How To Deal With Social Anxiety At Church

Have you taken any of the personality tests on Facebook yet?  They can be kind of fun, but if you’re an introvert with Social Anxiety, like myself, you don’t need to answer a bunch of questions about whether or not you prefer curling up with a book over going out with friends to know that you have a real problem.

You probably dread social situations that involve people other than your close friends.

You probably have one or two friends that you cling to at a party, talking only with them.

You probably opt not to go out when your safe person can’t make it.

You sweat.

You’d rather give a speech to a large crowd than attempt small talk, which you’re convinced you suck at and must feel as awkward for the person on the receiving end of your futile attempts as is does for you (Oh, and, they’re like, totally judging you, too, on account of your obvious weirdness and whatnot).

You probably use that infamous “Find a few people to shake hands with this morning” time between worship and the message to sneak out and use the restroom.

Did I mention the sweating?

This is one of my biggest challenges because I actually like people.  I want to get to know them, hear their stories, get to the heart of a person, pray with them, help them, and listen.  But taking that first step is terrifying.  And all of this is something that has to be overcome if I want to minister to others, because in order to get to know people, you have to get to know them.

In a perfect world, all of my introductions would go something like, “Hi, my name is Courtney, tell me everything about your past and what God is doing in your life now.”  But because that’s werid, I instead go with the more cultural acceptable spectacle of small talk.  It usually looks like this:

“Hi, I’m Courtney, what’s your name?” Oh, God, I can taste how bad my coffee breath smells

What’s the next question… Think!  What’s the next question… Oh right!…

“So, how did you find the Church?”…..”Oh, mmm hmm, mmm hmm”, Nod head up and down, up and down… make normal facial expressions… “Oh, cool, Okay”…

Mayday, mayday! Conversation dying! Think of another question… Weather?  No, too cliche.  Kids?  Yes! Always kids.  “So, do you have any kids?”  Nailed it….. Nod head up and down…. Wipe hand sweat on pants, shake, go back to seat. Whew!

Hot to deal with social anxiety at churchFor a lot of people with SAD, the idea of this encounter is so daunting, that it is simply avoided all together.  But what becomes lost when the risk is not taken is not only the potential of a great relationship, but the very purpose of the body of Christ: Bearing eachother’s burdens, sharpening one another, and growing together.  You miss out on using your God given gifts to impart something on to the people God has put in your path to help, and you miss out on receiving from the people God has put in your path to help you.

The funny thing about us SADers is that we tend to see others who don’t initiate relationship with us as exclusive, or snobby, never lending the thought that they may struggle with the same social crippling that we do.  So what you end up with is people not returning to the church because they “Can’t seem to get to know anyone” or “There’s too many cliques there.”

We simply can’t be effective for the Lord as islands unto ourselves (even though our island is warm, familiar, and has our favorite recliner) Jesus isn’t just our savior, He’s also our Lord, and we’re saved for a purpose.  His purpose.  Which means we’ve got to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and shake a few sweaty hands.  You never know what kind of beautiful relationships might unfold.

I’m not about to tell you that it gets easier or that as you become obedient to the Holy Spirit you’ll magically be cured and skip happily into a new small group, because that hasn’t been my reality.  Overcoming the stuff in our life doesn’t necessarily mean it’s gone.  Sometimes people are miraculously healed, and sometimes we have to walk out our faith with a thorn in our flesh.  Those are the times when we have to lean into the Lord and rely on His grace for each new situation as it comes, or for me, for every new person I meet.  I am still terrified to talk to new people, but I do it because I love Him, and He loves them, and as I get to know them, I begin to love them, too.

And God has given us a wealth of knowledge out there to help us with this.  A little practical suggestion?  If you struggle socially, take a course on listening and communication.  The curriculum that our local Pregnancy Center recently started using, called Equipped to Serve, is fantastic and has helped me tremendously with the tools necessary to start and keep a new conversation going.

Another suggestion?  Make it a personal challenge.  My goal for the rest of 2014 is to strike up a conversation each Sunday with someone I don’t know, and try in earnest to plan a dinner with their family.  It’s a lofty goal, but I know that God will help me do it, and I am excited to see what becomes of jumping into the Body of Christ with both feet.

So how about you?



  1. So I was on my way to church this morning I even volunteer while I’m there so I shouldn’t have this anxiety I am busy doing other things? And I found this article wow what a blessing! I said a prayer before going into church and wouldn’t you know I had a great day and some great conversations! You never know who you are going to bless by being authentic and vulnerable as you are doing in this article. Ladies let’s not be fake and try to pretend that we have everything together sometimes opening up like this it’s just what ssomeone who is hurting needs xoxo

  2. I really miss being a part of a church. Who here has ever done this, in high school, I use to pretend like I’m doing homework at lunch. But I was listening to other people’s conversation, mainly to see what was so funny and how’d did everyone communicate and get along.

  3. Recently moved from small town congregation to very large one. I developed anxiety. I feel like service is so ritualistic. And sooo drug out. I don’t know the songs. Too much tech stuff going on. I have been a Christian for 40 years. I long to find a quiet church where I can go in and feel God’s presence. To meditate and pray. It seems like the social scene and prying has taken away the real reason we go, Jesus Christ.

  4. I’ve been having this trouble for awhile, but I daily read the Bible and I know it has a positive effect on me. It would be great if there were churches planted specifically for people with this or similar problems. If any clergy or divinity students are reading this, please pay close attention! This (and the mental health community in general) is one of the least-reached ministry opportunities in America.

  5. I dread going to church because I am alone and feel so self-conscious. Where to sit, making small talk .. I keep to myself mostly and freeze up really bad right after church when everybody socializes. I usually make a beeline for the door & then my car where I feel safe again. So here I am missing another Sunday service because of my anxiety. I like the church service but just struggle so with people skills. Bummer.

  6. I have social anxiety but I have to say that I don’t get that anxious when I am at church. Whenever I go to church I’m always with my family which is probably why I feel more comfortable because they’ve always been my safety blanket. And also because I know that I’m in the house of God and I am being blessed by His presence, My faith in Him has always helped me get through tough times. I still get awkward at times when a stranger would sit beside me so I still find the tips you have here very useful. I’ll probably apply them to any situation that I feel anxious about and not just when I’m at church. Thank you so much!

    – Abby

  7. What helped me the most with my Social Anxiety Disorder was an old classic book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. It’s truths are timeless.

  8. Hard subject but so wonderfully written. I remember telling myself to try to talk to some people for at least 5 minutes, then 10, then 15, until I was able to have friends. Sooo hard, but it worked. Now we are in a new town and church and yep, same problem. Starting the timing thing again and trying not to hide in the bathroom. 🙂

  9. The headline in my newsfeed immediately caught my eye because this is prevelant in our family. And then opened it up to see it was written by the Passionate Pen…one of my favorites! Spot on Courtney. And, No, it doesn’t get easier, does it? We’re just equipped with more tools to move forward. A powerful message for ME today.

  10. Beautifully written! I too struggle with this and you are spot on. God has uniquely made each of us. Thank you for writing this.

  11. I can sing a solo in church and give a talk. To a classroom full of college students as a guest speaker…but I struggle mightily in just this social situation.

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