How Do You Find Fellowship?

I get asked that question probably more than any other. How do I find fellowship if I’m not part of a traditional congregation?

It’s true that there are a lot of wonderful people who attend traditional congregations, but as many have found it’s also not easy to build relationships there unless you’re involved in all the programs. Even then, it can be difficult when people already have their friendships and very little time or energy for more. And if you ever leave a congregation because you’re exhausted by the behind-the-scenes politics or because the pulpit messages are laced with guilt and performance, you’ll find just how shallow those relationships are. Many of your so-called friends will forget about you or exclude you because you’re no longer part of the same work. Then what do you do?

One of the difficult realities people face when they leave a congregation is finding ways to connect with people. But that’s only so because we’ve always expected others to provide the fellowship opportunities for us. Some look for a nearby house church or think of starting one, hoping to draw others into a similar task, but that can also replicate the same problem. The good side of this is that people who find traditional congregational life unsatisfying, don’t do so because they’re loners. They actually want friendships that rise out of a common passion for Jesus and are looking for ways to walk with other believers in a deeper community.

If you’re new to this journey and have found your old friends pulling away from you, first know that you’re not alone. Almost all of us know what that’s like. We know the loneliness and the desperation that can set in. But the loneliness can be a great tool to draw you closer to Jesus. We often try to fill the God place in our life with others and thus miss how he wants to do it. So literally put him first. Find your life in him, not in your friendships with others. Learn the joy of waking up in the affection of Father each day, even if it takes months to learn.

As you learn to live in that freedom, ask him to give you away to others during your day. It is the task of the Spirit to set us in the family, not ours to find out what we think is best for us. That said, Sara and I just don’t wait on the couch expecting someone to come to our door and ask for fellowship. Instead we’ve been pretty proactive each day about looking for opportunities where our lives can intersect others.

In the last 8 years Sara and I moved twice to localities where we knew no one, and both times we just started loving up on our neighbors and others we met through work and other community engagements and watched a new network of friends develop. We followed those distinctive nudge in our hearts to go meet some believers in a congregation, fellowship groups, mission settings, and other local ministries. . Even though we didn’t join any of those things we met people there with whom we have maintained relationship and watched friendships deepen. We’ve volunteered in community projects and made intentional efforts to be a friend to our neighbors. Not all we met in our new surroundings were (or are) believers, but we have eventually found our lives so full of others, some to love and some to journey with, that we felt our lives quickly filling up.

Live loving toward others near you where that is possible, taking an interest in them whether they are believers or not. See where those relationships go. Don’t try to “build relationships”, because that puts an agenda to them that will drive people away. Desperate and clingy destroys the hope of organic relationships. Just love others and let relationships take their course. Some will deepen and grow, others will just be a passing moment. If God leads you to engage believers in places where they gather, feel free to go. You can be alongside others even in congregational settings without having to buy into all the baggage and without disaffecting them from what is meaningful to them. This is not an exact science, it is a journey and God knows the friendships that you need and how to bring them into your life.

Stay in touch on the web with connections God seems to make there. Travel a bit to meet others to whom God is bringing a connection. Resist the urge to treat relationships as a convenience and make some sacrifice to engage others. Everything about our world trends away from relationships and so will we if we get so overwhelmed with life that we only have them when its easy or convenient. Friendship is about laying your life down for others knowing that Jesus is always laying his life down for you. Friendships will grow best when we’re not trying to control them or trying to get others to act according to your expectations.

In the long run, it is trusting that God knows how to bring you into relationship with others and show you the way forward. It is out of that trust that real relationships can begin and grow.

[A personal note: To those who have been praying for my Dad, he got home Saturday from nearly 3 weeks of surgeries and re-surgeries and his home, healing, and grateful. Thanks for your expressions of prayer and love for us during this time.]

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30 Comments
  1. stacy October 6, 2008 at 5:05 pm

    good stuff here wayne…so much wisdom. also, i’m very glad to hear your dad is home – my prayer is that he continue to heal and recover his strength.

  2. Melbourne Sue October 6, 2008 at 7:15 pm

    I was talking about you to my newest friend the other day, a friend who I met online, introduced by a mutual blog friend who listens to the Papa whispers. I clicked with her immediately and I look forward to getting to know her better. Even our dogs clicked with each other, and there is an 8 year age gap between them 😉 I was telling her about my experience of coming out of an institutionalised way of doing church into what I suspected God was leading me (and where my health was leading me whether I liked it or not) was so disorientating, but your stuff and the forums were the number one things that helped me through that process. It’s been a long time alone for me, even though not feeling alone, and though it’s been difficult I would not replace the ride for anything or the intimacy I have developed with Papa over this time.

    You’re a sweet guy, Mr J, and I am glad to hear your Dad is home and recovering.

    Loved the last TGJ podcast. You and Brad make me laugh and make me think.

  3. stacy October 6, 2008 at 8:05 pm

    good stuff here wayne…so much wisdom. also, i’m very glad to hear your dad is home – my prayer is that he continue to heal and recover his strength.

  4. Melbourne Sue October 6, 2008 at 10:15 pm

    I was talking about you to my newest friend the other day, a friend who I met online, introduced by a mutual blog friend who listens to the Papa whispers. I clicked with her immediately and I look forward to getting to know her better. Even our dogs clicked with each other, and there is an 8 year age gap between them 😉 I was telling her about my experience of coming out of an institutionalised way of doing church into what I suspected God was leading me (and where my health was leading me whether I liked it or not) was so disorientating, but your stuff and the forums were the number one things that helped me through that process. It’s been a long time alone for me, even though not feeling alone, and though it’s been difficult I would not replace the ride for anything or the intimacy I have developed with Papa over this time.

    You’re a sweet guy, Mr J, and I am glad to hear your Dad is home and recovering.

    Loved the last TGJ podcast. You and Brad make me laugh and make me think.

  5. David October 7, 2008 at 4:29 am

    Thanks, Wayne for taking the time to address an inportant concern for many of us, perhaps one of the most difficult areas for those of us who are freshly “out” of the traditional setting. Too often we run ahead of Him who wants to use this time to draw us into intimacy into some other kind of thing that makes us feel like we are doing something spiritual, when in fact we just need to trust and be the church to those in front of us. The need for community is real and God given but fulfilling that need via man-made ways (whether large ICs or home groups) will just leave us empty and back to square one.

  6. Richard October 7, 2008 at 7:02 am

    Wayne,

    Thank you so very much for this heart over flowing picture of His availability to us.
    It is indeed great news to hear how Father is tenderly caring for your Dad, so glad to hear he is on the mend.
    By the way, we so LOVED hearing His love, spirit, life resonating in you and Brad last week on the pod cast.

    You are dearly loved and appreciated my friend and brother,
    Rich

  7. David October 7, 2008 at 7:29 am

    Thanks, Wayne for taking the time to address an inportant concern for many of us, perhaps one of the most difficult areas for those of us who are freshly “out” of the traditional setting. Too often we run ahead of Him who wants to use this time to draw us into intimacy into some other kind of thing that makes us feel like we are doing something spiritual, when in fact we just need to trust and be the church to those in front of us. The need for community is real and God given but fulfilling that need via man-made ways (whether large ICs or home groups) will just leave us empty and back to square one.

  8. Stephanie October 7, 2008 at 7:32 am

    Interesting, thanks.

  9. Richard October 7, 2008 at 10:02 am

    Wayne,

    Thank you so very much for this heart over flowing picture of His availability to us.
    It is indeed great news to hear how Father is tenderly caring for your Dad, so glad to hear he is on the mend.
    By the way, we so LOVED hearing His love, spirit, life resonating in you and Brad last week on the pod cast.

    You are dearly loved and appreciated my friend and brother,
    Rich

  10. Stephanie October 7, 2008 at 10:32 am

    Interesting, thanks.

  11. Kathy October 7, 2008 at 10:56 am

    This is a new concept to me. Very interesting and I will be seeking more.

  12. Kathy October 7, 2008 at 1:56 pm

    This is a new concept to me. Very interesting and I will be seeking more.

  13. Kari October 7, 2008 at 2:45 pm

    Im glad to hear your dad is doing well and home on the mend! I have been enjoying your podcasts a lot. These last few days I have downloaded them to my iPod and am getting caught up! Its hard to do when they are so thought provoking and I have to stop and evaluate myself just to see where Im at! LOL Many things I hear coming out of you and Brad’s mouths just crack me up and Im finding so much truth to what is being said. I love the way you just talk about things. Others who profess to be “on the journey” can tend to sound so judgemental of institutions and are caught up in the put down instead of lifting up the truth, so its refreshing to hear just two guys slinging the good stuff around! Just wanted you to know that I greatly appreciate what you two do! Thank you for sharing the Transitions and books for free. Even though I downloaded the books, I did go out and buy them because they will have to definitely be re-read over and over!
    Thanks again!

    I cant find any t-shirts or mugs on your website though! Im really interested in the one you mentioned DONT SHOULD ON YOURSELF AND DONT SHOULD ON YOUR FRIENDS and the one with the Smily face! That phrase will be forever etched on my heart…it rings so true!

    May His peace reign in all you do and may He continue to shine His blessing on you and your family!

  14. Kari October 7, 2008 at 5:45 pm

    Im glad to hear your dad is doing well and home on the mend! I have been enjoying your podcasts a lot. These last few days I have downloaded them to my iPod and am getting caught up! Its hard to do when they are so thought provoking and I have to stop and evaluate myself just to see where Im at! LOL Many things I hear coming out of you and Brad’s mouths just crack me up and Im finding so much truth to what is being said. I love the way you just talk about things. Others who profess to be “on the journey” can tend to sound so judgemental of institutions and are caught up in the put down instead of lifting up the truth, so its refreshing to hear just two guys slinging the good stuff around! Just wanted you to know that I greatly appreciate what you two do! Thank you for sharing the Transitions and books for free. Even though I downloaded the books, I did go out and buy them because they will have to definitely be re-read over and over!
    Thanks again!

    I cant find any t-shirts or mugs on your website though! Im really interested in the one you mentioned DONT SHOULD ON YOURSELF AND DONT SHOULD ON YOUR FRIENDS and the one with the Smily face! That phrase will be forever etched on my heart…it rings so true!

    May His peace reign in all you do and may He continue to shine His blessing on you and your family!

  15. Wayne October 8, 2008 at 7:24 am

    Haven’t found the right design for DON’T SHOULD ON YOURSELF, but we’re still looking. Our other Conversation Starter T-shirts and mugs are available on The God Journey.com.

    http://www.thegodjourney.com/cstarters.html

  16. Bill October 8, 2008 at 10:19 am

    Great stuff in this blog! My wife and I have been blessed with 2 couples in the area that we’ve grown very close to in the last 6 months. It takes some effort, and an investment in time. However, having a few close friends is so much better than having a lot of superficial “friends” who only stick with you at their convenience.

  17. Wayne October 8, 2008 at 10:24 am

    Haven’t found the right design for DON’T SHOULD ON YOURSELF, but we’re still looking. Our other Conversation Starter T-shirts and mugs are available on The God Journey.com.

    http://www.thegodjourney.com/cstarters.html

  18. Bino October 8, 2008 at 11:53 am

    A great post addressing the real issues of real people. Like you say finding/keeping fellowship is not really an ‘exact science’, and everything you said here about the casual but loving approach to others makes a lot of sense. Thank you for taking time to address this.

  19. Bill October 8, 2008 at 1:19 pm

    Great stuff in this blog! My wife and I have been blessed with 2 couples in the area that we’ve grown very close to in the last 6 months. It takes some effort, and an investment in time. However, having a few close friends is so much better than having a lot of superficial “friends” who only stick with you at their convenience.

  20. Bino October 8, 2008 at 2:53 pm

    A great post addressing the real issues of real people. Like you say finding/keeping fellowship is not really an ‘exact science’, and everything you said here about the casual but loving approach to others makes a lot of sense. Thank you for taking time to address this.

  21. Darrin October 8, 2008 at 4:22 pm

    Good reminders for those of us still operating in the “institutional church” world. I appreciate your commitment to salvage the baby in spite of the murky bath water of church-as-usual. Some of us are passionately committed to rejecting religion, realizing the freedom in His love, and creating space for grace. My prayer is that more and more leaders in the institutional church environment will catch the fire and grow in the knowledge of His love.

  22. Darrin October 8, 2008 at 7:22 pm

    Good reminders for those of us still operating in the “institutional church” world. I appreciate your commitment to salvage the baby in spite of the murky bath water of church-as-usual. Some of us are passionately committed to rejecting religion, realizing the freedom in His love, and creating space for grace. My prayer is that more and more leaders in the institutional church environment will catch the fire and grow in the knowledge of His love.

  23. todd October 9, 2008 at 7:04 am

    Wayne,

    judging from all the comments, it’s safe to say that you just addressed a very real concern/need…….

    I know you did for me…….thanks for the reminder…….

    cheers,

    Todd

  24. todd October 9, 2008 at 10:04 am

    Wayne,

    judging from all the comments, it’s safe to say that you just addressed a very real concern/need…….

    I know you did for me…….thanks for the reminder…….

    cheers,

    Todd

  25. Monica October 13, 2008 at 7:34 am

    Thank you so much for this post. I needed the reassurance that my husband and I are not loners – when we are around freedom and hunger for Jesus – we are so refreshed.Our hearts just leap! The hardest thing for me has been running into other Christians on the soccer field or the park( that happens when you have kiddos) and getting that sad “puppy dog look” that seems to say ” We are so sorry that you are in error – we are praying for you – are you okay out there?” and then there is the other look – that blank “deer in the headlights” stare – ugh!
    Anyway – my heart’s cry is that Papa continue to reveal His love and that He nudge me in the right direction day by day as I acknowledge Him.
    Thank you again,
    Monica

  26. Monica October 13, 2008 at 10:34 am

    Thank you so much for this post. I needed the reassurance that my husband and I are not loners – when we are around freedom and hunger for Jesus – we are so refreshed.Our hearts just leap! The hardest thing for me has been running into other Christians on the soccer field or the park( that happens when you have kiddos) and getting that sad “puppy dog look” that seems to say ” We are so sorry that you are in error – we are praying for you – are you okay out there?” and then there is the other look – that blank “deer in the headlights” stare – ugh!
    Anyway – my heart’s cry is that Papa continue to reveal His love and that He nudge me in the right direction day by day as I acknowledge Him.
    Thank you again,
    Monica

  27. Getting There October 14, 2008 at 7:54 am

    This has brought encouragement. I have come out of a charismatic church and found myself to feel very alone as i walked away from an abusive unbiblical church. I am finding many contacts on the web which has really helped this walk feel a little less lonely. I like your blog! This one in particular has brought some peace and comfort. I have been stressing about church.. I have been up and down but I am ‘getting there’ .. I will definitly pop in here more often now that i have found this blog!

  28. Getting There October 14, 2008 at 10:54 am

    This has brought encouragement. I have come out of a charismatic church and found myself to feel very alone as i walked away from an abusive unbiblical church. I am finding many contacts on the web which has really helped this walk feel a little less lonely. I like your blog! This one in particular has brought some peace and comfort. I have been stressing about church.. I have been up and down but I am ‘getting there’ .. I will definitly pop in here more often now that i have found this blog!

  29. Norma November 16, 2008 at 8:28 pm

    Just found this site and am encouraged to find you all on our similar journey as we return to our first love. God is so good and sooooo kind! He amazes me! Will be visiting here often. Blessings and grace to all of you!

  30. Norma November 16, 2008 at 11:28 pm

    Just found this site and am encouraged to find you all on our similar journey as we return to our first love. God is so good and sooooo kind! He amazes me! Will be visiting here often. Blessings and grace to all of you!

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