In the past few years, I set out on a mission to find a church to join. This was a difficult and scary proposition for many reasons- I didn’t know what to expect in each place and I anticipated some awkwardness. But I also knew that the only way to meet my goal (find a new church that met my needs) was to go out there and get uncomfortable. Out of that experience, I’ve figured out some strategies to visit new group or place (place of worship, club, Meetup, etc.) with the least amount of awkwardness possible.
1. Get Clear on your “Why”
What are your reasons for wanting to visit the new place? Is it something you are doing for yourself or someone else? What are you hoping to gain from your visit? When I visited churches, I was looking for a place or worship that shared my beliefs, made me feel comfortable, and had multiple opportunities for service and growth. Knowing your “why” will help motivate you to get out there and experience a new and potentially uncomfortable situation for a good reason. And if it doesn’t work for you, you don’t have to go back.
What if you decide that you don’t want to go after all? That’s ok too! Yes, going outside of your comfort zone can have a great payoff. But sometimes comfort zones are where we need to be to protect our energy, time, and spirit. It’s important to find the balance, and that can look different from day to day. You don’t need a new group to be enough- you are enough just as you are. Trus your intuition and be kind to yourself.
2. Get the Lay of the Land Ahead of Time
When I decide to go to a new place, it helps to research what to expect. Do a web search for the place or group you intend to visit. I am more inclined to visit places that detailed and informative websites- that way, I can confirm times, locations, and parking situations. If there is a contact email for someone, I may send them a note to confirm times and let them know that I intend to visit. If I feel brave, I may even call- but email is more my style. I’ll plan to arrive early, set my intentions, and tell myself that it’s going to be a great experience, and I’m proud of myself for taking a leap.
3. Have a Conversation Strategy
I try to think of a few good questions ahead of time, in case I’m faced with an awkward conversation. If I’m visiting a church, I would probably make it something like, “how long have you attended this church?” or, “what do you like about best this group?” I don’t go out of my way to speak to strangers, but I do try to appear pleasant and approachable. If I need to ask a question (like where the bathrooms are), I look for a friendly face. Even though conversation can be intimidating, I believe that most people are kind and want to be helpful.
4. Remember That Everyone Has Been New to a Group
I have a friend who is an extrovert with a capital “E”, who never appears awkward and seems to have never met a stranger. When I shared with him my nervousness about visiting a new place, he told me that he gets stomach knots any time he walks into a room of strangers, and even has to remember to skip breakfast to prevent feeling sick. You never know what’s going on in someone else’s mind (or stomach), but chances are that most everyone has been in your shoes at some time or other. Difficult things can bring the biggest payoff, and I guarantee you will learn something from the experience, no matter what happens.
5. Keep an Open Mind
Some folks will be thrilled to see visitors and may race each other to shake your hand. Some will even hug you without warning (I’m OK with hugs but prefer handshakes. Sticking out a hand will you usually communicate this a zealous hugger.) Others will be standoffish, they may be newbies or introverts like you. Keeping an open mind will help you remember that all people, situations, and groups are different, but may all have something positive and valuable for you to discover. Enjoy the journey and see what happens- you may find a gem somewhere you least expect it.