An Introvert’s Challenge

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the impact our big church can have on new people seeking to join our community, and what we as individuals can do to welcome them. For those of you who know me, you know I have no shortage of opinions on just about any topic – and I often see this as a shortcoming, not a strength! – so I had thoughts on writing again about this topic today.

However, as I recently spoke about this topic with Cami Wheeler, a dear friend of mine, she brought a new perspective, and she took the time to put into writing some of the things she – as a self-described introvert – is challenging herself with as her little community becomes anything but little.

The following, then, is a guest post by Cami. Enjoy!

  • “The walls came down!”
  • “Everything looks so different now!”
  • “Wow, it sure feels different in here!”
  • “I’m waiting to see what it’s like when it’s done.”

You might have overheard exclamations like these as crowds of people streamed into The Crossing‘s auditorium these last two Sundays. The whole place has been abuzz with excitement and curiosity. Michele’s last post challenged me. It also meshed with other thoughts and experiences I’ve been chewing on for awhile. I realized it was high time for my introverted self to look outward, and to take action to become more hospitable.

Increasingly, I’ve been drawn into thinking, praying and conversing about community, fellowship and what it looks like to cultivate a hospitable space for others to learn about the love of Christ.

Over tea, coffee, or a glass of wine with some close friends, we’ve shared our ache to know and be known – authentically, richly, deeply, well. We’ve discussed Wendell Berry, C.S. Lewis and others whose writings, visual arts or performances evoke in us this longing. It is a longing that is almost too painful to bear and yet too sweet to resist. We discuss how our collective hunger for deep community and true fellowship is a reflection of humanity’s universal longing for heaven, a longing that can only find its full and final hope in the person of Christ our Lord. Our conversations have tiptoed into worshipfulness as we marvel about what beauty we will behold when the veil is removed and we see Him as He is (2 Corinthians 3:18).

The blessing of these kinds of conversations with good friends is beyond my words to convey. It is like waybread to my soul – rich nourishment for the long hard journey ahead. It can take a long time, however, to get to this kind of connection in a friendship, especially if you are an introvert like me.

I’ve been around The Crossing for a dozen years or so. I’ve watched The Crossing grow up and enter what seems to me like “a gangly/awkward adolescence.” Rapid growth has brought some degree of growing pains to our church. In the midst of it, I wonder what I would experience if I came to The Crossing as a new visitor this fall. Would I be able to find a place here? Would I feel welcome? Would I be able to connect with others?

I’ve recently made a new friend who tells me she has been attending The Crossing for almost two years. In all that time, she didn’t meet with or connect to anyone. She related to me that everyone at The Crossing seems polite and will smile, nod and say “Good morning,” but she expressed as she was telling me her story, “No one slowed down long enough for me to meet them.”

OUCH!“, I thought. “I’m one of those smilin’-on-the-run-G’mornin’-ers.”

God used this sweet gal to show me an area of selfishness I had not seen. God reminded me of all the times when I was also an outsider or newcomer needing friendship and connection. Now I’m seeking God’s grace to make me – an introvert – more open, generous and friendly.

Here are a few things I’ve learned over the last few weeks:

  1. Don’t Assume: It’s easy for me to look around and assume everyone is doing just fine. We all tend to smile and act like all is well when we’re at church. Regardless of our outward packaging, I find most all of us have varying degrees of hidden pain, sorrow, loneliness and discontent. There’s a reason hospital and hospitality derive from the same root. Part of hospitality must be related to creating a place where the wounded soul feels welcome.
  2. Slow Down: Hurry and hospitality don’t live in the same universe. If I want to be generously welcoming, I have to slow my pace enough to look around, hang out a bit and see who might be looking lost.
  3. Arrive Early: I find I can’t slow down if I’m running late, scrambling for parking, and rushing to get into the auditorium. Margin helps me makes room for a slower pace.
  4. Stay Late: I find I’m most open to meeting others, reaching out and being relationally generous after I’ve worshipped. It helps if I leave margin in my schedule to linger a bit longer or allow enough time to even grab lunch with someone on the fly.
  5. Initiate: As an introvert, I usually wait for others to speak to me. I’m realizing that I need to be willing to take the risk of speaking first, asking sincere questions and then giving the time for that person to offer a genuine answer. I can always start with introducing myself and then asking how long someone has been coming to The Crossing or how long they have lived in Columbia and what brought them here. That usually gets conversation going well enough. I’ve been surprised at how many people are not only new to The Crossing but are brand new to mid-Missouri.
  6. Seize the Moment: For me, the most natural places to start conversations are during those times when I’m entering or leaving the auditorium or standing in line at the cafe; bottlenecks can be a blessed place to connect, as it forces a slower pace on all of us. Spending those “forced” slower moments trying to get to know someone can diffuse my tendency toward frustration.
  7. Be Intentional: I find that I do best when I challenge myself with a specific goal. “Meet three people you don’t know this Sunday,” is my current challenge.

I don’t want to wait to see what The Crossing is like when construction is done. I want to participate now in making my church a more hospitable place for others to find the love of Christ and friendship – real, deep, authentic friendship – with fellow believers. “The walls came down!” “Wow, it feels different in here!” Wouldn’t it be great if people at The Crossing said those things this fall not just about the physical changes in the auditorium but also about how welcoming, friendly and open our congregation has become?

Romans 15:5-7
May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.

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