Recently, some of the conversations I have had with people in church have made me realise something that really bothers me.
People don’t seem to know how to talk to other people anymore.
Granted, I have been attempting to engage in “small talk” with new people at church, so these aren’t the typical conversations that I would have with friends. As a church that is focused on being lovingly hospitable, I see it as an obligation to be warm and welcoming and chatty to the new faces that rock up to our church. However, if you know me at all, you will also know that it takes a lot of energy and courage for me to step out of the comfort of my introversion to do so. I literally have to psych myself up to talk to these strangers every single week.
“Turn around and say hello to someone near you whom you have never met before.” These words are uttered in the middle of the church service every single week. Oftentimes, I just wish to sit in silence and be left alone. Yet, I pluck up the courage to turn around, smile and greet hello.
What is your name? What do you do? Where are you from? Are you new to the city? How long have you been here for? Is this your first time at our church? How long have you been coming along for? What are your plans for the summer/ Christmas/ Easter holidays?
I try and take an interest, but often get very little in the way of response. Sometimes they answer sincerely, others give me monosyllabic answers punctuated by long and awkward pauses. Most poignantly, the conversations are almost always one-way… to the point that I often feel like I am interviewing these new people. Yes, I get that you may be shy. Maybe you are an introvert like I am and would much rather be left alone too. Maybe you hate small talk. BUT, is this really the way to respond to someone who is trying to take interest in you as a person? Shouldn’t a conversation be 2-way traffic? The least you could give back is “What is your name?” “What do you do?” Honestly, I cannot tell you how many of such conversations I have come away from whereby the other person probably does not even have a clue as to who I am and what I do… because they never ask!
This problem doesn’t even seem to be related to culture. I have had the same problem with a mainland Chinese man, a Korean girl, a Hong Kong lass, a German dude, an African guy, an American ministry trainee… one way conversations and a very apparent complete lack of interest in me.
I’m not saying that people should be thoroughly interested in me and my history. What I am saying is that I am surprised how people can feel that it is ok to respond to someone else’s attempt to make you feel loved and welcome through conversation without even so much as “pretending” to be interested and making a feeble effort to engage. It makes me so discouraged.
I look back on the day when I first met my now best friend SH and miss it dearly. She sat down next to me in church and we greeted each other hello just like I currently do with all these new people. She listened to my stories and remembers them. She asked me questions in response to my own attempts to explore her background. We became friends quickly and deeply, simply because we were both willing to invest in conversation.
It takes 2 people to meet.
2 mouths to talk.
2 hearts to engage in conversation.