Many people are afraid of what they don’t know, don’t understand, or haven’t experienced, especially when it comes to other people. But if you believe that reaching out to other people, including the disenfranchised, homeless, shut-ins or lonely is important not only for your own well-being, but for the furtherance of God’s kingdom on earth, then you will need to take steps to overcome these fears. And fear of people is one fear that most people struggle with at some point in their lives. We fear rejection, disapproval or dislike from others. We may find it easy to engage with people who are friendly and outgoing. Or we may not. Whatever personal fears we may have, we can take steps to move forward through them toward engaging others. Here are some ideas:
- Develop a plan. Don’t feel like you have to jump in headfirst. Start small and slowly, in your town or neighborhood, where you feel comfortable and at home. The point is to confront your fears and act in spite of them. Identify one person and make a point of engaging them at some point in the week, whether it’s by making a call, sending an email, taking a few minutes to sit with them on a park bench, or talking to them in the local coffee shop. Your first interactions with people might be just to introduce yourself, or buy them a cup of coffee or offer them a ride or offer to do some shopping for them.
- Have people who will support you or walk with you through this process. You will find reaching out to people much easier if you do it with someone else or have someone else you can dialog with about the progress you are making or the fears you are struggling with or strategies you could employ to engage others.
- As you are attempting to engage people, try to visualize what the other person might be thinking or feeling, the fears they may be dealing with, the circumstances they might be in. Try to see the world through their particular lens. Realize that regardless of how it might appear, the other person might be facing similar fears when it comes to engagement with people. This will help you to understand and empathize with them, which leads to deeper and more meaningful interaction.
- Often what people most want is someone who will simply be willing to listen without judging. Practice listening. This is a good skill to develop and will help people to warm up to you more quickly.
- As in all of life, actions speak louder than words. Be a doer, not a talker. Authors Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost make some suggestions for how a person can integrate themselves into their community in their new book The Faith of Leap (Baker, 2011). They suggest saying yes to invitations, joining committees and getting to know the movers and shakers in a place as well as those on the fringe.
- Don’t be intimidated by the negative reactions of those you are reaching out to. Often people can be closed off to the influences of others due to their own hang-ups and backgrounds that cause them to respond negatively. Continue to reach out with no strings attached. Let the person know by your actions that you care about them.
- Warning: Don’t put yourself in dangerous situations or around dangerous people. Use caution and discrimination when you engage people. If you want to go to an unfamiliar area, ask someone else to go along with you.