Bridging the Gap

3 Ways to Connect with People Different than You

The sun beat down on the dash of my car as my air conditioner worked tirelessly to keep up with the August heat.

“One more minute,” I thought to myself just before the time changed from 9:24 to 9:25.

My chest constricted as I took a deep breath and decided to finally shut off the car and go inside. 

“Why is this such a big deal?” I pondered silently as I locked my car and walked across the parking lot, past the palm trees.  “After all, this isn’t my first time to walk inside a church.”

It was, however, my first time to walk into that church.  An older man greeted me at the door with a big smile and a slow, New Orleanian drawl.  He pointed me to the visitor’s desk and I was escorted to a Sunday School class by a friendly woman in a floral dress.  When I walked in the Sunday School class, an energetic young woman broke away from her circle of friends and shook my sweaty hand.

Why is this interaction memorable? Because I remember vividly the older man that greeted me at the door, the middle-aged woman that walked me to the Sunday School class, and the Sunday School member that introduced herself when I walked in the classroom.  Each greeter represented a different age, socioeconomic group, and ethnicity, but each made me included and welcomed in a new city and at a new church.

I was only in New Orleans for a brief period, but I have heard many people have the same experience at my current church, Cherokee Hills Baptist Church.  (I grew up in this church, so I don’t know what it’s like to be a newbie there.)

These experiences have taught me a lot about how to connect with people different than me.

First, do what no one else wants to do.

If you’re involved in a Sunday School class, you likely have some people you enjoy in your class.  It is always easier to continue a comfortable conversation with people you know than to try to get to know someone new.  Someone must be the person that does what no one else wants to do.  Otherwise, you’ll never connect with someone new or different.  Your class will be stagnant.

CHBC is pretty awesome at greeting newbies at church.  (Really, I’d give us like an “A++” on that one.)

However, I think there are a lot of times when all people forget to interact with people in different stages.  Here’s an example from my own life.

I’m single and have been out of college for almost ten years.  As you can imagine, the majority people my age are married with kids.  In this unique stage, I have a choice: I can only interact with people in my stage of life, which is easy, or I can do what no one else wants to do.

Yes, I can be a third wheel.

It’s okay, you can cringe now.  No one enjoys being a third wheel.

Correction: no one enjoys the thought of being a third wheel.

I’ve learned that I actually kind of enjoy being a third wheel.  I particularly enjoy being a fifth wheel. 

No, I’m not being sarcastic.

For some reason the feelings associated with being the odd man out are powerful, but a good third (or fifth) wheel is actually someone refusing to be left out.  A good third wheel is saying, “I want to know you and I want you to know me, despite our differences.”

Second, assume the other person is more uncomfortable than you.

As someone on the younger end of adulthood, I tend to assume that I am the most uncomfortable person in the room.  I often think older adults have more to offer or they don’t need as much encouragement. 

I’ve learned age does not mean that someone necessarily has it together or they’re more comfortable.  In fact, sometimes it means the opposite. 

If you know me at all, you likely know that I truly value discipleship.  For a large part of my adult life, I’ve been surrounded by a lot of people that are different ages than I am.  In fact, most of my friends are still either significantly younger or significantly older than me.  I take 1 Corinthians 11:1 ESV seriously, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” I don’t do this perfectly (or even well most of the time), but I want to imitate people that are imitating Christ and I hope to help younger people imitate Christ in the same way. 

In order to fulfill that discipleship command, I must assume that people I want to ask to disciple me are more uncomfortable and less available than I am.

I must also assume that people I want to ask to be discipled by me are more uncomfortable and less available than I am.

In other words, my pep talks need to look more like me thinking about others than thinking so much about myself.

Third, expect connection to take a few attempts.

Sometimes I think the “love at first sight” myth doesn’t just fuel missed opportunities in dating.  Sometimes I think that same mentality fuels are hesitancy to “try again” in friendship and discipleship as well.

In our Amazon Prime, fast food, microwave society, any sort of wait goes against everything we believe.  Yet, letting a lack of connection knock us down goes against the relentless beckoning we see God demonstrate in Scripture.  None of us would have relationships with Christ if it were not for God continuing to pursue us, despite our horrendous rejection of Him.  If an almighty perfect God can give us numerous chances to build relationship with Him, we can give people different than us more than a couple attempts to connect.

Second Corinthians 10:5 NIV summarizes the key to bridging the gap: we must “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”  Our thoughts fuel the emotions that are preventing us from bravely doing what no one else wants to do, hiding in our own discomforts and excuses, and giving connection a second chance. 

Are your thoughts about yourself and others fueling discipleship and bridging the gap? Or are they fueling disconnection and isolation?