The sound of their laughter carried across the crowded lobby one Sunday morning after church, as one of the women in the group momentarily glanced in my direction. I read her glance and smile as an invitation to join them.
"How are you all this morn—"
Another wave of laughter rippled around the group, swallowing the rest of my greeting. I tried gently inject-ing myself into the conversation, but soon realized the welcoming glance I'd seen across the lobby wasn't meant for me … or anyone else, for that matter. Focused on chatter about their weekly post-church lunch date, none of them acknowledged my presence until they drifted toward the exit.
"Hey, have a great week," one called over her shoulder.
After relocating to a new town six months earlier, my husband and I began attending this church. We tried to build new relationships by helping with some community outreach projects and by joining a small group. The small group fizzled after a few meetings, and we weren't quite sure what to try next. The church initially appeared to be a friendly place, but we couldn't seem to get past the "glad to see you again" label affixed to us as new people.
We began to notice that the relational life of the 300-member congregation was driven by a few close circles of friends. While the dynamics of those connections gave the place the appearance of lively biblical community, in reality the church was a warehouse full of cliques.1