Turf Wars

When we moved to Colorado, we were extremely fortunate to find our church home within a week.  I’d done internet research before moving, checking statements of faith and service times.  And we had decided ahead of time not to rule out any churches based solely on non-doctrinal things like music or order of service.  But the real attraction that we had to our church, from the very first minute, was the warmth of the people.  In fact, we met our first new church friend outside the church, before we’d made it out of the parking lot and onto the curb.

Within a week, we’d been introduced around to several other families, and within a month, we’d been to people’s homes for lunch and dinner.  It was a huge relief to find such a welcoming place, especially since Pete and I had been members of our previous, ultra-friendly church for sixteen and eighteen years, respectively.

But there are still pockets of people at our new church, a year and half later, who seem not to care that we’re there.  In fact, sometimes I wonder if they’d rather we left.  A few people–women in particular, for some reason–have blatantly ignored us.  There are times when I’ve been talking to a friend in the hallway, and one of these women will walk by, say ‘hello’ to the person I’m talking with, and not even look at me.  I teach Sunday school to the daughter of one of these women, and I don’t even think she’s ever asked my name.  I have chatted and laughed with the teenage daughter of one of the other women, and Pete is buddies with her husband, but each time I see her, I have to initiate the ‘hello.’  And if I don’t, she just walks by me without a word or a bit of eye contact.  I have watched these women in other situations to see if that’s just how they are–quiet, perhaps not very social–but that’s not the case.  I see them talking to other people quite a bit, but there is one common denominator in all of their friends: they’ve all been members of the church for many years.

Our church had a huge growth spurt over the last year, and I do think some of the current members are a bit bewildered.  But it is hurtful to be on the receiving end of the cold shoulder, whatever the reason might be.  It makes me wonder if these passive turf wars are in place at other churches as well.  Since I joined our last church when it was only two years old, and there were only 39 people, I have never really been the new girl.  Pete joined when the church was only four years old, so he’s new to being new, too.

All of this makes me wonder if I gave that cold shoulder to visitors, new members, even just newer-than-me members, back when I was the old-timer.  I hope and pray that I didn’t.  Because it misses the whole point of church.  It’s not a club or a hierarchy.  It’s a ministry, where all are welcome.

Or should be.

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One thought on “Turf Wars

  1. Mandy — your experiences with newcomer assimilation and cold shoulder feelings are expected, usual and very normal. Assimilating new people is difficult in any community. I suggest you explore a few questions and considerations as it relates to your current experience:

    – You comment ‘I wonder if I gave that cold shoulder to visitors, new members, even just newer-than-me members, back when I was the old-timer’ you probably did, inadvertantly, unknowingly — beacuse it is human. When our network is strong and our relationships are fulfilling, we have difficult finding room (defined as time and space) to fit in new people. Reflect on you pre-CO experience and the trade-off’s you may have made. Do we do XX event with these poeple when we have a tradition of doing YY event with our usual group? Think about how the core group may have been viewed from the viewpoint of a newcomer. I imagine that, as in any church or organization, there was a core group of people (probaby from the foundational 39) who led almost all of the activities, committees, events and programs. This happens because we are comfortable with the tried and true and what we know, so incorporating newcomers into leadership roles and/or delegating responsibilities to them becomes uncomfortable and difficult.

    – Do you believe this is a phenomenon exclusive to this church or environment? As you noted, you were on the foundational floor of your previous church, so you have not had a newcomer experience as an adult

    – Have you experienced other churches since your move to CO? It is often difficult to interpret without relative comparisons. Maybe an exploration of 1 or 2 other churches, not with the aim to change, but more with the aim to understand could be helpful and productive for you.

    – Are there others in your life who have made similar geographic changes you can reach out to to learn from their experiences? Maybe others who moved away from your church in CA can provide you with insights from their experiences.

    – Have you considered the point of view and personal situation, even personality, of the others that seem to be shunning and/or delivering the ‘could shoulder’. Often, we mis-interpret behaviors, because we do not know or understand the thoughts and feelings behind the behaviors. One of my mentors taught me that opening the dialogue on a 1 to 1 basis in the situations is the healthiest way to move past the dissonance. When I practice this approach, I continue to find success. The approach of opening a 1 to 1 dialogue with individulas and understanding their thoughts and feelings has been my most successful tool in breaking down territorial or artificial human/ personal barriers. Try it. =)

    You are asking the right questions and thinking in a productive, and forward looking manner. Seize the opportunity to lead others to a more inclusive and quick assimilation environment. It is incredibly important in communities experienceing rapid growth.

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