Being a preacher is a unique experience on a social level. I have led five different Churches in my 27 years as a preacher. In every case, when I drive into town, I did not know a single person beyond the group who interviewed me. My family and I were total outsiders to the community where we relocated.
I am on the verge of completing my sixth year in my current location, and this town has become home to us. How does someone go from being a total outsider to feeling like a local in six years? This is a legitimate question for you to process. You see, I encounter people all the time who have moved into a town and still feel like an outsider 20 years later. Possibly worse, I meet people who have been a part of a local Church for years and years and still feel unconnected. How does someone go from being a total outsider to feeling like a local?
Here are a few things I have done.
- Burn the Ships. This first one may sound mean and unfeeling, but when I leave a community and a Church, I leave it all behind. I do not go back for visits, and I do not follow on social media, I basically sever all ties. Why? Because this new location is my home now. The longer I hold onto the past, the harder it is to fit into the present. It is only after several years before I might reconnect with a friend from that community. Honestly, this also helps the people in my former town to move on from me and connect to their new preacher.
- Attend Every Week. This one appears obvious, but in my new Church, I am a part of worship every single week. This gives me maximum exposure to people who also attend worship. You will never feel connected if you attend less than every week. If you attend twice a month, that is 24 days a year. If it is only worship for an hour, that is only 24 hours in an entire year. You will never get real relationships that way.
- Serve More Than Attend. If you want to microwave your connections, then move out of the chair and in front of the group. For example, teaching a class will help you to learn everyone who attends in a more personal way than just attending a class. Having all eyes on you has a way of pushing you to know the people you lead.
- Reach Out Yourself. Through the years, I have invited people out for coffee, meals, and various events. My wife and I have tried to reach out over and over to people who attend our Church. I have learned, even as a pastor, some people are never going to invite you into their lives. Often you must take the lead.
- Stay. The numbers for my ministry are a little deceptive as my first two lasted 18 months and then 12 months. Since then, none have been shorter than five years. I have learned that it takes years to get to know some people. Often it takes years for people to trust you enough to let their guard down. The longer you stay with one group of people, the higher your chances of connecting – if you practice the top four.
Here is the truth; trying to be a part of a new group of people is scary. Will you be accepted? Will you connect in a meaningful way? Part of the answer depends on you. As a preacher, I have been accepted as family in the Churches I have led, and I know they will welcome you too.