Dear Graduate: Embrace the Awkward

Dear Graduate, 

I’ve never written anything specifically for graduates, even though every year (with one exception) for the past couple of decades of my life, I’ve attended graduation ceremonies as either a graduate, friend, or faculty member. So, graduates of high school and college, you have a special place in my heart, which led me to start to think about what one piece of advice I could give you. Of course, a lot of the usual things came to my mind: advice about perseverance, faith, staying in God’s Word, finding good friends, etc. While those are good and noble pursuits that I whole-heartedly commend, I want to give you a different piece of advice: 

Embrace the awkward. 

Whether you’re about to leave the safety of your parents’ home for the first time and move into a college dorm, or you’re about to get your first “real job,” things are about to get uncomfortable. Even if you’re staying nearby, you’re entering a new phase of life. And that can be, well, awkward. When it comes to new-church awkwardness, I have plenty of experience. After college, I moved 1,000 miles away from my home and family to start a job in a place where I knew almost no one and attend a church full of almost exclusively unfamiliar faces. 

It’s scary and sometimes not very fun. However, I also know from experience that it is worth it. 

Embrace the Awkwardness of a New Church 

Whether you’re finishing college or moving to a new place to go to college, chances are good that going to your home church will be difficult due to distance. That means that you’ll have to find—GULP—a new church. If you’re anything like me, just the thought makes your stomach pole vault into your throat. Change is both hard and uncomfortable. A new church will have different preaching, different music, different chairs, different small groups, different service times, different coffee, different everything—at least that’s how it feels at first. So, you’re probably going to want to bail. 

Of course, there are good reasons to jump ship after visiting a new church—poor or heretical preaching would be at the top of the list—but let’s assume that you find a place where the preaching and theology are sound. It’s just awkward at first. Believe me—I get it! But don’t flee. Hang in there. 

You may be tempted to arrive just after the service starts and leave as soon as it wraps. But don’t. Give yourself ten minutes on either side of the service to stick around. A new church can never get to know you if you’re there only during the main event. It’s the marginal time that will allow the other people to reach out to you. That’s their job. Your job is to reach back. Be there and be available. When an elderly woman invites you over for Sunday lunch, don’t come up with an excuse to get out of it—accept if at all possible. Will it be awkward? Absolutely. Will it be worth it? Almost certainly. 

Don’t chicken out of a new church just because it feels clunky. Forge ahead through the discomfort and find your place. You need to be part of a local body of believers—and that local body needs you! 

Embrace the Awkwardness of a New Small Group 

Okay, so you’ve buckled down and made it through the painful first couple of months at the new church. But now the pastor has announced something else that makes your blood run cold: small groups. Once again, I get it. Been there! If you struggle in new or uncomfortable social situations as I do, you will desperately want to find something else to do on the nights that your church’s small groups meet. 

Don’t do it. Find one and join in. 

Maybe your church will have demographically divided small groups: college kids in one group, young marrieds and young professionals in another, empty-nesters in another, and senior saints in a fourth. Honestly, I hope that’s not how it is. I hope that your church mixes you in with an elderly widow, a young family with six kids, a couple of retired couples, and some parents of teenagers. This is where you’ll really build lasting relationships. 

Your season of life is different from most of the people in that group, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have anything to offer you. We need each other, and that means that we need all the other people in the church: kids, teens, the elderly, widowed, divorced, single, happily married, unhappily married, rich, poor, newly saved, and longtime Christians. 

Developing relationships with other believers in a small-group setting will challenge you, give you a place to take your burdens, and set up accountability in your life. It’s possible that no one will notice if you miss the Sunday morning worship service, but you’re sure to get a text when you skip out on small group. And that’s a good thing! 

The first time will be scary—let’s just admit that up front—but do it anyway. Embrace the awkwardness of showing up at a stranger’s house with your Bible in your hand ready to feast on the Word of God together. You’ll be glad that you did. 

Embrace the Awkwardness of Intergenerational Friendship

Just when you thought things couldn’t get any harder, here comes Phase 3. After you’ve gotten over the jitters of the new church and grown comfortable in your new small group, the next step on your journey of embracing awkwardness is to reach out to someone outside of your age bracket to learn from their wisdom. 

The Bible makes it pretty clear that older Christians need younger ones, and younger believers need older saints. The prime passage to prove this comes from Paul’s letter to Titus (a younger believer): 

In the same way, older women are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not slaves to excessive drinking. They are to teach what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands and to love their children, to be self-controlled, pure, workers at home, kind, and in submission to their husbands, so that God's word will not be slandered. (Titus 2:3–5 emphasis added)

My advice here is simple: find an older person at church—not necessarily an old person (but maybe!)—someone who is at least a season ahead of you in life. If you’re engaged, reach out to someone who’s been married awhile. If you’d like to grow in your knowledge of God’s Word, connect with someone who oozes Scripture when you talk to them. 

A couple practical words as you do this: when you ask someone to mentor you, give them a set time-frame. “Could we get together for coffee each week during the next six weeks?” And you might want to have something specific in mind to talk about: “Could we read through Philippians together? I’d love to learn from you how to gain insights from Scripture.” Finally, be specific in your request. A nebulous, “Could we get together sometime?” will probably never materialize. 

So, embrace the awkwardness of making a bold request and then make the first move. If the person you ask defers or rejects your proposition, try not to take it personally. Most likely, their response has nothing to do with you and everything to do with their own fear of taking on such a daunting responsibility. Be patient with them. Perhaps the time will be right for you to ask again, or maybe you’ll find someone else entirely. Whatever you do, don’t give up! 

Finding your footing in a church (especially a new church) as an adult can be difficult. Most of us would much rather hide or stay away. But, graduate, fight that temptation. Embrace the awkwardness and see how God can use the uncomfortable to His glory.

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About the Author

Cindy Matson

Cindy Matson

Cindy Matson lives in a small Minnesota town with her husband, son and daughter, and ridiculous black dog. She enjoys reading books, drinking coffee, and coaching basketball. You can read more of her musings about God's Word at

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