Far too many times, we put ourselves into boxes — male, female, Christian, non-Christian, Democrat, Republican. There are so many boxes we can fit into, and it greatly determines how we see ourselves and others around us. This is shown through either inadvertently or consciously stereotyping the people we interact with every day, even in the context of churches in Waco.
When we encounter someone on Baylor’s campus, one of the most popular questions to ask is, “What church do you go to?” It’s considered a conversation piece, but more than that, it’s a way for us to gauge who they are as a person. Part of our “Christian college culture” is that we find our identity within our church, and while that can be beneficial to our individual spiritual growth, it also can create cliques within the broader church community.
It may not be the simple question of where you go to church that leads us to make assumptions. Perhaps it’s the way a person acts, speaks or dresses, or if they’re constantly inviting you to their prayer group. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with wearing college group T-shirts or quoting Bible verses all the time, many college Christians seem to have a very closed mind toward people of other churches.
This is the first time that many students are having to experience finding their own church. Growing up, most of us went to the church our parents chose, so finding a church that represents what we believe can be a daunting task. At the same time, some students may choose not to attend church at all while at Baylor, which can be surrounded by its own set of stereotypes and prejudices.
It seems like once you find your church, every other church cannot exist on an equal plane. It can be easy to fall into subconsciously perceiving your church as the best. This in and of itself isn’t a bad thing; it’s dangerous when we start judging others’ faith as being inferior because they attend a different church. While yes, these are wide generalizations, and obviously don’t apply to every churchgoer, this mentality does pervade our lives in ways we may not recognize immediately. Many times, we look at a person and determine who they are and what church they go to without ever interacting with them. We often hang out only with people who go to our church, and if we do interact with others outside of that church group circle, we’re trying to convince them to go to our church instead.
These stereotypes can go even further than our perception of faith identity. Sometimes, we associate personality traits and preferences with particular congregations. There are so many churches in town, all with their own unique view on the world and the people they reach.
Part of the reason Christianity can be such a beautiful religion is because of the diversity within it. From different cultural views to different interpretations of the Bible, Christianity offers a unique ideology to everyone under the umbrella of one larger ideology of the Gospel.
We should not limit ourselves by isolating our faith and judging the faith or practice of others. Not only does this mean we should avoid putting people in boxes based on where they worship or how they worship, but it also means we should take it upon ourselves to expand our own horizons. Take a friend up on their offer to attend a different worship service. Go to a random church, simply to be filled with a new experience.
Sometimes the messages we hear every Sunday only affirm what we already believe. Since we are so young and just deciding for the first time which faith group is right for us, it’s important to challenge your beliefs and ask tough questions. It is worthwhile to find a community that helps you identify and define certain aspects of your faith despite initial discomfort. Finding a home within a church is wonderful, but its not healthy to stay at home all the time. We need to get out and explore the spiritual world around us — who knows? Maybe you’ll change your mind about some of the churches you thought were “not for you.”