, remind me?”
“How long have you lived in this area?”
There are endless possibilities, but you get the idea.
The bottom line is: You don’t know what someone is going through. You don’t know if they have lived in the area for a long time, but haven’t been consistent in their church attendance due to some life complication. Some examples could be health problems, family issues, or work schedules. It’s even possible that their faith has been shaken and that has kept them from attending. They might be self-conscious about their lack of attendance, so there is no need to call them out on it. The overall message we should be communicating to others is love and acceptance.