It should not need to be said that being avoided is discouraging, but when it comes to exposing the core reason why Aspies usually don’t find a church where they feel comfortable, this needs attention.
Most Aspie Christians stay with a church for a few years and just tolerate it with hopes that it will get better. It never does. They seek counseling sessions with the Pastor to express how lonely they feel in the church. The typical response is, “people avoid you because they sense that you don’t feel comfortable being around others.” Notice it’s not said, “you avoid people because you sense that they don’t feel comfortable around you.”
Both of these statements are true:
- “I avoid people because I sense that they don’t feel comfortable around me.”
- “People avoid me because they sense that I don’t feel comfortable around them.”
But only one is the symptom and the other is the cause. By the end of this post, it will be apparent which one is which.
The question is, “Who does God expect to create the atmosphere of comfort? The newcomer or the established group? The established group has the support network. The newcomer does not.
The established group shares the same philosophy that wrongly justifies for each member a reason to avoid the newcomer. Since none of them feel comfortable with the newcomer, all will blame the newcomer. They presumptuously believe the newcomer should feel comfortable with them since they’re all comfortable with each other. This eases their guilt.
Just because some newcomers may feel comfortable doesn’t mean every newcomer does. Those who are uncomfortable arrive in this condition because of reasons unknown to the congregation. Each new congregation can easily exasperate this problem.
A clique will expect their discomfort from the newcomer’s presence to diminish at a much faster pace than realistically possible for the newcomer to acquire comfort.
Being in a comfortably established group is nothing like being the outsider. Awkwardness is going to be far more long lasting for the newcomer.
The longer someone has been an outsider, the more established his or her discomfort around strangers will be.
As time goes on, the level of discomfort the newcomer feels from being around another clique increases. This is inevitable due to the unequal balance of intensity in discomfort.
Using the analogy of an abused dog, most people would not hold the same expectation for a dog that’s been socialized as a puppy in a proper environment versus one which has not.
A church group cannot judge what effect past experiences have had on a newcomer. Nor are they fit to make any judgments on how quickly the newcomer should stop feeling uncomfortable around them.
People do what they do because they can. They can when they’re united. An isolated individual is as vulnerable as an animal separated from the herd.
Animals will turn against their own kind, when it’s too different. It’s natural for people to like those like themselves. The more different and awkward a newcomer is, the more likely discomfort will increase in the atmosphere of his (or her) presence.
The congregation thinks, “We’re not uncomfortable around others. You’re the one who’s uncomfortable around others, so it’s your fault we feel this way.” This becomes more apparent during the coffee hour after the service.
Initially, “mingle time” appears to go well. But it doesn’t take long before the spark of mingle time dies out. Once this happens, it becomes undeniably obvious to the newcomer he (or she) is not going to ever fit in. In fact, the longer the newcomer tries to blend, the more awkward he (or she) will feel over time because of it.
This vicious cycle the newcomer repeats with each new church only serves to make it more unlikely he (or she) will fit in with the next new church. No church will know this is what such people go through because their acceptance is established and no newcomer dares to tell any church this is the guaranteed pattern, especially knowing how much more uncomfortable he’d (or she’d) feel if he (or she) gave any hint of thinking that the church wasn’t so Christian after all in their love for their brother (or sister) in Christ.
For the churches who may think they’re the exception, there’s the “ask for a prayer partner” test. The buck stops at the pastor and the excuses vary:
“There are Christians in the Middle East who have to live without having another Christian in their life,” “Someone in your group will be your prayer partner.” (Ask me months later who it is and I’ll say, “I forgot. I’ll let you know later, when I remember.” Later never comes.), etc.
Generally speaking, the end result remains the same. No prayer partner.
An outsider often times ends up perceiving Hebrews 10:25 differently than those settled within a congregation. “Don’t neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some. Encourage one another.” The second half explains the first. To encourage is to comfort. When you’ve got Christians avoiding you because they sense you don’t feel comfortable being around them, these Christians will only provide you with discouragement. This is what being avoided does. Just because a congregation gathers doesn’t mean it is meeting together with the entire body.
It’s easy for people to say someone who stops going to church is sinning by doing so. It takes humility for someone established within a congregation to consider himself (or herself) as possibly practicing sin by not developing the habit of encouraging a newcomer’s presence long enough for him (or her) to overcome his (or her) discomfort over being around “the regulars.”
Newcomers don’t normally leave people who encourage them. They usually leave because they’re discouraged. The congregation isn’t discouraged by his (or her) quitting attendance. If they were, they’d be trying to encourage the one who left to come back. This same principle applies to couples who break up. Someone who’s relieved by a relationship breaking up doesn’t continue trying to make it work.
If newcomers lacked the desire to fellowship with other Christians, they wouldn’t be in the habit of trying to find a church where they feel wanted. However, any habit that goes unrewarded over a long period of time will eventually become extinct.