Most people want to know the magic formula for integrating into the life of a church. They desire to feel known, to grow, and to move from an outsider to an insider.
While a hospitable church will provide on-ramps for assimilating people, my experience has taught me that fully integrating into the life of a church ultimately falls on the individual. Are they willing to take an intentional step or two to get involved, or do they watch from a distance, staying in the crowd without ever trying to get into the game?
If you remain an onlooker for too long, it usually leads to a frustrating conversation about not growing or feeling disconnected.
GET IN THE GAME
Before getting to that point, we should ask what steps we could take to participate rather than spectate. You get more out of your church when you give more to it. You grow more when you watch and help others grow.
Most churches provide enough trellis on which people can grow—weekend services, ministries, programs, classes, and small groups are already present. But to get something out of them takes effort and intentionality from each person.
Often, the number one action that individuals or families should take is switching from a passive to an active approach. Here are seven simple ideas for getting more out of your church involvement for the sake of growth.
1. COME TO CHURCH HUNGRY
The best place to start is how you approach the weekly church gathering. Come hungry and eager to engage fully in every part of the service. Sing with your whole heart or ask God to change your heart. Don’t mentally check out during prayers but join in them. Listen attentively to the preached Word. Show up ready to contribute and serve, not just consume (Hebrews 10:24).
Fight distractions and feed attentive engagement in whatever way works for you. If you need to take notes during the sermon, do it. If you need to sit toward the front to not be distracted by others, do it. If you need to stand in the back so you don’t fall asleep, do it. If you need to silence your phone, turn off emails, or bring a hard copy of the Bible, do it. Do what you can to cultivate your heart so it’s good soil ready to receive the Word (Matthew 13:18-23).
Diagnostic Question: Do I come on Sundays ready to engage all of my heart, mind, and soul?
2. GET TO CHURCH SERVICES ON TIME
Getting out of the house on Sunday morning is hard. But it’s also hard to maximize your experience if you’re late. If you rush into the building after a couple of songs, you’re likely already too stressed out and frazzled to appreciate corporate singing. You’ve already missed key moments in calming your heart and redirecting your mind toward God.
Many church services have an intentional flow or liturgy that you’ll miss if you’re “missing in action” during these important narrative components. And we can only follow Paul’s command to teach or admonish one another through singing (Col. 3:16) if we’re there during the songs.
Plan to be at church early enough to park, check in, grab your coffee, hit the restroom, and drop off your kids before the service starts. I know, easier said than done. But this is part of changing your approach, even if it means laying clothes out the night before, getting up a few minutes earlier, or tricking yourself by moving the clocks up several minutes. And if you have to choose between stopping at Starbucks and being on time for church, please make the right choice.
Diagnostic question: What do I need to do differently to make it to church before the service starts?
3. DON’T WAIT FOR SOMEONE TO TALK TO YOU
Most of us hope others will talk to us on Sundays. Take the lead in initiating conversations. Making the choice to proactively meet others might be a game-changer for your church experience.
See this as your own personal ministry. Find someone new and introduce yourself. Meet the people around you. Go talk to someone you know but don’t know well enough. Part of growing is experiencing the church as a community you belong to and not just a crowd you sit in.
Diagnostic question: Am I intentionally initiating conversation and actively getting to know others instead of waiting on them to approach me?
4. CHOOSE RELATIONAL DEPTH OVER BREADTH
My hope is that you’re already a church member who is serving somewhere and is plugged into a discipleship-oriented group. If you’re not, start by serving and joining an existing group.
If you’re in a group or ministry but don’t feel like your relationships are deep, the temptation is to add more people or groups into your life. That might be easier, but I would encourage you instead to find ways to deepen the relationships God has already put you in.
Don’t settle for surface-level conversations in your small group. Lead by example through honesty, humility, transparency, and appropriate vulnerability (see James 5:16; Galatians 6:1-2; 1 John 1:7). Ask someone or several people out to lunch or coffee. Share with the group your desire for more depth and intimacy and help come up with ideas and solutions for changing things rather than waiting for someone else to fix it.
Go deep with a few instead of participating in multiple ministries without ever really being known. Jesus knew and ministered to many followers, but he chose only twelve disciples for this uniquely invested relationship.
Diagnostic question: Am I doing everything I can to know and walk alongside the people I’m already connected to?
5. MOVE FROM CONSUMER TO CONTRIBUTOR
Growth happens not only as others pour into us but also as we pour into others. God stretches us as we sacrificially serve out of love for him and his people. Paul experienced an outpouring of God’s love as he poured into others (Col. 1:29).
If you aren’t serving people in meaningful ways, you will stall out in your growth. If your areas of service aren’t growing you, talk to the leader of that ministry. Maybe you need to serve more regularly, serve with others rather than alone, or you might need to serve in a way that better fits with your gifts and experiences. It could be that you need more human contact in how you serve, more connection to ministering the Word or prayer, or an increase in your level of responsibility and leadership.
You are a member of the church body, called by Christ to build up others and be built up by them (Eph. 4:12-16). You’re now a family, where strangers become siblings in Christ. The church is not a restaurant where you show up to be taken care of and fed by others, and it’s not a show where you pay to receive spiritual entertainment or life-improving service. Don’t just be a consumer of the church—be a contributor in the church.
Diagnostic question: Am I regularly pouring my life into other people and ministering to them through loving service that points to Jesus?
6. BE MORE CONSISTENT
Improving your consistency is another small change that can go a long way. In our noncommittal, busy culture it’s easy for people to be involved in many things and yet inconsistent in all of them, but it’s hard to gain traction if you’re in and out. Prioritize the Sunday gathering over competing options (Heb. 10:24). Don’t sign up for too many activities. Show up to whatever group, class, or study you’re a part of. Create ownership and accountability to help with consistency.
Diagnostic question: Am I consistent in my presence and engagement at the church or do I attend things when it’s convenient?
7. REFLECT AND RESPOND
Even though we attend the church service or show up to a bible study or small group, it’s all too easy to leave what we learned in our seats. We all need more follow-up in our lives. The good intentions we have after a sermon, class, or study don’t amount to a change in direction unless we build reflection and response into our week.
Come up with ideas for how you can better reflect on what you’ve heard on Sunday or in your small group, as well as how you can respond throughout the week. As you pray in the morning, rehearse what you’ve been learning and ask God to help you live in light of them that day. In your small group, talk to others about how you want to respond to truth. Ask for their help, prayer, encouragement, and accountability. Provide this for others by following up on things they mention, how they’re trying to grow, or where they need encouragement.
Diagnostic question: Do I have ways to reflect on and respond to what I hear or am learning so I can be a doer of the Word and not just a hearer?
ACTIVE OVER PASSIVE
If we are in Christ, we are an integral part of his body (1 Cor. 12:12-31). Each of us is needed and each of us needs others.
To live out Paul’s integrated body metaphor, we can’t detach ourselves and watch from the outside or show up to consume a spiritual service as if we’re an outsider. We must participate, learning to lean on others and embrace our insufficiency just like the head depends on the arm.
To grow together with the body and be a useful member who helps the body, choose to be active rather than passive in your approach to your local church.
This article originally appeared at GCDiscipleship.com.