One of the most challenging aspects of moving to a new church is the 'fitting in'. Churches tend to become fixed and accept people based on the willingness of the new person to adapt to the customs of the church. Those unwritten rules of behavior, interest and values that take on the value of a doctrinal creed at times.
I have gone into new churches were it was expected that the spouse sing in the choir. I have gone into churches where it was expected the spouse would teach a children's class. I have gone into churches where it was expected the spouse would lead a Bible study or maybe the Women's group (if a man maybe they are expected to lead the Men?). I have gone into churches where it was expected the parsonage family occupy the same pew, two back from the front on the left side - so everyone could see you there. They also got to see every time I had to go to the bathroom when I was pregnant and every time the kids acted up.
Over the years, I have come to see one of the problems with this 'fitting in' is that it is often one sided. It often reflects issues at work in the congregation that negatively impact how they welcome new people and how they disciple those who come.
As new layers of soil join with others to build up a landscape they tend to fall in layers of similar matter. Thus, geologists will see silt over long epochs. The development of these layers can be used to determine the age of the landscape and the influences. The rings of a tree record the passage of time and can note the introduction of new elements into the air, environment episodes and periods of great rain and severe drought.
To grow a social group involves welcoming new people (outsiders or children growing up), to be healthy the group mutually adapts to new ideas, styles and ways of doing things. In a church, this infusion of new ideas and views and methods can enrich the energy, vision, and outreach of the church. It is important that those who unite agree on issues of faith but it is not that important that the same style of program conducted in 1960 continue to be used in the women's group. This process of continually learning to do new things with new people keeps the church young, effective, and faithful to its basic mission. Churches and people should never confuse cultural customs with abiding issues of faith.
We should, as a church, only ask people to 'fit in' in the areas of their faith in Jesus Christ, their responsibility to spread the Gospel, and to grow as mature Christians. I love history and cherish the preservation of it because it can teach new generations so much. I also know that history can become a set of chains that keep a church from doing anything. People should remember the past and learn from it and keep those things that are special. people should cherish and use the present to achieve in a way that honors the heritage of the past but seeks to communicate with new generations. People should look to the future and know that there are lessons, values, and achievements that should be shared with those yet to be born.
Keeping the idea of "fitting in" in balance and focused on the really important stuff will help to make sure everyone 'fits in' and the experience is a great one for all concerned!
--Marilyn A. Hudson