When I was looking at the results of our congregational survey this spring, this statistic is what stood out to me the most. It means that if you are sitting in a Sunday worship service either the person on your left or the person on your right doesn’t know more than a handful of people. Or maybe that person is you. It’s no secret that it’s hard for new people to get to know others in a big church like Redeemer, even if they’d like to. This is really important for a number of reasons.
First, there is a correlation between how many friends you have in church and how happy you are. Sociologists Robert Putnam and Chaeyoon Lim did a study in 2006 and found that people with at least 10 friends in their congregation were almost twice as happy as those who have none.
Second, there is a strong correlation between having friends at church and “being a good neighbor.” Putnam found that people’s propensity to be generous and serve is connected more to their community at church than it is to their other Christian practices or theology. Describing people with strong communities at church, he writes, “They’re more likely to work on community projects. They’re more likely to give to secular causes as well as religious causes. They’re much more likely to volunteer for secular causes as well as religious causes. They’re more likely to give blood. They’re more likely to let a stranger cut in front of them in line.”
Third, the Biblical account of grace describes people being saved into a community, not as isolated individuals. The church is described as a family of sons and daughters with God as our Father (1 John 3:1). Paul describes the church as a body, and each of us is a part of the body with Christ as the head (Colossians 1:18). Peter describes Christians as building blocks intended to be used together to form a temple for God “... you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood ...” (1 Peter 2:5)
So what should we do? I have a couple recommendations. If you are one of the two-thirds of people who have many friends at Redeemer, I urge you to think about how you can serve your neighbors and welcome them into community. I have three practical suggestions:
1. Show up early.
A lot of us show up to church just in time for the service to start or, maybe just in time for the sermon. We’re trying to maximize our time and not waste time sitting around waiting for service to begin. But doing that leaves you little margin to meet and greet the people sitting next to you. What if you invested 15 minutes of time every Sunday in getting there early and sought to welcome and get to know one other person you don’t know?
2. Stay late.
In addition to getting there early, you could stay late and go to the coffee hour. Maybe you already do, but do you spend all your time catching up with people who are already your friends? What if you went to the coffee hour with the specific intention of meeting one person and welcoming them? If we all did that, this place would feel vibrant!
3. Start a Beta Group.
About half our congregation is in community groups. We think this is the best way to be in community at Redeemer. The question is always: are there enough open community groups for people to join? Would you consider investing 8 weeks in leading one?
And if you are part of the 1/3 of people who don’t know many people at Redeemer, my advice is to not be shy.
Sign up for a beta group. These are groups of 8-12 who meet each week, discuss the sermon and pray together. They have been the best part of my experience at Redeemer and have given me lifelong friends.
Hang out at coffee hour and introduce yourself to someone. The greeters and people at the information table are especially good and can help introduce you to other people.
Whether you are new to Redeemer or an old-timer, you can always take the initiative. The ball can always be in your court. But I recognize it’s a lot easier for old-timers to reach out than for a newcomer to reach out. So this message is for the members and long-time attenders: let’s lay out the welcome mat and make some friends.