I have been visiting a church in my 'burb - Orchard - and it has been great. Any problems I have had stem from my own hang-ups and my own faith journey.
This has been somewhat of a unique experience because every other church community I've attempted to be involved in has been filled with people I've known for years, or I've attended a new church with a gaggle of college students. I haven't yet had a true experience of being a complete stranger in an unfamiliar community.
During this experience, I caught myself acting more like a consumer than a fellow member of the body of Christ. Asking, "What's in it for me?" or critiquing petty things. I suppose I would feel justified (and wouldn't ever return) if I were to disagree with a community's stance on women or other non-negotiables. But this new community doesn't appear to have any sexists, racists, or other scary fundalegical issues. So why would I feel the need to criticize? (I think criticize is a strong word - perhaps I may mildly dislike some things).
The music style, the setup of the sanctuary, the small group options -- I've been approaching these things like a consumer. A church is not a store that you visit to buy goods and then leave. I shouldn't have to be marketed to and I shouldn't feel like my tastes are satisfied, superficially anyway. So I'm trying to set the surface-level things aside and focus on the real reason I'm there. But having the consumer mindset is so ingrained in me, I admit it might take me a while.
One possibly legitimate concern has been a humbling, learning experience, though. Having grown up and been considered a leader in church, I'm embarrassed to think how I failed in welcoming visitors. I may have introduced myself and reached out a few times, but I have a feeling I neglected to make sure newcomers felt welcomed. This morning will be my fifth visit, and I am about to desperately start introducing myself to random people. I've gotten to know one person - an incredibly sweet woman my age who struck up a conversation with me.
I don't think this issue is unique to this particular church. In fact, Relevant Magazine included "An Open Letter to American Churches" that discusses this same issue. The author, Mentanna Campbell, writes:
Please talk to me. Don't give me an inquisitive glance and then just walk away. Don't forget that visitors don't know anyone. We feel like we stick out a bit anyway. Come up to us and shake our hands. Introduce yourselves. Ask a few good questions. Nothing is worse than spending over an hour surrounded by people and not having anyone say anything to you.
Again I'm not holding anything against anyone at the new community I found because I've realized how incredibly easy it is to overlook visitors. I'll get there. I'll get to know people eventually -- I'm not too concerned. But I will take this role reversal as a lesson to keep a watchful eye for newcomers, when later I become more established in a church community.